State rule vs. home rule

It’s a marshmallow world in the legislative session, at least if you talk to Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. The budget is balanced, our schools are improving, and Nevada isn’t trying to escape the worst depression in recent history.

That must be why Sen. Leslie has found the time to stick her nose into our local business. Apparently, everything is so great in Carson City that she has enough time to introduce legislation to unfairly regulate our local elections. SB304, Leslie’s bill which would redefine our local city council races sounds good on the surface, but there is more to the story. SB304 should fail, just as it has failed in the past. Please call your legislators and urge them to vote against it.

Currently, Reno City Council is split up into five different wards that cover the five different parts of Reno plus one at-large seat. In the primary election, voters in a specific ward vote for the top two candidates to advance to the general election. These two candidates then run city-wide in the general election.

Enter SB304. Leslie is attempting to change the local laws of Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Henderson to say that city council candidates will only run in their respective wards in both the primary and general elections. Additionally, here in Reno, our at-large seat would be eliminated and in turn a sixth ward would be created. Our current at-large city councilor would be given that office to finish out the term, regardless of whether that person lived in the district.

That sounds great, right? Well no, it sounds awful. Reno has used this admittedly odd system of electing our city council members for quite some time, and due to term limits, this is the perfect time to reevaluate it. However, it isn’t up to Carson City to tell us to do it.

“They meet every two years, we meet every week,” says Councilwoman Jessica Sferazza. “The citizens of Reno have elected us to make these decisions, and in the interest of functional home rule, that’s what we intend to do.”

Sferazza makes an excellent point. The conservative thing to do is to allow the individual layers of local government to make their own decisions. Make no mistake, there are powerful arguments behind what Sen. Leslie has to say, and I can agree with most of it. Citywide city council races definitely favor well-financed incumbents, and it makes it more difficult for there to be representation from underprivileged neighborhoods and minorities, but fundamentally, this must come down to what we want and need locally. It isn’t up to our state legislature to tell our city how to run our elections. They are all too happy to raid the local coffers to fund state government, they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to control our elections, as well.

Sen. Leslie is correct that the voters in Reno need to be able to make the ultimate decision whether our current system is still functional, but it isn’t up to Carson City to tell us to do it. The Reno and Sparks City Councils need to publicly oppose this bill, but with a promise to have this discussion with the citizens. I believe that Sen. Leslie has nothing but the best of intentions in submitting this bill, but the road to Carson City is paved with good intentions. We are smart and capable enough to handle our own elections, thank you very much. If state legislators want to help, then help our current city council members to educate the people that there is a better way. They shouldn’t use their ivory tower in Carson City to force it on us.