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EDITORIAL: Lawmaker’s appointment ignores the constitution

Nevada politicians have long exhibited a remarkable indifference to legal guardrails they find bothersome. The most egregious example would be highlighted by public employees moonlighting in the Legislature with impunity despite a constitutional ban against simultaneous service in two branches of government. Another instance would include the ill-fated effort by legislative Democrats in 2019 to pass tax hikes without the required supermajority support in both houses.

Which brings us to Gov. Joe Lombardo’s recent decision to appoint former Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden to run the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Environmental groups have no love for Mr. Settelmeyer, a rancher who dares to challenge progressive orthodoxy. The Center for Biological Diversity announced this week that it had sued to block the appointment, and the group’s Great Basin director, Patrick Donnelly, called Mr. Settelmeyer a “climate denier” who is “unsuited” for the job. That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Others might characterize the former lawmaker as a pragmatist who has grave misgivings about turning over the state and national economy to green central planners.

But regardless of the center’s political motivations, the lawsuit has considerable merit. The state constitution prohibits lawmakers from being appointed to any “civil office for profit” for one year after they leave the Legislature if the position was either created or the salary for the job was raised during their most recent term. The codicil makes eminent sense and is intended to prevent retiring lawmakers from manufacturing cushy sinecures for themselves at the expense of taxpayers.

In this case, lawmakers in both 2019 and 2021 increased pay for department heads. Mr. Settelmeyer’s appointment came just two months after he left the Legislature because of term limits.

Gov. Lombardo’s decision to bring Mr. Settelmeyer on board is in violation of state law. The same can be said of Attorney General Aaron Ford’s decision to name former Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson of Reno as his chief of staff just two months after she left the Legislature.

The constitutional language is clear. If Gov. Lombardo won’t move off Mr. Settelmeyer, and Mr. Ford won’t look for another chief of staff, they should keep these positions open for nine months and make the appointments again in November, when it would be legal to do so. Anything less demands judicial intervention and would provide yet another regrettable example of the state’s political elite allowing convenience to trump the rule of law — to the great detriment of the latter.

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