The Bad Faith Coalition

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, August 16, 2004

See if you can spot a pattern here. The state AFL-CIO puts on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment. It describes this to the media as a measure to raise the minimum wage by a dollar an hour. Except that the fine print of the proposed amendment turns out to exempt companies from the law if they make a deal with Big Labor! Yes, the scheme would give labor union officials the legal power to permit union companies to hire new employees at rates below the new minimum wage. It’s an engraved invitation to mob-style union corruption.

The Nevada teacher union puts on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment. It describes this to the media as a measure to increase per-pupil education funding in Nevada to “the national average.” Except that the fine print of the proposed amendment turns out to actually require that Nevada taxpayers, from now on, pay far above the per-pupil “national average” into education-system coffers. It does this by requiring that the billions of dollars Nevada taxpayers pay to build and fund new schools not be counted when the state’s per-pupil funding is calculated.

A group calling itself “People for a Better Nevada” (PFBN) circulates a proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot. The amendment is titled, “The Insurance Rate Reduction and Reform Act.” Except that the text of the proposed amendment turns out to be a virtual Trojan horse—eight probably unconstitutional sections likely to be struck down, surrounding a ninth section that would be left standing. The eight sections—sloppily and at times incoherently written—would subject the insurance industry to confiscatory price rollbacks. The ninth section, clearly written, would change the state constitution to block any Nevada medical malpractice reform legislation passed by state lawmakers or Nevada voters.

At the same time, PFBN circulates another proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot. This amendment is titled, “The Stop Frivolous Lawsuits and Protect Your Legal Rights Act.” Yet, the text of this measure also turns out to be devoted to prohibiting tort reform legislation in Nevada.

Given the two proposals’ clear alignment with the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association’s long-running hostility to tort reform, the Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed association spokesman Gerald Gillock. But the latter intimated that the trial lawyers were not behind the proposal and then glossed over what was transparently the intent of the “insurance” measure.

“As far as I know,” Gillock told reporter Sean Whaley, “there is no indication that this is anything more than a sincere effort to get an across-the-board insurance rollback and make insurance companies accountable.”

Two days later, another spokesperson for the trial lawyer group allowed as how it was, after all, involved—at least as a “member” of PFBN. She denied, however, any financial involvement by the association. Any financial contributions from trial lawyers, she said, would simply reflect the actions of individual trial lawyers.

Five days later, however, reporter Whaley revealed the existence of a two-page March fund-raising letter from the association’s president to the membership. It officially asked for donations to back an initiative campaign intended to amend the state constitution so that it would block any serious tort reform in Nevada.

“Your Board of Governors and Executive Committee have recruited some of the best professionals in the United States to assist us in devising a plan to stop the initiative process from eliminating innocent victims’ rights,” said the letter from then-President Andrew Thomas, referring to a doctors petition already qualified for the ballot. “Unless we begin building a constitutional wall … this election, we will become the next Texas, where last fall voters approved sweeping tort reform for all torts in that state via initiative.”

Finally, Whaley also exploded the pretenses of “People for a Better Nevada.” Front-person Carmen Cashman—when not ducking reporters—had represented the petition drive as the effort of a small group with little money for the operation, requiring her to work out of her home. But soon expensive, professionally compensated, Palm-Pilot-bearing signature-gatherers were spotted collecting signatures for both anti-tort-reform initiatives. And who turned out to be the resident agent for PFBN listed at the Secretary of State’s office? None other than the Nevada Trial Lawyer Association’s treasurer.

So, what does it say about the state AFL-CIO, the state teacher union and the state trial lawyers group that they choose to structure their initiatives so thoroughly in bad faith?

Whatever the answer, it certainly says scary things about their real attitudes toward the people of Nevada.

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

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