blank.gif (51 bytes) Government
Are Some People More Equal Than Others?

How Unrepresentative Can
A State Legislature Get?

by Ralph Heller, NPRI Senior Fellow

he traditional line between the executive and legislative branches of government has become blurred in recent years. At what point does the participation of present and former government employees in the legislative process begin to undermine the idea of balanced, representative government? That is the question increasingly bothering officials and others in several states—and nowhere more urgently than in Nevada where present and former government employees will constitute fully 30 percent of the 1999 Nevada Legislature.

No fewer than 19 of next year’s 63 Nevada legislators are present or former government employees, or in one or two instances individuals who have derived a substantial part of their income from government. Moreover, 15 of the 19 are incumbents, likely to possess more influence and persuasive powers in the corridors and byways of everyday legislative life than their freshmen colleagues.

Included in the line-up are two City of Las Vegas employees, an attorney who works for Clark County Legal Services, a city planner, a regional planner, a county lobbyist, a police captain, a UNLV professor, two northern Nevada legislators who work for UNR, a retired city manager, a public school administrator, four public school teachers, a retired public school teacher and two other retired public employees.

No less interesting is the fact that 18 of the 19 "public payroll legislators" are Democrats, explaining once again who is likely to be buttering whose bread. The lone Republican is Assemblyman David Humke, who is associated with the UNR business school.

There is little about the make-up of the new Nevada Senate to be overly concerned about. Only two of 21 senators are or have been on public payrolls, UNLV professor Dina Titus and retired public employee Joe Neal. Two of 21 senators adds up to only 9.5 percent of the legislative body, not much to be alarmed about.

Unbalanced Assembly Representation

ut an incredible 17 of next year’s 42 Assembly members are present or former government employees—or individuals who have derived a substantial part of their income from government. That means that fully 40 percent of the 1999 Assembly has come from the public sector, and that 40 percent breaks down as follows:

Public Sector Represen-
tation in the Assembly

Percent


Clark County:

Washoe County:

Rest of State:

11 out of 26

4 out of 8

2 out of 8

42

50

25


Totals/Average: 17 out of 42

40

 

When 15 of 19 "public payroll" legislators—13 of 17 in the Assembly—are incumbents who were reelected easily, what citizens are really witnessing is the disproportionate political influence of the teachers union and other public employee groups, an influence reflected in the huge gap between average public and private salaries in Nevada.

The state’s Democratic Party obviously welcomes this disproportionate influence and does its best to reward the public employees in its ranks. Note that the party’s leader in the Assembly is police officer Richard Perkins and its leader in the Senate is state university professor Titus. In Nevada it is the executive branch of government that steers the ship of state, not only in the governor’s mansion but also in the legislature.

Add to this increasingly blurred distinction between the various branches of government the fact that the 1999 Legislature will also include the usual sprinkling of attorneys and at least one union official, and taxpayers should have enough to worry about to assure them of a number of sleepless nights between now and spring.  NJ

Ralph Heller is senior consulting editor of Nevada Journal.


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