Sandoval blows it

The Nevada Appeal has run a SLOP survey, one of those news site polls that has an inherently flawed self-selected sample and lets readers click a yes or no answer on the question of the day or week. The question was, “Do you approve of the job the Legislature did this session?” The result: 79.93 percent voted No and 20.07 percent voted Yes. We assume that so many people have a built-in dislike of legislatures that in 2013 a favorable vote is no longer possible, because this was one of the better legislatures of recent years.

The legislators worked hard, worked together and worked well. Yes, they worked long—more than the 120 day limit—but that says more about the idiotic limit than about the legislators. Since that limit was imposed by the voters in 1988, there has never been a 120-day legislature. The legislators always start meeting on the budget two weeks before the actual legislative sessions began, and they have usually continued into special session when the 120 days ran out. So those four month sessions have usually been closer to five month sessions, and the state is better for it.

Much less deserving of praise than the legislators is Gov. Brian Sandoval. He has not figured out how to work with the lawmakers. Most governors veto few bills. It’s the mark of legislative-savvy governors. And most governors are restrained in their use of the veto. Weak or indolent governors like Jim Gibbons act otherwise, and end up racking up large numbers of vetoes.

Sandoval has wielded the veto freely, which raises the question of how he spends his time during legislatures. It also borders on abuse of the veto. It’s essentially an anti-democratic instrument, which is why most governors are cautious in its use. Sandoval had every chance to make his case to the legislators on the dozens of bills he has vetoed as governor. No new information came to light between enactment of those bills and his veto, nor were their urgent circumstances. So why is he in the Gibbons category?

In one veto message, Sandoval stopped ward elections in favor of more expensive city-wide elections in several Nevada cities, including Reno and Sparks, by citing a non-binding straw vote on the issue in last year’s election. The governor knew perfectly well that the mayor and city council tampered with that ballot item by manipulating the language to guarantee the outcome. Those cities now face action by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act.

Sandoval also called the legislators into an entirely unnecessary special session. None of the four measures he called them back to deal with were essential, not even a bill providing for more police in Clark County. If it was such an urgent measure, the lawmakers would have passed it months ago on their own taxing authority. Instead they dithered while trying to figure out how to dump the problem on local government. And why did they have to use such machinations? Because the governor painted them, the public, and the state into a corner with his no-taxes demand. The special session was his fault.

The legislators were not flawless in their performance. They were far too responsive to corporate lobbyists and too indifferent to workers. But with the governor for comparison, the legislators came out looking very good.