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The gems legislators produced last year on race-related topics would be hard to invent. Some of the things they said were unbelievably offensive such as Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, telling a Republican group he’d vote to reinstitute slavery if his constituents wanted it.
Others were so crass one was tempted to remind them of the century they’re living in, such as Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno referencing his “yellow wife” as proof that he wasn’t racist after proclaiming 2014 would be a great year for Republicans since youth and minorities wouldn’t vote like they do in a presidential election year.
Despite those provocative statements that attracted national attention, when the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) released its biennial legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, the overall score for the State Assembly actually improved four points over 2011 scores. Wheeler scored a 48 percent in the report card, while Hickey topped out at 55 percent.
PLAN scored the legislators by reviewing individual voting records and the impact of legislation on minorities in six areas: civic engagement, access to justice, health equity, economic opportunity, civil rights and education equity. Thirty-eight bills were scored, ranging from the diversity of court interpreters to ward voting to driver authorization cards for undocumented immigrants to voting rights.
Scores for other local Assembly members featured an 86 percent for David Bobzien, 82 percent for Teresa Benitez-Thomson, 80 percent for Skip Daly and Mike Sprinkle, and 48 percent for Randy Kirner. Washoe County’s Ira Hansen had the lowest score in the chamber at 42 percent while the highest score of 96 percent was earned by Dina Neal, D-Las Vegas.
The state Senate experienced an even greater improvement over ratings from the 2011 session, with the average score rising from 64 to 75. Once again, Washoe County had the Senator with the lowest score, Republican Don Gustavson, with 54 percent, and Las Vegas had the highest scorer in Democrat Tick Segerblom at 92 percent. Ratings for other local Senators included Debbie Smith, 83 percent, and Greg Brower and Ben Kieckhefer with 70 percent.
Gov. Brian Sandoval scored 80 points, a significant improvement over his 2011 score of 53 percent.
Why do these report cards matter? We’re told loudly and often by the self-proclaimed “job creators” that legislators who are pro-business should be supported since the economy is dependent upon the private sector for jobs and economic prosperity. They lecture us that what’s good for business is good for the entire community, especially when benefits ’trickle down’ the economic ladder. They don’t seem to understand that there’s not much of a trickle-down from a minimum-wage or part-time job with few benefits.
As PLAN’s report shows, the lopsided protectionism for those at the top of the economic ladder has pushed Nevada’s communities of color to the margins in seemingly every aspect of life. As our state continues to grow more diverse, racially equitable policies are key to our economic success and democratic health. Holding legislators accountable for their voting records is one way we can insist that disparities in high school graduation rates, health care, and unemployment are addressed in a meaningful way.
The business lobby has made sure every regulation in our state is subject to an assessment of its impact on “small” businesses of 150 employees or less. It’s time to look at policies for their racial impacts as well.
All Nevadans can use this report card as a guide to understanding where their representatives excel in this regard and where they have significant room to improve. We can call for stronger stands on these issues on the campaign trail and push for more inclusive laws at the Legislature. If our elected officials shrug their shoulders at these responsibilities, we should return the favor the next time their name appears on the ballot.