My favorite Republican

You might catch Nevada Assemblyman Jason Geddes hopping from door to door these days as he talks to voters. He’s campaigning for reelection in spite of the question whether, as a state employee, he can even serve another term in the Nevada Legislature.

The optimistic Republican likes knocking on doors. He loves lawmaking. His eyes glow when he describes the first day of the 2003 session—getting up at 3 a.m. and showing up for Assembly Judiciary. He was even overjoyed with that first 100-page interim study on the death penalty.

“There was no sitting around,” he says. “Bam! We’re talking about the death penalty. One of the meatiest issues we face, and there it was on the first day.”

The problem? Geddes, 36, is the environmental affairs manager for the Environmental Health & Safety Department at UNR. In the opinion of Attorney General Brian Sandoval, that makes Geddes part of the executive branch of state government—and therefore ineligible to serve in the state’s legislative branch.

Sandoval this month asked the Nevada Supreme Court for its ruling on the issue. A decision could be reached in mid-May. But that’s not keeping Geddes home, and uncertainty doesn’t daunt his supporters.

Geddes is a popular young face in the Assembly, a booster of public education (albeit a proponent of school choice) and a fierce champion of alternative energy. He’s intellgent, informed and seems to vote his conscience. When a tax increase hit the floor for a vote, he didn’t like every aspect of it. He approved it because education needed funding.

Those “yes” votes, which caused uproar in anti-tax factions, were likely the reason the attorney general was asked for an opinion on whether public employees can serve in the Legislature.

Geddes’ fans are frustrated.

“The people who’ve supported me, who’ve backed me, who’ve voted for me, now someone else is invalidating their votes,” Geddes says. “Some are very angry. Some are just supportive of my fight. They’ve offered to write letters, to call the attorney general.”

Geddes is technically my co-worker. We both get paychecks from UNR. When I’m talking with 70 freshmen about mass-media issues, I don’t feel like part of the executive branch of state government.

Geddes says that he doesn’t feel much like an executive, either.

Washoe County School District employees, also state-funded, would not be barred from serving in the Legislature, in Sandoval’s opinion. What’s the difference?

“That confuses me,” Geddes says. “I don’t understand how the university is the executive branch and not the school district.”

Both university workers and school district employees answer to a board of elected officials that are separate from the Governor’s Office.

“The governor can’t call and fire me,” Geddes says. “The Board of Regents can.”

Might Geddes the assemblyman end up facing difficult decisions on university-related issues? Well, of course. Legislators, who work 120 days every two years, represent many parts of the community. How does Geddes forestall such conflicts of interest?

For starters, he doesn’t “double-dip.” The university has a policy for workers who serve in the Legislature. Geddes says he’s carefully observed the rules, from taking leaves of absence to changing over his health insurance during the legislative session.

He’s also abstained from voting on some university issues. And at least once—in the case of longevity pay for state employees—after disclosing his own possible conflict of interest, he voted against his own best interests. He says that, given the 2003 budget shortfall, it just wasn’t a good time to vote for longevity pay.

“Everybody has conflicts,” he says. “You just don’t let it get in the way of your decisions.”

May Nevada Supreme Court justices feel the same.