It was probably unreasonable to expect Assemblywoman Lucy Flores to embrace The Education Initiative, even and perhaps especially after she became the de facto top-of-the-ticket standard bearer for Nevada’s Democrats in 2014.
After all, why should Flores — who’s running for lieutenant governor — be different from almost all other Nevada Democrats, who have shrunk from the proposed 2 percent margin tax like vampires from the noonday sun? Why should a promising two-term assemblywoman in her first bid for statewide office shoulder a burden long-serving Democratic leaders refuse?
Except it’s the Democrats who are constantly telling us that Nevada’s schools are chronically underfunded, that we need more money for education, that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budgets (even augmented with millions more for schools in 2013) aren’t good enough. It was Democrats who forced the ugly standoff in 2003 over education funding, and Democrats who proposed a similar margins tax in 2011 (albeit one with a smaller rate).
And Flores is no different: She told political commentator Jon Ralston on March 24 — the night she first revealed her stance on the margin tax, saying “that is not the proposal that I favor” — that schools need more money.
Sure, she played coy with the Review-Journal’s Laura Myers, who asked the bottom-line question: How would Flores vote on the matter in November, when it will appear as Question 3 on the ballot? (She declined to say specifically, although it’s not hard to picture her punching the “yes” button in the privacy of the voting booth.)
But in an interview with Mundo Fox TV last week, she said it again: The Education Initiative may have a negative impact on jobs, and “unfortunately that plan fails in many places and that is not a plan I can support.”
Which is interesting, because that means Flores has the exact same position on the issue as Sandoval, who has repeatedly denounced the tax in speeches to various groups around the state.
There are good political reasons for Flores to take the stand she did: If she’d come out for the tax, she’d have given the eventual winner of the Republican lieutenant governor primary — hotelier Sue Lowden or state Sen. Mark Hutchison — a ready-made issue to use against her. Organized labor, a key Democratic base, is divided on the question, and may end up coming out against it. Taking a stand in favor would alienate that base. Meanwhile, progressives are unlikely to defect from Flores over this issue, so she loses only the support (and maybe respect) of the teachers union.
But best (read — worst) of all: Nevada Democrats have much to gain and little to lose by remaining silent. If the tax passes, despite what will be a massive campaign against it sponsored by the Just-Say-No business community, Democrats can claim a mandate for education and use the new money without ever having to do any of the heavy lifting that was necessary to get the tax on the November ballot. If it fails, they avoid being associated with it and return to the same status quo they’ve always known.
No, the only thing Flores or other Nevada Democratic leaders (looking at you, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick) had to gain by embracing The Education Initiative is demonstrating they have the courage and leadership required to run the Legislature. Taking a stand would show they mean to do more for schools than use them as a campaign talking point, a legislative bargaining chip. And while the tax does have its flaws, embracing it as the best chance to reform the state’s tax system in a decade would have shown they are smart enough to recognize that this is an opportunity not to be lost, and one that likely will not come again soon.
But Flores and her fellows have been clear: This is not the proposal that they favor. And while voters who care about schools can probably understand why, they also can’t help but be a little bit disappointed, too.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.