Secret core group meetings even kept some lawmakers in the dark about Nevada’s budget

Victor Joecks

Isn’t this just your favorite part of democracy? Our elected masters generously took four months this year to go to Carson City and decide how they were going to spend our money. Because they didn’t want us lesser beings (citizens) to have to worry about what they were doing, legislative leaders held their meetings on the most important issues of the sessionthe budget and tax increasesin private. Turns out, our legislative leaders were so secretive, they also kept some of their lesser colleagues in the dark.

Both Senators [Amodei and McGinness] said one of their problems was that so many of the decisions were made behind closed doors by the so-called “core group.” They made clear that they weren’t much better informed than the general public.

“That’s a phenomenally curious way to conduct a legislative session,” said Amodei. “Were you being kept advised of what was going on in core? Until you got within 48 hours of going to the floor and voting, pretty much no.”

McGinness said they were generally told what was decided: “Then, at the end, it was go on the floor and vote.”

Both said leadership assumed the role of meeting and deciding what to do, then delivering their caucus’ support rather than including them in the decision-making process.

And yes, it’s all legal, because the Legislature has specifically exempted itself from Nevada’s Open Meeting Law. If you want to find out more about where your legislator stands on transparency, see if he or she has signed the Nevada Freedom of Information Coalition’s transparency pledge.

I’ll leave you with this funny, but sadly realistic, dialogue between government bureaucrats on transparency.

Back in the 1980s this notion [transparency in government] was the subject of an episode (“Open Government”) of the British television sitcom Yes Minister. The following exchange among three bureaucrats illustrates just how difficult this whole business can be.

A: “What’s wrong with open government? I mean, shouldn’t the public know more about what’s going on?”

B: (with a look of disgust): “Are you serious?”

A: “Well, ah, yes, sir. I mean, it is the minister’s policy after all.”

B: “But it’s a contradiction in terms. You can be open, or you can have government.”

A: “But, but, surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know.”

C: “No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity and guilt. Ignorance has a certain (pause) dignity. You don’t just give people what they want if it’s not good for them! Do you give brandy to an alcoholic?”

B: “If people don’t know what you’re doing, then they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”

A: “I’m sorry, but I am the PM’s private secretary and if that’s what he wants, then . . .”
C: “You’ll definitely not be serving your minister by helping him make a fool of himself. Look at the ministers we’ve had. Every one of them would have been a laughingstock in three months had it not been for the most rigid and impenetrable secrecy about what they were doing!”