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Things Aren't Quite
What They Seem

by Ralph Heller

"I used to believe that there was a green stick, buried on the edge of a ravine in the old Zakaz forest at Yasnaya Polyana, on which words were carved that would destroy all the evil in the hearts of men and bring them everything good." -- Count Leo Tolstoy


he operative phrase in that Tolstoy quotation is, obviously, "I used to believe." We all "used to believe" a lot of things, of course—about the presumed benevolence of government, about the selfless "public service" aspect of public employment, even about the unselfishness of public school teachers. Ultimately, we shed our childlike assumptions, sadly, and—like Tolstoy—find ourselves facing reality bearing little likeness to what we "used to believe."

Still, from time to time an occasional ray of bright promise manages to penetrate today's political fog and once again ignite men's brightest hopes and dreams. So it was with the prospect of charter schools in Nevada, schools that have already performed beyond expectations in more than a half dozen states.

This was the dream that state Senator Maurice Washington and a few others took to Carson City this year and which they nurtured through the Nevada Senate, complete with what he and others mistakenly believed were the best wishes of the Nevada State Education Association. But the teachers' union had already decided to fight the measure not in the Senate, but in the Assembly, where a virtual puppet of the union chaired the Assembly Education Committee.

If the legislative battle had been a prize fight, the "ring announcer" might have begun the contest like this:

"Ladies and gentlemen: In this corner, wearing the smiles and hopes of pupils and parents everywhere, Senate Bill 220, the Charter School Bill. And in this corner, waiting in the Assembly to mug Senate backers of SB 220, lobbyists and apologists of the NSEA."

As usual, northern Nevada's media explained very little of what was really going on for Nevada residents—who, after all, are merely parents and taxpayers, scarcely people who matter—but this magazine's managing editor fills the information void for you in this issue. Not only does Managing Editor Erica Olsen provide a blow-by-blow account of the legislative battle, but she also provides with her timely article a full-page report on how well charter schools are operating in other states, leaving Nevada parents to wonder what it is about charter schools that so terrifies certain legislators and the NSEA.

Also in this issue Contributing Editor D. Dowd Muska does a bit of investigative digging into the obscure piece of legislation that prompted Vice President A1 Gore and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to observe, "Rivers shaped our landscape in the same way that water shaped our human value; with power, beauty and spiritual guidance."

It turns out that what inspired this theological nonsense is something called the "America Heritage Rivers Initiative" (AHRI), printed in the Federal Register on May 19 but still not reported in detail in nine out of 10 U.S. newspapers. Nevada Representative Jim Gibbons is one of 11 co-sponsors of H.R. 1842, designed to stop AHRI in its tracks.

Indeed, it is this ever widening gap between reality and what you read and are told that prompted me to write the article in this issue entitled, "The 1990's: A Political 'Twilight Zone’ That Makes No Sense. Especially revealing are the latest comparative tax and other of the 50 states—and if you thought Nevada was a high-tax state before, just wait until you see where we rank among the 50 states today.

Alas, like Tolstoy, we all "used to believe" lots of things and even "used to believe" that the media was telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But empty, "feel good" rhetoric has replaced declarative sentences these days, a fact of which we were reminded last month when U.S. Attorney for Nevada Kathryn Landreth withdrew her name from consideration for a federal judgeship. One of the sentences in her letter to Senator Harry Reid will serve nicely as an obituary notice for meaningful English:

"I am not at this time ready to commit the personal resources necessary to embark upon the process toward achieving such a monumental goal as the challenge of assuming a federal judgeship."

I have suggested to NPRI President Judy Cresanta that if we ever find someone quite that rhetorically challenged we should recommend him or her for a cabinet post—or at the very least for a newspaper editorship. u

Ralph Heller is Senior Consulting Editor of Nevada Journal.


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