They’re back

Democrats have regained both legislative houses

The 2015 Nevada Legislature was Republican in both houses, but this year the Democrats are in charge.

The 2015 Nevada Legislature was Republican in both houses, but this year the Democrats are in charge.


Democrats, who are back in charge at the Nevada Legislature, are going to face some major choices at the 2017 session. The budget hearings begin in January, and the actual session begins in February.

In 2015, with Republicans enjoying a sweep of legislative and executive offices not seen since 1890, they pushed through a legislative agenda that at times pleased Democrats but at other times shocked them. They made clear that if GOP lawmakers pushed extreme proposals into law, they would reverse or repeal them when they re-took power. Flush with power, the Republicans were caustic about the prospect of that happening.

“They can try to flip the senate, but they are going to have to perform better than they have in the last three cycles, because we have outperformed them in every single cycle since 2010,” Republican Senate floor leader Michael Roberson told reporter Ray Hagar. “And even if they do take back both houses, good luck trying to repeal the reforms we’re putting through. We’ll still have a Republican governor in 2017.”

Well, the Democrats have accomplished the first part of that process, taking both houses of the legislature, the Assembly 27-15, the Senate 12-9. (Senate Democrats were aided by Republican Patricia Farley, who switched to non-partisan and said she will vote with the Democrats on organizing the Senate.) Still ahead is dealing with the governor. But it may not be as complicated as Roberson described it.

One Democratic target is the voucher program that pays parents to take their children out of public schools. There are a couple of ways Democrats could end it. One is by repealing it outright. That would face a veto by Gov. Brian Sandoval. But the Democrats could also choose the time-tested tactic of simply not funding the program. That would stop it in its tracks, though still leaving it in the statute books.

Clark County Democrat Maggie Carlton, who has served in both the Senate and Assembly, will chair the Assembly budget committee, called Ways and Means. She says Democrats have not yet discussed what is to be done about the work product of the 2015 session.

“We’re going to go back and see how everything is working,” she said. “‘Go repeal things’ is, I don’t think, the way to process work. And I haven’t checked with the governor yet. We ran into each other in an airport and didn’t have time to get into anything substantive. There are things the [Democratic] caucus is going to want to address. I can’t say how now.”

She said there is more than one way to deal with the voucher program but added, “We have not discussed that as a caucus yet. We know how we felt about it but we have a lot of new members. … There are certainly some things that we are going to want to take action on, and you can probably figure out what those are from the party line votes, or nearly so.”

Some programs may not even be fully functioning yet and will be simple to deal with. “Some of the things that regulations have just been drawn up on may not even be operative yet,” she said.


Some stylistic changes in the way the legislators do business are already underway. Roberson created bad feelings in the 2015 session by changing the long-practiced seating arrangements that allowed Republicans and Democrats to mix and thus get to know each other. Roberson split the Senate chamber into Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other, akin to Congress. Democratic floor leader Aaron Ford said that will not be repeated.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Steve Sebelius reported this week of Ford, “He said bills would get hearings before votes, a not-so-veiled reference to several occasions in 2015 when bills were passed by Roberson’s sheer muscle.”

However, the Democrats sometimes benefited from those tactics, as when Senate Bill 504, billed as an anti-bullying measure, came to the Assembly in 2015. Republican leaders determined to ram it through fast would not give legislators time to read it. It turned out to contain language on gender issues and school facilities supported by Democrats. The failure to give the bill a full airing later allowed critics to speculate that the measure allowed boys to shower with girls.

The Democratic leadership will look a lot different, and a lot more like Nevada’s populace, particularly on the south end of the building. The Assembly speaker will be African American for the first time, five of 11 committee chairs will be women, and both the Democratic floor leader and the speaker pro tempore will be women.

On the Republican side, of the five-person cohort of Assembly GOP leaders, four are men.

If Republicans overreached in 2015, there seems little likelihood of the Democrats doing that in 2017. Republican leaders two years ago tended to talk in conclusive, unambiguous terms. Democrats this year are talking in on-the-other-hand terms.

In 2015, Roberson would make declarations like, “We have a job to do and we are going to do it.”

This week Carlton said, “Keeping in mind that there may need to be tweaks made to certain things, we don’t know what’s working,”

One thing Democrats—and budget chair Carlton—are declarative about is that public education will come before all else.