The lawmakers vs. the law: Part I

Steven Miller

Bow down, lowly commoners!

Here come your betters — the resplendent, the enlightened, the life-giving, the self-anointed sun kings of Nevada, the … the … uh … the politicians?

Yes, indeed!

Not content with looting state households every time they and their allied government-union brigands get to Carson City, Nevada's tone-deaf and reflexively power-hungry pols now are out to legally — but unconstitutionally — elevate themselves above you and every other non-politician in Nevada.

Moreover, the legislation they're pushing would not only make them into a privileged elite under the law, but do the same for the entire class of aspiring power-seekers!

Their proposed vehicle, passed out of committee last week, is Assembly Bill 433.

Introduced by "Tick" Segerblom, it would outlaw any inhibition of aspiring political office-seekers, by any employer, any time, anywhere.

Moreover, lawyer Segerblom and the rest of his legislative collaborators casually reveal a startling level of contempt for the tested wisdom in Nevada's 187-year-old constitution.

Although Article Three, the Separation-of-Powers clause, explicitly bars anyone working in one branch of Nevada government from exercising power in another, the Segerblom bill actually awards its special privileges not only to those who already so violate the constitution, but even to those who seek to do so.

"Measure prohibits government hurdles for public workers running for office," read the Las Vegas Review-Journal headline on April 5. "Legislators expressed overwhelming support for a bill that would prevent governments from deterring their workers from running for public office," wrote the R-J's capitol correspondent, Ed Vogel, in the story.

Segerblom was quoted as having proposed the bill "because of a Las Vegas [city] requirement that employees who run for office must take unpaid leaves of absence when they file for office."

"He later identified Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-Las Vegas, as the city worker forced to go off payroll when he filed his candidacy last year."

What Segerblom did not say is that he's seeking to demolish reforms the City of Las Vegas attempted to institute in the wake of the infamous Wendell Williams scandals of 2003.

From September of that year until well into mid-2004, news reports told of the unmistakable stench found rising off city government, the state legislature, Clark County, the College of Southern Nevada and the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Repeatedly revealed to everyone who followed the stories were the noxious consequences — in corruption, abuse of power and intimidation of honest government employees — that ensue when lawmakers are permitted to skirt Article Three and hold jobs simultaneously as employees of the same government agencies over which they have authority as state legislators.

What became quite apparent in the Wendell Williams affair and, later, the Richard Perkins imbroglio, was that Nevada's largest cities were corruptly tying themselves in administrative knots to pretend these individuals really pulled their own weight as city employees. The real deal, it became all too apparent, was that in exchange for giving their municipal employers super-lobbyist leverage over hapless, in-the-dark taxpayers, these employees received the special privilege of living above the law.

Still today, more than a dozen state lawmakers parade around Carson City while illegally — under the state constitution — also holding down dandy, full-time, state- or local-government jobs. For all the many state- and local-government workers who've been laid off — teachers, firemen, administrators — this really has to grate. While they undergo life-wrenching stress, they see that their lawmakers don't give a fig for the state's most fundamental law. Perhaps some of the highly qualified unemployed should start clamoring for the jobs held by such sitting legislators unconstitutionally.

If anyone should know the chaos that ensues when powerful lawmakers also get paid as local-government employees, it should be Segerblom himself: His own wife, Sharon Segerblom, was Wendell Williams' appointed supervisor, but told the Las Vegas city auditor that she felt uncomfortable quizzing Williams about his phonied-up timecards and bogus sick-leave reports because of his powerful position in the Nevada Legislature.

That Richard "Tick" Segerblom himself would introduce legislation of this ilk, after all of that, is more than disturbing. Not only is he attempting to further privilege government-employee-politicians over the agencies that employ them, but even over their ultimate employers, the common people of this state.

Even the older laws that AB 433 seeks to amend were wrongheaded from the start. They attempted to interfere in the private contractual relations between a private employer and his/her employee. Although one of the best arguments for those laws was to encourage "citizen legislators" rather than professional politicians, that still doesn't warrant the government interference with private contracts. There never was reason to believe that under the right circumstances, the issue wouldn't be worked out between the employers and employees. Now the Legislature is running amuck, seeking to empower every would-be political activist over his or her employer. Who knows where this will stop?

That legislators would brazenly express "overwhelming support" for so rancid a bill suggests that they and many other Nevadans need a serious refresher course in the importance for good government and human liberty of the long Western common-law principle of the constitutional separation of powers.

We'll explore that topic in Part II of this series.

Steven Miller is vice president for policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit

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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.