CARSON CITY -- After freshman Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson, called Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith by her first name and accused Democrats of refusing to hear Republicans' bills during a late-night April 19 session, veteran Assemblyman William Horne finally had had enough.
"I am typically not one to throw out the freshman card, but you have to be here a little while before accusing someone of messing with your bills, or not hearing your bills, and calling this procedure a farce," said Horne, D-Las Vegas. "It is not a farce. It is not a game. It is not a TV show. This is your first night of being here past 11."
Sherwood is the prime example of the new breed of freshman legislators.
These freshmen, particularly the Republicans, don't follow tradition or stay silent while their elders run the show. They don't subscribe to the theory that you have to go along to get along and don't hesitate to question experienced legislators and their policies.
In this memorable first year of the Legislature operating under term limits, freshmen of both parties no longer have to wait for a couple of sessions before rising to power and engaging in the debate.
Three Southern Nevada Democrats, Lucy Flores, Jason Frierson and Irene Bustamante Adams, already are vice chairmen of Assembly committees.
TERM LIMITS IMPLEMENTED
The 2011 Legislature is the first session in which the term-limits constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 has been implemented.
The amendment limits legislators from serving no more than 12 years in the state Senate and 12 years in the Assembly.
Largely because term limits ended the careers of many veteran legislators, 18 freshmen were elected to the 42-member Assembly.
Just three freshmen were elected in the state Senate, but that's because only 10 of the 21 senators, who serve four-year terms, faced term limits in November.
But four more veteran senators -- Dean Rhoads, Valerie Wiener, Mike Schneider and Mike McGinness -- will be blocked by term limits from running again in the November 2012 election.
When the amendment was on the ballot, opponents predicted term limits would lead to lobbyists and legislative staff members telling lost freshmen what to do.
That hasn't happened, veteran lobbyists like Jim Wadhams say, since the freshmen are well-informed.
Wadhams also noted that the session has not been dominated by lobbying over bills, but by Gov. Brian Sandoval's plan to cut spending and the Democrats' quest to increase taxes.
Republican lobbyist Robert Uithoven said the Republican freshman class is far more conservative than any he has seen and has held firm on the no-new-taxes messages.
Republican freshmen also are more likely to speak out than Democrats, he said.
"There is more freedom to be outspoken when you are in the minority, whether here or in Washington, D.C.," Uithoven added.
After Horne lectured Sherwood, the Henderson assemblyman didn't meekly fade away.
He even named the TV show he thought the Assembly resembled that night. Sherwood called the 4½-hour Assembly Committee of the Whole hearing "an episode of 'The Twilight Zone.' "
Then last week, he released a chart showing that of 119 bills introduced by Assembly Republicans this session, only 56 received hearings and just 32 passed out of committees.
That tends to happen to whatever party is in the minority. Past legislators complained about it to reporters, but Sherwood brought it up on the Assembly floor for everyone to hear.
Sherwood doesn't intend to behave like an old-fashioned freshman.
"With term limits, you have to step up sooner," he said last week. "We don't have the luxury of waiting two sessions before you ask questions. It doesn't mean we don't respect the institution. But the paradigm has shifted. You no longer have to pay your dues before it's your time."
ROBERSON SPEAKS OUT
Freshman Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, is Sherwood's counterpart in the state Senate.
During an evening floor session April 25, Roberson complained that Senate Democrats were holding an "incomplete discussion" on the public education budget. Democrats were complaining about the cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval but offering no tax plan to prevent cuts. If members were going to argue about education cuts, then they also should see the Democratic alternative, Roberson said.
"This is a fruitless discussion," he said.
State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, responded by saying that when he was a freshman he shared Roberson's view on how the Legislature should operate. But he learned that "because of our rules, the NRS, the constitution," legislators should first determine how much they want to spend before discussing ways to raise money.
What Roberson wants would be putting "the cart before the horse," Horsford said, and that's not the legislative process.
That may be how Horsford sees the legislative process, but Legislative Counsel Bureau administrator Lorne Malkiewich said nothing in the state constitution or the Nevada Revised Statutes prohibits legislators from proposing tax increases before completing their review of state agency budgets.
In an interview, Roberson said it is "ridiculous" for legislators to follow a process just because it always has been done that way.
"I am an attorney. I have spent my career advocating for people and causes, and it doesn't make sense at the age of 40 that I am going to come into this building and not ask questions. If you're not up here speaking out for what you believe, then what are you doing here?"
DEMOCRATS AND DECORUM
Democratic freshmen haven't been as outspoken, but their views dominate hearings before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee and other committees. Seven of the panel's 13 members are freshmen.
Bustamante Adams, vice chairwoman of Government Affairs, is not one to deliver fiery speeches or rile the opposing party. She believes she can be more effective by listening and learning before speaking.
"Silence is an advantage" in the Legislature, as it has been in her professional life when she led the overwhelmingly male Latin Chamber of Commerce, according to Bustamante Adams. "When I spoke, people listened."
"You can hold your tongue and not always have the mike in your hand," she said. "I don't know about others, but it has worked for me. I am more reserved. I wait and learn the whole picture before speaking."
That said, Bustamante Adams said freshmen are not blindly falling for lobbyists' persuasion. She said her party offered freshmen training on a variety of matters, such as water policy, before the session convened. That training helped prepare them for the issues.
Both Flores, chairwoman of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, and Frierson, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, were lobbyists at the Legislature in 2009.
Flores said that gave her an advantage.
"We have lost a lot of people and institutional knowledge with term limits, but I don't agree that staff and lobbyists are running things," she said.
Flores considers Sherwood a friend, but doesn't see a need to make unnecessary and argumentative floor statements.
"There is a decorum we follow. We don't call people by their first names. It keeps the process from being personal. We want to talk about the issues."
Horsford isn't one to badmouth Roberson or any freshman.
"They are independent, they work hard and are here to do what is best for the people who elected them," he said.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.