The Founding Fathers didn’t have partisan caucuses when they gathered in Philadelphia in 1776. Neither did Nevada’s first lawmakers when they met in Carson City 150 years ago and started the Silver State.
In fact, the founders didn’t even want political parties, and they purposely excluded them from the U.S. Constitution. George Washington, in his farewell address, pleaded with Americans to set aside their differences, warning that political parties would fracture the nation and “render alien to each other those who ought to be bound by fraternal affection.”
Fast-forward to the about-to-begin 2015 legislative session. “Fraternal affection” is not only out the door, there’s downright chaos in the proverbial back room of one political clan. Leadership struggles have led to the labeling of Republican Assembly members as the “Clown Caucus.”
Badly behaving elephants are one thing in a three-ring, circus-like atmosphere, but lawmakers are fast approaching the start of a new legislative session with crucial issues facing many Nevadans.
When Gov. Brian Sandoval steps to the Assembly podium for his State of the State speech Jan. 15, he’s certain to address Nevada’s need to reform and fund education and continue the state’s trajectory toward greater economic diversification. A host of pro-taxpayer measures — uniquely possible with historic Republican majorities in both houses — also await Nevada lawmakers when they begin work Feb. 2.
What those lawmakers and the Nevadans they represent don’t need is for Assembly Republicans to continue behaving like a second-rate Las Vegas lounge act, impersonating Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”
Nevadans expect legislators to act like we did during the recent special session, when the Tesla project was approved. Members from both parties and both houses worked with Gov. Sandoval to craft enabling legislation that improved Nevada’s future business prospects.
Intraparty squabbling, like what we’re seeing from Assembly Republicans, doesn’t score points with constituents, nor does it leave a lasting legislative legacy. Most Nevadans don’t care if the person who represents them is a “liberty” Republican or a “progressive” Democrat. Voters from all sides of the political spectrum simply expect legislators to get good things done on their behalf.
That’s why partisan caucuses, meeting secretly behind closed doors, might one day become an endangered political species. Good governance and good legislation happens when both sides find common ground and work through their differences.
Earlier Nevada lawmakers did their work out in the open — in committee meetings, on the floor of the Assembly — and, if necessary, over at Jack’s Bar. Given Americans’ growing displeasure with the current gridlock and political infighting in Washington, D.C., current legislators would be wise to take a page from our own past.
Before many us became Republicans or Democrats, we were Nevadans.
We would do well to put Nevada’s interests first — before either political party or any of the special interest-driven factions that so easily divide us.
After all, legislators are elected to be state lawmakers, not partisan politicians.
Pat Hickey, a Republican, represents Reno’s District 25 in the Nevada Assembly.
Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius will return Jan. 7.