The More Things Change...

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, March 22, 2004

Ten years ago John Cummings—then boss of the state teacher union—was front-page news in Nevada: He had been the 1993 Legislature’s highest-spending lobbyist.

“Education lobbyist John Cummings says the $14,000 he spent wining and dining legislators on his way to becoming the top spender of the 1993 session ‘was well worth it,’” reported Las Vegas Sun capitol correspondent Cy Ryan.

“His big bills during the final two days of the session were on dinners for the legislative leadership at a high-priced Carson City restaurant, he said.”

Last week Cummings—more recently top lobbyist for the Community College of Southern Nevada—was front-page news again. During the 2003 legislative sessions, he had—surprise—again been the state’s highest-spending lobbyist.

In just the last two months of the marathon January-to-August 2003 Legislature, reported Las Vegas Review-Journal capitol correspondent Sean Whaley, “The former lead lobbyist for the Community College of Southern Nevada personally accumulated $8,285 in meal charges … records obtained by the Review-Journal show.”

That sum was more than twice the combined entertainment spending of all other Nevada state colleges and universities, according to a board of regents report.

Ten years ago, John Cummings was front-page news for yet another reason—he was being eased out of his high paying, high profile teacher-union job.

Initially, Cummings’ departure from his post was presented to the public as an “indefinite medical leave” so that the union boss could to be treated for “bipolar manic depression.” “Cummings cites medical reasons,” said the subhead over a March 1994 report by the Las Vegas Sun’s Jeff German.

But two weeks later the Sun’s Cy Ryan reported that an audit of the books of the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA)—Cummings’ employer—had revealed a $65,000 to $80,000 deficit. Ryan also reported that teacher union directors had learned of the audit results in March, about the same time that the media was first hearing of Cummings’ pending departure.

Also in April, Cummings and then-NSEA president Rick Millsap told reporters that Cummings would be reimbursing the union for his misuse of the NSEA expense account. But nine weeks after that a June 17 story in the Las Vegas Sun quoted unnamed sources as saying that the final agreement negotiated between Cummings’ lawyers and the NSEA did not require the former union boss to repay any of the sums in question.

Last week, 10 years later, Cummings again appeared to be in a slow-motion process of losing a high paying, high profile lobbying job. In November the Board of Regents demoted him and former CCSN President Ron Remington from their college leadership roles. Then in January, regents voted 9 to 4 to reassign Cummings to a faculty position while beginning the process of revoking his faculty tenure—which would allow Cummings’ termination.

Regents, after investigating, had concluded that both Cummings and Remington were guilty of insubordination—working to make CCSN a four-year college on their own immediate timetable, rather than on the regents’ more gradual schedule. A large majority of the board also concluded that Cummings had intentionally circumvented system Chancellor Jane Nichols and the regents to pursue hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra funding, which he himself expected to control. Cummings has denied this, but a good deal of circumstantial evidence lends credence to the allegation.

Ten years ago, during the 1993 Legislature, Cummings and other teacher union leaders were operating in a close political alliance with Nevada Resort Association lobbyists; both organizations wanted higher taxes on Nevadans. Although some journalists thought the pact odd—the supposedly “progressive” NSEA in bed with the retrograde NRA—the partnership went back to at least the late ’80s. That was when Cummings had come to Nevada to serve as NSEA director under the then-president of the teacher union, Chris Giunchigliani—the current assemblywoman. And during both the 1991 and 1993 Legislatures, the NRA-NSEA axis proved quite powerful, as each session imposed new tax burdens on Nevadans.

Ten years later, during the 2003 Legislature, Cummings was again working with Giunchigliani and Nevada Resort Association lobbyists to expand state socialism in Nevada.

This time—for the record at least—Chris Giunchigliani was Cummings’ employee: he was now CCSN government affairs director and her job was “high school liaison.”

But the basic idea was still the same: get control of some part of government and then, once again, use Nevada taxpayers’ funds to bankroll another big foray into those same Nevada taxpayers’ pockets.

The Silver State needs deep and systemic reform.

Steven Miller is policy director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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