Nevada's Double Dipsters
by Knight Allen
everal years ago I began to observe the ever-increasing number of public employees (PEs) holding elective office and commingling the powers of more than one branch of government in their hands.
Unfortunately, the last few years have not been very kind to the separation of powers doctrine. Some disparate happenings of the past biennium offer a glimpse of how badly the most fundamental principle of our political system has been eroded.
I might as well start with the most disheartening incident of all. In Trainor v Evans, the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed the case challenging a University of Nevada, Reno employee sitting in the legislature. It was basically a one line decision: "No basis in law."
What does that mean? Is the Constitution now nothing more than a "suggested guideline"? Have we come to a point in time when the Constitution may mean what it says but it doesnt matter because it has no force of law?
Our system of government is not that hard to understand: One, two, three branches and no one exercising authority in one branch may exercise authority in either of the others. "No basis in law"? That is the law.
In fact, when you get to our core as a society, its the on1y law we have, isnt it?
What happens when it can be successfully argued that the Constitution is nothing without the statutes? That somehow the statutes give life to the Constitution instead of the other way around?
I sincerely believe that Trainor vs Evans may very well be the Nevada Supreme Courts Dred Scott decision.
Elsewhere, the Ethics Commission ruled it is perfectly OK for a UNR professor to sit on the University Board of Regents.
In Henderson, city officials figured out a way to get around the Nevada law that prohibits PEs from having more than one public employee retirement savings account.
Their two police officer/councilmen had a combined $55,000 paid by the city into their retirement accounts to provide them with council as well as police officer retirement benefits. One Las Vegas police officer/councilman was quoted as saying "... this [the prohibition against state employees double-dipping] has got to change because there are more cops running for office."
How prophetic. In the following city election in Henderson, the only two candidates for a council seat were both police officers.
As for the Las Vegas police officer/councilman, the press reported that he has assumed two of the most powerful positions availablemayor pro-tem and a seat on the Las Vegas CIA board.
As most people know, one doesnt need 50 percent to control an institution. Position. Placement. More than numbers, these are the keys to control and nowhere is this more evident than in the 1997 Nevada state legislature, where PEs made up about 25 percent of the membership
In the Senate the assistant majority leader was a PE and is one retirement away from majority leadership.
The minority leader was a PE and is a two-seat swing from majority leader.
In the Assembly, the majority leader was a PE and is one retirement away from speaker.
The assistant majority leader is a PE and is next in line for majority leader.
Most interesting of all: Of the 12 standing committees, one-half are chaired by PEs, including Elections, Procedures & Ethics, Government Affairs, Judiciary, Education and Ways & Means.
The words of U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, in his February, 1998 line-item veto decision, best decribe the danger of this condition:
The separation of powers into three coordinate branches is central to the principles on which this country was founded. The declared purpose of separating and devolving the powers of government was to diffuse power, the better to secure liberty.
Can anyone look at what is happening in Nevada and say we are adhering to the central principle of the separation of powers? Or, are we witnessing a steady consolidation and commingling of government powers in the same hands?
Two years ago I stated my conviction that the Fourth Estate was the last and only hope for the Constitution. Events over the last few years have only reinforced and strengthened that belief.NJ
Knight Allen is a Las Vegas resident and Jeffersonian Democrat who is a serious student of Nevada government affairs.