(Assemblyman Pat Hickey) – As we enter a new decade–witness yet another reapportionment and redistricting plan made by self-interested politicians. Centuries ago, James Madison warned, “No democratic institution should decide the rules of its own membership.” Founding fathers’ advice aside, that is how we roll (and redistrict) in the Silver State. An astute observer might ask, “Is there something wrong with this picture?”
Last November, when Nevada voters went to the polls, they chose the politicians they wanted to represent them for the next election cycle. In redistricting, politicians get to choose the voters they want to re-elect them for the next 10 years.
Seeing elected officials redraw our own political boundaries—some of the most questionable elements of human nature emerge in the process. Besides the reality of partisanship—Democrats vs. Republicans vying for advantage—you see incumbents of both parties trying to create for themselves safe seats in upcoming elections. You also view regionalism (North vs. South vs. Rural) emerge as geographic interests can tangle with partisanship. Add in the opportunity to draw the lines for a fourth congressional district coveted by those actually drawing the lines—and you end up with the classic instance of the foxes (politicians) guarding the hen house (the decisions of voters).
Looking at a system better suited to be in the hands of a non-partisan commission, you might ask how to avoid the 60s conundrum, “being part of the problem if you are not part of the solution.”
I have told the Republican Assembly Caucus I am happy to have fair lines drawn for my district. Previously in 1996, I ran in Democratic-dominated District 27 in Reno and won. Running again in 2010 in Republican-rich District 25, I had thousands of Democrats and Independents vote for me in a 65-35% win. Nevada voters are independent-minded enough to vote for the person (and not necessarily the party) in local legislative races.
Assembly Republicans have said that drawing the lines fairly and honestly would be the best policy. In fact, the GOP captured more than 60% of the total Assembly votes (410,903) in the 2010 elections, with Democrats getting less than 40% (271,392) vote. Still, there is a large disparity this Session with “D’s” holding a majority 26 seats and the “R’s” just 16. The difference being political gerrymandering that took place in 2001. If the parties draw fair lines, there will be no need for the governor to veto, no need for a judge to decide, and no need for the public to endure politics at its worst.
The citizens of Nevada deserve to have the reapportionment and redistricting process not used to hold legislation and critical decisions hostage at the end of the 120-day session. During this crushing Recession as legislators struggle with the weighty issues of school budgets, social service cuts, and the overall public policy of the state, we should be honest and transparent with ourselves and the voters.
My E-Verify bill is going to the Government Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation would require all contractors working on taxpayer-funded public works projects to check the legal status of their employees. With recent legislation for preferred bid status to companies who hire Nevada workers—it seems only logical that those workers be legal residents. Nevada has the highest percentage of illegal residents and workers in the country. It is estimated those numbers result in an annual $800 million impact on the state’s budget. Utilizing the E-Verify System for the public sector projects takes an important first step in mitigating this impact on our budget deficits. Can we afford not to take it?
Board of Regents and other University System officials gathered at Thursday evening’s reception at the Governor’s Mansion honoring retired State Senator Bill Raggio. They looked happier than I have seen them in weeks. Usually dire and doomed-filled appearing before the Ways & Means Committee, they appeared reassured to be in the presence of Nevada’s long-serving state senator who in the past succeeded in saving Higher Ed’s budgets. Raggio was his usual indomitable self as he strode up to both old and new lawmakers to “introduce” himself, which of course was unnecessary.
In spite of raised expectations from the return of the legendary dealmaker, there was still palatable worry on the faces of Nevada university officials in attendance. Worry they should. University systems are facing severe cuts in California, Texas, and even Pennsylvania, where Penn State and Happy Valley are facing a whopping 50% budget reduction! Nevada may be suffering—but we are certainly not alone.
(Assemblyman Hickey is a Republican representing District 25 in Washoe County.)