At the beginning of the legislative session in February, so many print and TV reporters crammed into the legislative chambers to cover the sad saga of Assemblyman Steven Brooks that regular reporters such as those with the Review-Journal stood or sat on folding chairs in the press galleries.
A total of 77 reporters received press credentials on Feb. 4 and 42 more four days later.
Today Review-Journal reporters regularly have the entire Senate and Assembly press galleries to themselves for floor voting sessions. Brooks has gone, and so have the reporters who jumped when he went in the restroom.
The Legislature today is covered full-time by one TV reporter — Mackenzie Warren of KSNV-TV, Channel 3 in Las Vegas, and nine print reporters — three from the Las Vegas Sun, two from the Review-Journal, two from The Associated Press, one from the Reno Gazette-Journal and one from the Nevada Appeal in Carson City.
Occasionally TV reporters from Reno, only 30 miles away, stop by for an hour or so. Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius and independent columnist Jon Ralston drop in every now and then. Mitch Fox of public television in Las Vegas arrives one day a week.
But there are far fewer full-time reporters than in the past. In the late 1970s two Las Vegas TV stations sent full-time reporters to the Legislature. At the time, satellite trucks did not exist, and camera operators each day drove to the Reno airport to hand their tapes to Las Vegas-bound passengers. When the plane arrived in Las Vegas, TV staff members looked for passengers with their tapes. Primitive, but it worked.
Just two years ago the Nevada News Bureau website had two full-time reporters in Carson City for the Legislature. The website now is defunct. No other websites have emerged.
You can find many Nevada political bloggers if you look through the Internet, but they are people who offer personal opinions but seldom if ever show up in Carson City. The Gazette-Journal also has dropped one full-time legislative staff member, leaving almost everything up to Ray Hagar. He cannot be in two places at once, so AP’s temporary legislative reporter Matt Woolbright sometimes covers significant Reno-generated stories such as the campus carry bill sought by a young woman raped on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
But the reportorial decline is especially significant in TV coverage. During the height of the tax debate in the session in 2011, five or six TV stations had reporters in the Legislative Building, some quite persistent in forcing legislators to defend their pro- and anti-tax stances. Whether they made a difference never will be known conclusively, but taxes did become center stage in newspapers and on television.
Maybe it’s the economy, lack of advertising, poor ratings or the belief by TV news directors that they can do without legislative news unless there is an aberration like Brooks. For whatever reason, TV has scant presence in Carson City this session.
If the media is the message, the message isn’t getting out.
— Ed Vogel
FUN WITH THE COMRADES
State lawmakers aren’t the only ones who can bring a bit of levity to the sometimes arcane legislative process.
In a Senate vote last week on a bill to eliminate an antiquated provision of state law allowing discrimination against members of the Communist Party, state Sen. David Parks, who also serves as president pro tem, asked Senate Secretary David Byerman if there were any amendments to the measure, Senate Bill 506.
Byerman replied: “There are none, comrade.”
The response momentarily tripped up Parks, who was running the Senate floor session due to the absence of Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.
The bill passed unanimously.
And for those who think lawmakers only pass new laws, and don’t remove antiquated statutes, the vote on SB506 was one of four measures approved in either the Senate or Assembly on Tuesday doing just that.
— Sean Whaley
MARVEL BRINGS THEM BACK
Former Assembly members Richard Perkins, Morse Arberry, Lynn Hettrick and David Goldwater were given a rare opportunity to speak again on the Assembly floor Thursday during a ceremony memorializing 30-year Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, who died at age 86 in March.
The former Assembly members spoke of how touched they were by Marvel’s devotion to his wife, Willie, who usually sat next to her husband in the Assembly chambers, and how he put statesmanship above party when he cast the deciding vote to increase taxes by more than $800 million in 2003. That vote, Perkins remembered, came on July 22, about six weeks into a second special session. It eventually cost Marvel his seat.
Goldwater, elected to the Legislature at age 23, said he never knew a couple with as close a relationship as the Marvels and that he learned how to treat women appropriately from Marvel.
Arberry, an African-American, spoke of how he went to the Carson-Tahoe Hospital to visit Marvel in his latter years. When he was told by nurses that only close relatives could visit the Caucasian Marvel, Arberry said, “Can’t you look at me and tell that I am not his brother? Then they let me in.”
Hettrick even broke into tears when discussing his admiration for Marvel.
Perhaps the biggest laughs came after current Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, recalled how as a freshman in 2003 he could not understand Marvel, who often mumbled.
But by the time that session ended, Horne said he could understand Marvel perfectly, and realized the time had come for the Legislature to adjourn.
— Sean Whaley
LAUGHLIN-BULLHEAD CITY TOWN HALLS
Rep. Joe Heck on May 1 will talk with voters in Laughlin at a town hall meeting. A few hours later, he’ll talk with voters on the other side of the Colorado River as well.
Heck and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona have scheduled “joint town halls” that day. In the morning the GOP duo will hold court at Laughlin High School. In the afternoon, they’ll open the doors at the City Council chambers in Bullhead City, Ariz.
In between the lawmakers are sponsoring a lunch for officials from both sides of the river. It’s not yet set on which side they’ll be eating, according to a Heck spokesman.
Heck and Gosar have collaborated on public lands energy legislation, and the border communities share concerns about veterans care and retirement security.
— Steve Tetreault
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.