CARSON CITY — Second-term Assemblyman Ty Cobb insists he and other Republicans cannot remain quiet and watch Democrats ram bills through the Legislature if they ever intend to become the majority party again.
Like U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on the national level, 33-year-old Cobb believes Republicans must return to their core principles if they are going to gain control of the Assembly, which last occurred in 1985.
"We need to give people a reason to vote Republican," he said. "We need as a Republican caucus to be vocal, to stand on our principles of less taxes and less government, and make our positions known to the people of Nevada."
Republicans lost one seat in the Assembly in the Nov. 4 election and now trail by a 28-14 margin, a veto-proof lead that essentially lets the Democrats ignore them.
Cobb blamed Republican losses in Nevada and the nation as much on the party getting away from its traditional principles as on the charisma of President-elect Barack Obama.
Ensign made similar comments in November, saying Republicans "need to get back to our core principles of strong national defense, limited government, fiscal responsibility, education for our children and health care solutions that rely on the private market."
During the legislative session that begins Feb. 2, Cobb will propose legislation that he believes Nevadans support, but questions whether it even will receive hearings from Democrats.
Cobb wants to prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving the Millennium Scholarship and driver’s licenses.
He proposes dramatic changes to the Public Employees Retirement System, replacing the more costly defined-benefit plan with a 401(k) shared-contribution plan similar to what private industry gives its employees.
He also would deny pay increases to state employees and teachers in the next two-year budget cycle.
"We need to give state government a reality check," Cobb said. "We cannot continue to give employees 5 percent to 10 percent pay increases every year. In private industry, employees today are more likely to see a pink slip than a pay increase."
Democrats said Cobb’s move to hype the differences between the parties will backfire.
"It is a miscalculation if he thinks the public wants him to come down hard" on Democrats, said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. "Especially right now, considering the state of the national economy and the state of the state, people want politicians who work together, not an obstructionist."
The first example of Cobb’s effort to instill a new fighting spirit in Republicans surfaced during the Dec. 8 special session of the Legislature.
And Democrats figure the move hurt more than helped his party.
He led a group of seven conservative Republicans who abstained on a voice vote to re-elect Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, speaker of the Assembly.
With Democrats holding a 2-to-1 membership advantage, Buckley’s election was guaranteed.
In a friendly gesture, Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, even seconded the motion to elect Buckley.
Cobb said his group’s abstentions were not meant to embarrass Buckley.
Instead, they wanted to show voters that they won’t vote for Democratic control for any reason. They want Republicans running the Assembly.
No one would have known about the abstentions if Cobb had remained quiet. But he issued a news release that identified the Republicans who abstained from voting for Buckley.
Making their votes public did not sit well with some of the Republicans, although they continue to publicly support Cobb’s effort to resell their party to the public.
"It came as a surprise to me," said Assemblyman Chad Christensen of Las Vegas. "I wasn’t planning on sharing that. I have every expectation that Buckley and the chairs will hear my bills and good ideas."
"What’s done is done," added Assemblyman James Settelmeyer of Gardnerville. "I was not going to jump up and praise her, but I am not going to be rude to her either."
While Gansert didn’t criticize Cobb, she did assert, "I am the leader."
"Ty wants to be a leader. I am not a scorched-earth leader. We just have different approaches. Our caucus is united, not divided."
But to some it looked like and sounded like a rift.
Conservative blogger and political consultant Chuck Muth praised the seven abstainers and criticized Gansert.
Two years ago, Muth was widely credited with forcing out then-Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey of Las Vegas because he was not combative enough with Buckley.
Gansert replaced Mabey, who decided against seeking re-election.
Muth said he isn’t trying to force out Gansert, unless she becomes too cozy with Buckley and Democrats and does not stick to conservative principles.
To show her caucus remains united, Gansert said all 14 Republicans voted during the special session against two of the four bills needed to fix a $341.7 million deficit in the state budget.
Two years ago, Cobb was the only member to oppose Buckley’s selection as speaker, and he said he paid the price. Democratic committee chairs conducted hearings on just three of his bills.
But Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said after that 120-day session that there was not enough time to hear every bill proposed by Cobb and many other legislators.
Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said Cobb already has "fractured" his party going into the 2009 session by making an unnecessary issue out of Buckley’s election as speaker.
He said Assembly Republicans committed during private negotiations to support all four bills needed to balance the budget during the special session, yet they voted against two bills.
"A deal is a deal," Oceguera said. "Why have them at the table" if they cannot keep their word?
Gansert denies suggestions that she and fellow Republican Assemblyman Tom Grady of Yerington, who participated in the negotiations, gave their support to the two bills. She said they had not seen their final form until after the negotiations.
Cobb said he apologizes if other Republicans did not realize he was announcing publicly their abstentions on the vote for Buckley.
Cobb said he does not have to be the voice of the party when it comes to explaining Republican principles.
"I don’t care who gets credit. But as the Republican caucus, we need to be vocal and stand on our principles and make our positions known to the people of Nevada," Cobb said.
Christensen said they might have differed on announcing the abstentions, but he’s glad Cobb is a Republican.
"When you go into a political battle, it will be good to have him in your corner."
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.ON THE WEB: Ty Cobb’s official site TY COBB NOT RELATED TO BASEBALL PLAYER CARSON CITY — Although members of his family have lived in Nevada since 1864, Ty Cobb did not become a Reno resident until 2005. A year later, the Republican won a seat in the Assembly. Cobb grew up on military bases. His father, Tyrus William Cobb, is a former Army officer who later was a national security adviser for President Ronald Reagan. From Reagan, he gained his conservative-libertarian principles. He clearly received a boost politically once he settled in Nevada because his grandfather, also called Ty Cobb, was a well-known and popular Reno newspaper sportswriter and columnist for 60 years. Cobb often spent summers with his grandfather and other Nevada relatives. Because he has the same name as baseball Hall of Fame player Ty Cobb, the assemblyman frequently is asked if they are related. They are not, but his grandfather was named for the ballplayer and knew him well in the 1950s when the baseball great lived at Lake Tahoe. Sometimes having the same name caused problems for his grandfather. "My grandmother got his (the baseball player’s) divorce papers," Cobb said with a chuckle. "It is not that big of a deal having the name. Sometimes it is funny." During political campaigns, Cobb said, younger people ask him if he is related to the ballplayer. But older people invariably ask if he is related to the newspaper writer. His grandfather died more than 10 years ago. Before moving to Nevada, Cobb spent seven months in Iraq serving on the team that prepared that country for its first democratic election. He now is a lawyer and the general counsel for a concrete company. Cobb also is the father of a 13-month-old daughter, Lizzie, whose photos embellish his Web site. LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU