Missing lawmaker alert: Have you seen this man?

Victor Joecks

In one sense, this man isn’t missing at all. Pete Goicoechea was one of the most prominent figures during the 2011 Nevada Legislative Session and led Assembly Republicans as their minority leader.

But take a closer look at that undated photo from the Ely Times. In another sense, the man in that picture – the man who earned the right to wear that “Mean 15” hat by his courageous stand against new taxes in 2003 – has been missing for years.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the “Mean 15,” or, more accurately, the “Fearless 15,” 15 Assemblymen and women earned that badge of honor during the 2003 session when they stood up to Gov. Kenny Guinn and his plan to implement a gross-receipts tax in Nevada.

Thanks to a 1996 voter-approved initiative, the Nevada Constitution requires a two-thirds supermajority in each legislative chamber to approve tax increases. That meant the 15 members of the Republican Assembly caucus [opposed to tax increases] controlled the minimum amount of votes required to block new taxes [during the 2003 Legislative Session]. Quickly earning the nickname “The Mean 15,” the caucus unanimously rejected the governor’s tax proposals.

But while The Mean 15 had the votes to block a record-breaking tax increase, Guinn’s supporters in the legislature – majority Democrats in the assembly and a bipartisan group in the senate led by Republican Majority Leader Bill Raggio – were able to pass the appropriations bills with mere simple majorities. Lawmakers appropriated $4.83 billion in general fund spending – even though they lacked the supermajorities necessary to raise taxes to the level required to fund their spending.

That group of 15 lawmakers then rejected tax increases during the 2003 session and a special session held right after the regular session. During a second special session, however, one of the “Mean 15” caved and voted to pass an $833 million tax increase, which at the time was the largest tax increase in Nevada’s history.

Goicoechea, however, stuck by his principles to end, voting against the record-setting tax hike.

No one can take those moments of courage away from Goicoechea. He faced immense pressure from special-interest groups, Democrats and the leftists in his own party, led by Guinn and Raggio, and stood his ground – even through two special sessions.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. This past session, Goicoechea led Assembly Republicans in tax-increase negotiations with Democrats. He ultimately voted to raise taxes by extending over $600 million in “sunset” taxes.

Consequently, Goicoechea earned low scores, especially for a Republican, on both NPRI’s 2009 and 2011 Legislative Report Card. In 2009, he scored only 34.86 percent (p. 18) and was not considered an ally of economic liberty. In 2011, he earned a 52.88 percent (p. 18). A lawmaker earning a score above 50 percent is generally considered an ally of economic freedom.

What changed from 2003 to the present for Goicoechea? Did he cave to political pressure? Did he have a genuine change in beliefs? Did he feel the need to cut deals to benefit his constituents in other areas?

I don’t know, but I ask you again: Have you seen this man? The man in that hat? Nevada could use more courage from its lawmakers.