Legislative role reversal in Carson City
It turns out the Mean Fifteen they were not. More like the Feckless Ten that would have been twelve but two missed the tax vote due to personal and family emergencies.
In 2003, the Mean Fifteen used their power as one-third of the state Assembly to stubbornly refuse to raise taxes to fund Gov. Kenny Guinn’s budget, forcing the Legislature into two special sessions. Finally, in late July, as teachers could not be hired, public services were on hold, and the state’s bond rating was at risk, one of them, Assm. John Marvel, changed his position. The final revenue package did not feature the gross receipts tax advocated by Guinn to broaden the tax base but by that time an exhausted Legislature didn’t much care.
The zealous anti-tax hold-outs of 2015 had neither the discipline nor the cohesiveness and ultimately lacked the numbers of the Mean Fifteen. And they certainly didn’t have the experience and depth of Republican Leader Lynn Hettrick, the 2003 caucus leader, or the media skills of former assemblymember Bob Beers, whose questionable facts were relentlessly promoted.
The Mean Fifteen featured radicals like pseudo-intellectual Ron Knecht, along with the ’always vote no’ twins, Sharron Angle and Don Gustavson. But most of the Mean Fifteen were true believers in small government. Their objection to the budget was grounded in an ultra-conservative philosophy that in many cases accurately reflected that of the constituents they represented.
In 2015, the leaders of the tax obstructionists were mostly just annoying and often self destructive. They and their antics were the laughingstock of the nation’s political shows. Their internal squabbles and their public pronouncements earned them scorn and ridicule from most quarters, leaving their natural allies unwilling to organize behind them. In contrast, the Mean Fifteen were actively supported by conservative groups who treated them as heroes.
In the end, 10 votes were not nearly enough to block the tax package. As more serious legislators abandoned the anti-tax group, they threatened to carry the battle into the Republican primaries next year, hoping to punish the wayward Republicans as Assm. Jason Geddes was in the 2004 elections.
As the no-tax agenda of the Feckless Ten collapsed, the majority of the Legislature approved a record $7.3 billion general fund budget for the next biennium, supported by the first gross receipts tax in Nevada’s history, produced by a state government under complete Republican control for the first time since 1929. Wrap your head around that for a moment.
At times during the 2015 session, a casual observer might have questioned who the Democrats were in the Legislature as Republicans and the governor adopted much of a traditional Democratic platform. Full-day kindergarten and funding for impoverished schools? Approved. A $1 per pack increase on cigarettes? Approved. A mechanism to begin taxing large out-of-state corporations on their revenue? Approved.
But there were plenty of other disappointing moments when it was clear the Republicans were in charge including the passage of one of the worst bills of this century—Senate Bill 302, allowing public tax money to be funneled to private schools, giving even more to the “already-haves” of Nevada and undermining the great American equalizer of public education.
There were significant defeats for labor unions and working families as well, and record numbers of bills with harsh penalties for non-violent offenders, meaning more of our tax money will be funneled to prisons instead of schools.
Democrats will surely articulate the differences between the parties on these issues to motivate their base in next year’s elections. As Sandoval flirts with national office, and the Republicans continue to fight among themselves, Democrats can overcome apathy and indifference and emerge stronger than ever in 2016.