The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object. –Thomas Jefferson
Given the sad news that CityLife is nearing death, my brief career as a print columnist appears destined to expire, too, in about 800 words. So let’s get to it: the Will of the People - the raison d’etre for government according to our nation’s third president – is taking a beating in Nevada.
This is nothing new. Lawmakers in the Silver State have a long tradition of doing, well, what they want, and not what you want. Remember the voter-imposed smoking ban? It’s gone. Lawmakers didn’t like it, so as soon as the law allowed, they changed it.
Now, the Will of the People is under attack from a variety of fronts. Three instances worthy of examination – the state’s embarrassing defense of its gay marriage ban in which the governor is taking political cover behind the Will of the People; the unwillingness of some municipal lawmakers to finally, after all these years, provide access to medical marijuana as mandated by the Nevada Constitution; and the effort by some politicians to side-step voter-imposed term limits.
As Jon Ralston noted last week in his column (http://bit.ly/1gmSA4T), Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is enduring the brunt of criticism for the brief filed in a Ninth Circuit case challenging Nevada’s voter-imposed ban on gay marriage. Her client, Governor Brian Sandoval, retains his teflon.
As Jon revealed first, Masto had no obligation to file anything but didn’t even know it until questioned. As a Democrat, she’s expected to be a friend to marriage equality. Not so for Sandoval, a Republican. And thanks to you, dear voters, he gets a pass. Our governor is doing what any responsible official would. He’s merely defending the Will of the People.
But in doing so he’s hitched his fortunes to an outdated notion on its way to being reversed, perhaps first by lawmakers in Carson City and eventually, by voters. The governor, left standing on the wrong side of history, will be powerless to stop it.
Brian Sandoval is not the Governor of Nevada at the turn of the century, when we lined up to amend the Constitution, declaring only heterosexual marriage to be valid. He’s the Governor of now, a Catholic contemporary of Pope Francis and the papacy of Who Am I to Judge? Forgive him Father… for he is defending the Weak Will of the People.
In city halls throughout Nevada an all-out assault is taking place on the Will of the People as officials substitute their own outdated morality for policy, refusing to comply with the voter mandate to make marijuana available to medical patients, preferring instead to fuel the futile pursuit of pot smokers. This, even as the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid join the growing chorus of Americans who are sick of the resources wasted in the name of justice.
What will it take for municipal officials to recognize the benefits of weed? Campaign contributions. Big ones, commensurate with those paid by the liquor, gaming and adult entertainment industries. Nothing communicates the Will of the People like cash.
The final affront to the Will of the People comes from politicians attempting to subvert term limits. The Nevada Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether city council members who have maxed out their time can push the reset button and possibly gain another 12 years on the council by running for mayor. It’s a supposedly nuanced issue and the Attorney General and Legislative Counsel have penned opposing opinions.
The politicians who want to extend their council stays argue the position of mayor carries separate duties and powers, including the ability to declare emergencies. That’s true. But do you remember the last time a mayor declared an emergency? I don’t.
Mayors cut ribbons and such, but most of the time mayors in a council-manager form of government do what council members do - they vote. As Justice James Hardesty noted, if separate duties is the measuring standard, what’s to stop the state Legislature from passing laws declaring distinct duties for each member of the council? Sound far-fetched? Remember the smoking ban.
Regardless of what you think of term limits, and there are plenty of arguments to be made on both sides, the concept approved by Nevada voters is simple: to limit the power of career politicians and the lobbyists who influence their votes. Period. The rest is just noise.
And the politicians who fight it are thumbing their noses at you-know-who.
DANA GENTRY is executive producer of Ralston Reports on KSNV.