Public employees to defend benefits

Public employees in Nevada are keenly aware of a movement to further trim costs associated with their retirement benefits, and they’re ready to push back.

They’ve founded a group called Nevadans for Nevada and have hired lobbyist Dave Kallas for the 2011 Legislature.

Kallas, a former Public Employees Retirement System board member and past director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, says the group has raised contributions at “six-digit” levels to tell their side of the story.

“If the public really understood the mechanics of this and the cost associated with this they would be a lot more favorable,” Kallas said.

He called the group a coalition of public employee unions and associations representing 90 percent of the 106,000 PERS members.

One message they intend to send to the public is that Nevada PERS has a 25.6-year plan to resolve unfunded liabilities and is one of five state systems that will “never run out of money.”

“I know the group intends to run an active public campaign to educate voters and elected officials on the realities of sustainability,” Kallas said.

Jeremy Aguero, of the economics research firm Applied Analysis in Las Vegas, however, says one reason the system will stay afloat is that contribution rates can always increase.

“Of course it is going to be fine because they get to increase contribution rates,” Aguero said. “It will continue to be solvent, it just will continually draw money away from other services at the state and local level.”

In theory, employers and employees each pay half of the contributions. In practice that doesn’t always happen, particularly at the local level, Aguero said. Unions often negotiate contract provisions that put the entire burden on the employer.

It will be a hot topic during the session with reformers calling for more restrictions or even a switch from defined benefits to a 401(k)-style system.

But that could cause new problems, even if applied just to new employees, because the plan to resolve unfunded liabilities relies in part on future contributions from those new employees.

— Benjamin Spillman

Extra security

Over two decades, Leslie Bruno’s Pro-Tect Security firm has guarded thousands of events in Nevada, from small private political fundraisers to major public conventions.

Last year, they protected U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle and visiting ex-presidents. And at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas they kept watch on singer Lady Gaga, “Green Hornet” star Seth Rogen and gangsta rapper 50 Cent, among other celebrities in a crowd of 140,000 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

On the third day of the show a gunman went on a rampage at a “Congress on Your Corner” event held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. It was the sort of incident that Pro-Tect tries to prevent.

Bruno, whose family bought Pro-Tect in 1992, said it’s sometimes difficult for public figures to tell “what’s a prank and what’s real” when it comes to threats.

“There’s a lot of anger and disparity out there right now,” Bruno said. “To be in a high-profile position anymore, you really ought to think twice about protecting yourself, your family, your home and your business surroundings.”

Just to be safe, when U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., held her own “Congress on Your Corner” event in Las Vegas a week after the Tuscan shooting, police provided protection.

Nevada public officials generally don’t travel with security, although the governor has a protection detail. Otherwise, capital and legislative police guard leaders and lawmakers only in the buildings where they work.

Extra security will be apparent today when Gov. Brian Sandoval delivers his State of the State address in the Capitol. The Legislative Counsel Bureau will close Fifth Street adjacent to the Legislative Building from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Legislative administrator Lorne Malkiewich said they are working with local police and are taking “some precautions.”

Bruno suggests people who are potential targets get a “threat assessment” by a private security company.

She said her phone “hasn’t been ringing off the hook” with requests from politicians in the wake of the Arizona shooting. Still, she said business has been picking up recently with more VIPs looking to “upgrade” security and concern about home invasions in Southern Nevada.

Pro-Tect’s 500 employees range from unarmed guards who check badges to armed guards with military and police SWAT training. They do everything from personal protection to surveillance.

“Business fluctuated a bit this past year, but it’s pretty steady for us now,” Bruno said.

— Laura Myers

Democrats make staff changes

The Nevada Democratic Party is making a few staff changes as it gears up for the 2012 presidential election. But its main goals remain constant: win the White House again, register more Democrats and tack up victories up and down the ticket as the state gets a fourth House seat and one of two U.S. Senate seats are in play.

Travis Brock is stepping down as party executive director on Feb. 1 after four years. A veteran of Iowa presidential politics, Brock ran the Nevada party during a period of growth. He helped with the 2008 Democratic caucus and a voter registration drive that added 100,000 party members, helping Barack Obama win Nevada on his way to the White House.

Democrats retain a 60,000-voter registration advantage over Republicans in the state.

In 2012, Republicans will get a lot of attention as a bevy of GOP candidates competes in the Nevada presidential caucus, the first in the West following Iowa and New Hampshire.

But Brock said Democrats will be working just as hard to ensure Obama’s re-election.

“Being an early caucus state affords Nevada tremendous opportunity to organize the party,” Brock said. “We need to maintain the infrastructure to ensure President Obama wins Nevada in 2012, and that we make gains at all levels of the ticket. We never rest. Nevada is a truly swing state and, by every measure, it will be a competitive state.”

Brock, 40, is turning over the executive director job to Zach Zaragoza, 26, the party’s operations director since 2008. A native Nevadan, Zaragoza is from Henderson. His political science degree is from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was president of the UNLV and state Young Democrats.

Zaragoza also was a regional representative in Las Vegas for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate who spent much of the past decade rebuilding the state party to be more competitive. Thanks to that Democratic machine, Reid handily won re-election in 2010, beating GOP challenger Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite.

“Zach has been my deputy and he’s been invaluable,” Brock said. “It’s fair to say there’s no one in the state who understands Nevada politics and all of its intricacies as well as he does.”

Democrats will closely track the Legislature as it redraws congressional districts this year. Now, Nevada has two Republican members of the House and one Democrat, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley. Democrats want to make sure the new, fourth district is drawn to favor Democrats, a likely scenario given their Clark County edge.

In 2012, U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. will be a top Democratic target. He’s seen as highly vulnerable because of his extramarital affair with a former staffer. Ensign is expected to face a strong GOP primary challenge, most likely from Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and on the Democratic side Berkley is strongly considering a U.S. Senate bid.

In another Democratic Party change, Chris Anderson is joining as finance director after raising money for Reid.

The party also is looking for a communications director to replace Phoebe Sweet. She left to join the Democratic Policy Center’s communications operation in Washington, D.C., now led by Jon Summers, a former Reid spokesman.

— Laura Myers

Ensign to show some civility

Like others in Congress, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he’ll sit with a Democrat at Tuesday’s State of the Union address in a show of bipartisan civility. But Ensign’s office declined to identify the Democrat.

Over the weekend a Roll Call reporter tweeted that Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., will join Ensign and Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. He said both Republicans sought him out.

— Steve Tetreault

Contact Benjamin Spillman at or 702-477-3861; Laura Myers at or 702-387-2919, and Steve Tetreault at
or 202-783-1760.

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