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Nevada conservatives launch call to battle against tax hikes

It’s a scene that has played out in the meeting rooms of county Republican groups throughout Nevada.

Upset Republicans passing resolutions denouncing the more moderate GOP legislators who voted for the $1.1 billion tax package approved by the 2015 Legislature.

Such indignation was on full display Wednesday when members of the Clark County Republican Party passed a resolution censuring their legislators who supported Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tax increases, which are aimed at boosting revenue for public schools.

It’s a case of grassroots activism versus the Republican establishment. So far, the activists have been on the losing side. A Republican-led Legislature, at Sandoval’s urging, passed a complex tax package that eliminated sunset provisions in some taxes and launched a gross receipts tax on large businesses.

The historic tax increase ran counter to the traditional conservative notions of anti-tax increase Republicans. The conservative arm of Republicans in the Assembly thought they might have the votes to defeat the call for new and increased taxes, but they failed, as they did with other measures such as allowing concealed weapons on college campuses and requiring parental notification when minors seek abortions.

Rather than basking in the glow of victory after Republicans swept the Assembly, Senate and state constitutional races just seven months ago, local GOP members are plotting against their own for 2016. They are vowing to find candidates to defeat the Republican legislators who voted for the tax package and hope a referendum will overturn the tax hikes.

To mount a successful effort changing anything, Southern Nevada Republicans will need to do more than pack 300-plus people into the rented meeting space at a parochial school in North Las Vegas, which quickly swelled into a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday. That move appeared to attract more immediate attention from a city fire official than the spurned legislators. The fire official gave participants 20 minutes to finish business because they exceeded the building’s legal capacity.

Jordan Ross, a state whip for the Nevada Republican Party, had worked behind the scenes to get the resolution in place on the special meeting’s agenda. In an interview, Ross said its significance is that it serves as an initial shot across the bow that lays the groundwork of the grassroots Republican movement to retake control of the county party.

Among other things, he said, it would be a major step toward pre-primary candidate endorsements by the party.

Will the symbolic gesture morph into a machine that replaces Republican legislators with GOP challengers in the 2016 primary election?

In the last election, Sandoval played a central role in helping GOP candidates sweep the races, and he did this without having control of the state Republican Party. Sandoval likely will throw his considerable weight and war chest behind those who supported his tax plan.

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said actions need to take place to back up the words to lead to any change envisioned by the conservatives.

“Unless they’re willing to go out and find good candidates, it’s just a bunch of rhetoric,” Damore said.

The GOP group cast a voice vote on the anti-tax resolution, and it wasn’t unanimous.

David Gibbs, a former Clark County Republican Party chairman, said the move puts the group on a path toward irrelevance.

“Who’s going to donate to a group that censures its own members?” Gibbs said.

REFERENDUM AHEAD?

Efforts on multiple fronts are beginning to explore a referendum that repeals at least part of the tax increase.

It faces multiple hurdles. Organizers of any effort would need signatures from at least 10 percent of voters who cast ballots in the 2014 election.

That comes to about 55,233 signatures needed statewide just to get the referendum on the 2016 ballot, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Carolyn Howell of Carson City, with the backing of the Nevada Republican Party, is starting a committee to coordinate multiple efforts as different groups look at mounting a referendum to overturn the tax increase.

Three people in the early stages of looking into that effort are state Controller Ron Knecht; Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers, a former state lawmaker; and former Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, a Republican from Nye County.

Beers said there’s a wide variety of people and groups interested in a referendum, which means that it’s important for all parties to work together to avoid competing efforts.

“There are a lot of people who are upset, and they’re not all together on the same page,” Beers said.

Beers said getting the referendum on the ballot appears inevitable. The bigger challenge is stopping five competing referendums on the same issue from going on the ballot, he noted.

Knecht said he’s confident that a statewide effort will find common ground and be united. As for the needed support, he noted that Nevada voters soundly defeated a measure for a margins tax in 2014.

There are unknowns given the complexity of the tax package, which also ended sunset provisions for some taxes while putting in place a gross receipts “commerce tax” on annual business revenue of $4 million or more.

Supporters would need to determine the scope of the referendum and what part of the tax package to focus on. They also haven’t decided to aim for putting it on the ballot in the primary or general election in 2016.

In the end, the conservatives hope their effort turns into a grassroots movement that will reverse the path the Republican-led Legislature has taken, starting at the bottom and moving up.

Goedhart said: “We feel betrayed and lied to.”

BEYOND CLARK COUNTY

The Nye County Republican Party’s Facebook page has a logo that reads: “Betrayal is never forgotten.”

That county was the first to pass a resolution blasting one of its GOP legislators, Assemblyman James Oscarson, who voted for the tax increase.

Its blunt language makes it clear that Nye County Republicans don’t plan to break bread with Oscarson or Sandoval anytime soon.

Its “Resolution Excommunicating Republicans Who Voted For Largest Tax Increase in Nevada History” states that both of them “defrauded voters” and encourages Republicans to withhold support for them in future elections.

Republicans in Carson City and Storey County have passed similar resolutions.

Oscarson said people are entitled to their beliefs but added that people’s opinions can change as a “productive dialogue” helps the public understand the benefits of the tax package.

Bill Carns, chairman of the Nye County Republican Party, said the resolution reflects the party’s values and platform.

“We are truly the party, and the representatives that get elected, they sometimes damage the brand of the Republican Party,” he said.

Work will continue, Carns said, adding that there will be efforts to recruit candidates to run in 2016.

That won’t necessarily be easy.

“Usually the best candidate for the job is the person that has no interest in doing the job,” Carns said.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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