Pro-choice on regents

It is distressing how progressive, good-government folks often seem to have little faith in elections. Far too often, it is progressives who are in the forefront of making elected offices appointive.

It’s happening again. Assemblymember Chris Giunchigliani, anxious to exploit the unhappiness many have felt over the recent behavior of some members of the Nevada Board of Regents, has revived her measure to make most regents appointive instead of elected. The regents govern Nevada’s university and community college system.

We share the unhappiness. The board’s conduct ("Without a hearing,” RN&R, Dec. 25, 2003) in closing public meetings and running roughshod over the rights of its workers, Giunchigliani among them, is appalling.

But the remedy is the sanitizing glare of the spotlight and the cleansing balm of popular elections, not the selection of regents behind closed doors and in few hands.

Whatever its problems, the Board of Regents looks a lot like the public—dark and light faces, women and men, singles and marrieds with children, Christians and Jews. Though there are, unfortunately, no poor people on the board, it is a mixture of middle and upper income groups.

We have no faith that such a board would ever be appointed. There’s not a chance in the world, for instance, that a governor would have appointed Regent Howard Rosenberg, whose election to the Board sparked an unsuccessful effort to prevent him from taking his seat but who became one of the state’s most capable and admired public officials and who has battled his fellow regents’ highhandedness.

If the Nevada Supreme Court were appointed, it would be a solid phalanx of men in dark suits. The only way women ever got on it was by election.

Regent Linda Howard is correct that the high level connections needed to get appointed would be out of the reach of many of the people Nevada needs as regents. (She is not correct, however, when she doubts Guinchigliani’s motives in promoting the legislation. Giunchigliani is not striking back at a Board that mistreated her; she supported this change long before she became associated with Nevada higher education.)

Giunchigliani called the 13-member Board “unmanageable” at 13 members and plagued by “mismanagement, politics and jealousy.”

She knows better. She sits in a body with 42 members that meets for only 120 days every other year, is riven by politics, and has never been noted as decorous but often accomplishes great things.

By contrast with the Nevada Assembly’s crazy schedule and size, there are 13 regents who meet 8 times a year. A case can be made easily that the Board of Regents, not the Assembly, is better structured to govern.

But that’s not really the issue. It’s whether the public or our governors should choose our regents. We have faith in public elections. It disappoints us that Giunchigliani, one of our best leaders, doesn’t.