The Gathering Storm

Steven Miller

In California last week Assembly Democrats got caught calculating how they could profit politically by drawing out the Golden State’s budget crisis.

Unaware that a live microphone was broadcasting their strategy session to hundreds of lobbyists, legislative staff members and state-capitol media, 11 members of the Democratic Study Group candidly discussed the partisan benefits they might reap by blocking budget progress.

Not only would it build up pressure on minority Republicans to raise taxes, said several Assembly members, it could also help the campaign of their union allies to kill off the California constitution’s two-thirds supermajority requirement for legislative passage of tax increases.

For months a California Democratic talking point had been to blame minority Republicans for “holding the budget process hostage.”

The similarity to tactics pursued for much of the year by leaders of the Nevada Assembly is striking.

Here, too, a talking point struck with the regularity of a metronome by Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley and Speaker Richard Perkins was that minority Republicans were to blame for “holding Nevada’s school children hostage.”

Yet it was Buckley and Perkins who consciously had lashed a record tax increase to legislation to fund the state schools—in express violation of the state constitution.  Article 4, Section 17 of the Nevada Constitution says, “Each law enacted by the Legislature shall embrace but one subject, and matter, properly connected therewith, which subject shall be briefly expressed in the title….”

Nevada Assembly leaders also held education hostage by refusing, repeatedly, to even consider spending reductions. Had they been willing to cut a mere $100 million off their record $800-plus million tax increase, the budget could have passed weeks, perhaps even months, earlier—precluding all the alleged trauma undergone by the state school system.

But there is something even more striking than the similarity of tactics used by Assembly leaders in California and Nevada.

It’s the similarity of the mindsets these incidents have revealed—and those mindsets’ disturbing nature.

Routinely nowadays we all tut-tut over the cynical tactics of political hardball. But recently, I would suggest, we are seeing something that is of another order entirely.

Increasingly in America we are coming upon political “representatives” who are actually more than willing to make conditions worse for their constituents—just so long as it increases the odds that the politicians’ own political power will be augmented.

This is not politics.          

Strictly speaking, this is sociopathy.

And what it reveals is a relationship between elected pols and their electors that increasingly resembles the relationship of predators and their prey.

To a degree this has always been inherent in politics. To the extent that political figures are possessed with their own self-importance—a definite occupational hazard—they tend to look out upon the citizenry with a corresponding, if concealed, condescension.

Evaporation of limitations on government power over the last century has only made this more likely. Thus our self-anointed come to see citizens as mere resources, as the mud and straw out of which they—deploying government coercion—can construct great collective monuments to their own hubris.

Unfortunately for everyone in Nevada, the first decade of the 21st century is absolutely the last point in time when Silver State citizens should be subjected to this sort of silliness.

The reason is the major financial storm looming on the horizon. It promises economic calamity of a magnitude not seen since the 1930s—for Nevada, America and the world.

As thousands of bankers, brokers, exporters and economists acknowledge every day, the global economy—ever-more destabilized after decades of U.S. credit excess and payment imbalances—is descending into the worst industrial and financial downturn since the Great Depression. And exacerbating it all is a U.S. central bank that insists on prescribing more and more of precisely the same medicine that has made America and the world economy so sick.

Confronting such an ugly and threatening storm, prudent stewards for the people of Nevada would have used the 2003 Legislature for goals very different than those we have seen.

Prudent stewards would have known it was time to batten down the hatches, target government waste and sleaze, and get the ship of state and the Nevada economy ready for the tough trials ahead.

But we have not had prudent stewards. And so now, as we face what is likely to be the Storm of the Century, new burdens have been placed upon us.

We will have to remove them.

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

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.