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How bold will state Republicans be?

Gov. Brian Sandoval has big policy ambitions. An anecdote he shared with a Henderson Republican club last year revealed as much.

Sandoval told a luncheon audience of a conversation he had with fellow Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who, like Sandoval, won re-election Tuesday. Walker was describing the chaos that erupted at the Capitol in Madison in 2011 when he and new Republican majorities in the Legislature proposed and passed major, money-saving collective bargaining reforms to dial back the largess enjoyed by public employee unions. Progressives and labor laid siege to the Capitol, swarming it with thousands of protesters. The ginned-up outrage was the left’s last stand to keep the gravy flowing.

Sandoval told Walker he was envious. “I’d take it,” Sandoval said of the Capitol craziness, “if I could have Republican majorities in the Nevada Legislature.”

Last year, for the third straight legislative session, Democrats controlled both the Senate and the Assembly. Republicans had a shot at flipping the Senate but fell just short in the 2010 and 2012 elections. And pursuing GOP control of the gerrymandered Assembly seemed pointless. Democrats enjoyed bulletproof voter-registration advantages in a strong majority of Assembly districts.

I was in the audience that afternoon in Henderson. And I didn’t think it was possible for the Republican Party to ever have full control of the Nevada Legislature.

Then Tuesday happened.

Nevada Democrats stayed home on Election Day, and Republicans rode a red wave to control of every statewide office, the Senate and the Assembly.

Suddenly, Sandoval has the votes for a bold agenda. Suddenly, bills that couldn’t get hearings in either the Senate or the Assembly can actually pass the Senate and the Assembly.

On Tuesday night, as Sandoval addressed a raucous Republican celebration at Red Rock Resort in Summerlin, you could see his excitement. He has a chance to remake state government.

How many issues can Sandoval and the GOP take on in a 120-day session? Major education reform is coming, for sure, and so are changes to construction defect statutes. But will he take up collective bargaining reforms? Pension reform? Mandatory voter photo identification? The prevailing wage? Will he push forward on the issues that would send labor and liberals into a howling rage and turn Carson City into Madison circa 2011?

I can’t wait to find out.

Two-thirds turnabout

For years, Nevada’s legislative Democrats have complained about the two-thirds supermajority required to pass tax increases. Voters enshrined the threshold in the state constitution to deny a simply majority of lawmakers the ability to go on wild spending sprees.

Democrats have griped that the two-thirds threshold gives the minority disproportionate control of the budgeting process and tax policy.

You won’t hear those complaints from Democrats anymore. Even though Republicans control both houses of the Nevada Legislature, if the governor proposes tax increases to bolster public education spending, he’ll need Democratic votes to pass his budget.

It’s the only leverage Democrats will have in Carson City next year. So they could threaten to withhold those votes if Sandoval and the Legislature’s Republican leadership get aggressive in pursuing a reform agenda that makes teachers and other labor groups unhappy. (See previous item.) Or they could try to trade those votes for Democratic bills that otherwise wouldn’t have GOP support.

What a turnabout that would be. Democrats, who alienated their base and relegated themselves to the Legislature’s minority, in part, by always talking about boosting education spending but never doing anything about it, could end up blocking tax increases next year.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Replacing Hutchison

Republicans now have an 11-10 majority in the state Senate, but that margin will drop to an even 10-10 in short order. Mark Hutchison’s Tuesday victory in the lieutenant governor’s race will force the Republican to resign his Senate District 6 seat, which covers a chunk of northwest Las Vegas. And voters won’t get to pick his replacement. The all-Democrat Clark County Commission will.

So who wants the job? Republican Assemblyman Wes Duncan, who cruised to re-election in District 37, has expressed interest. But now that Republicans have a 25-17 majority in the Assembly, Duncan’s decision suddenly is a difficult one. The second-term assemblyman should be in line for a committee chairmanship, something that won’t be available if he is appointed to the Senate. New Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson has already named all his committee chairs.

Additionally, 13 of the Assembly’s 25 Republicans will be freshmen. If Duncan resigned to accept the Senate appointment, the number of freshmen would rise to 14 because the County Commission would have to appoint Duncan’s replacement in the Assembly, as well.

The process of replacing Hutchison will be fascinating because of its incredible importance. Roberson will want someone who’ll support the chamber’s leadership and Sandoval. Will the commission oblige? Or will the parties have to flex some muscle behind closed doors to make a deal?

Clark County began accepting applications Friday from Republican District 6 residents interested in replacing Hutchison. The appointment is expected to come next month.

Calling all petitioners

Nevada’s awful turnout for Tuesday’s election was the state’s worst since 1978. According to the secretary of state’s office, 552,380 voters cast ballots — just 45.5 percent of the electorate. That’s bad news for Nevada governance.

But low turnout is great news for anyone interested in advancing an initiative petition.

Under state law, anyone who wishes to submit and circulate a statutory initiative petition, a referendum or a constitutional amendment and qualify the issue for the ballot must collect a number of valid signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the previous general election’s total turnout.

In Nevada’s 2012 election, a year in which the presidency and a fierce U.S. Senate campaign were on the ballot, more than 1 million ballots were cast. That set the initiative signature threshold at 101,667 — a number that represents an incredible amount of work at huge expense.

But Tuesday’s bad turnout resets the signature requirement. Starting next year, anyone who files an initiative petition will have to collect just 55,000 signatures or so. (The secretary of state’s office will set the exact number once election results are made official.) That’s a far easier, far more affordable task. The benchmark is so low, voters shouldn’t be surprised to see a number of petitions circulated in 2015 and 2016 from all kinds of interest groups.

Petitions can be incredibly effective at driving voter turnout, depending on the issue. On Tuesday, Republicans benefited greatly from Question 3 — the party was unified in opposition to the margins tax petition, which lost badly. All those “no” votes on Question 3 helped Republicans sweep statewide offices and take control of the Legislature.

Already, Nevada voters are likely to see a gun background check initiative and a marijuana decriminalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. Conservatives and liberals could be motivated to throw more partisan red meat on the ballot to help everyone from their presidential nominees to legislative candidates.

No break for voters

Before all those roadside campaign signs come down, expect to see new ones put up. Southern Nevada’s off-year, no-turnout municipal elections are just around the corner.

Please hold your applause.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

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