On the first day of the 2017 Legislature, the new Democratic leaders of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate showed they’ll pursue similar agendas in much different ways.
For the first time, lawmakers selected two African-Americans as the leaders of Nevada’s legislative bodies. In the Assembly, Jason Frierson earned unanimous selection as speaker — although a child on the hushed floor produced laughs by calling out “nay” when Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske asked if there was any opposition.
The good times continued in the Assembly. Even though Frierson called for several liberal policies in his opening speech, including an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay, it was a warm and welcoming statement. There will be policy disagreements. Some will be contentious. But Frierson didn’t make the coming disagreements personal.
Not so in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford’s opening speech was passionate but also pointed — directly at Minority Leader Michael Roberson. Last session, as majority leader, Roberson, R-Henderson, acted aggressively. He cut off debate in the waning moments of the session to ensure passage of a bill to reorganize the Clark County School District.
That procedural tactic is still drawing Ford’s ire.
“This session, we will consider our differences of opinion without prematurely quashing debate,” said Ford. “And when we disagree, we will do so without being disagreeable.”
Ford didn’t mention Roberson by name in that section of his speech, but the subtext was clear.
“It was certainly divisive under a veil of unity,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, the assistant minority leader, on Ford’s speech. “I hope it was a brief lapse in judgment and not the tenor he’s going to carry into this entire legislative session.”
Ford also made big promises to union bosses, including undoing minor prevailing wage reforms passed in 2015. Fortunately, his plans to roll back Republican reforms face a big obstacle.
“The governor believes it would be ill-advised to begin a new legislative session by trying to undo past progress, some of which was passed with bipartisan support,” said Mari St. Martin, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s spokeswoman. That’s great news for taxpayers, and it’s likely to produce more contention in the Senate.
“Some people quote movie titles in describing the expected result of this session, saying that ‘There will be blood,’” continued Ford. “Let’s prove them wrong.”
The verbal knives sticking out of Roberson’s back, however, show the bad blood’s already flowing.