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Chaos Caucus has a short time to show it can lead

Things are pretty volatile in the Chaos Caucus.

Every since Republicans took over the Assembly, things have been anything but smooth.

That shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, even the GOP itself didn’t expect to be in charge of the lower house, and the last time the party was in charge, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and the pinnacle of technology was the Apple IIe desktop computer.

You already know about the disastrous election of Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, as speaker. He was undone by ugly sentiments penned in a Sparks newspaper over a long career as a freelance columnist.

You also know about the subsequent reshuffling of leaders, in which John Hambrick of Las Vegas took over as speaker, with Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, named majority leader, Hansen assistant majority leader, and Jim Wheeler of Minden named whip. (Wheeler is the guy who once said he’d reluctantly vote to bring back slavery if his constituents demanded it.)

Things were looking good until journalist Jon Ralston reported Fiore had failed to pay some taxes, resulting in more than $1 million in liens filed against her by the IRS. And since Fiore had also been named chairwoman of the Assembly Taxation Committee, a political problem emerged: You probably shouldn’t be presiding over legislation concerning taxes if you haven’t paid your own.

So, Hambrick moved to oust Fiore (and newly elected Republican Victoria Seaman, also of Las Vegas) from the Taxation Committee’s chairwomanship and vice chairwomanship, respectively. Both objected to the action, accusing their own caucus leader of acting out of gender bias. (Spokeswoman Lisa Mayo DeRiso dubbed it a “GOP war on women”!)

And the next morning, it was undone: Hambrick “reaffirmed” committee assignments, and Fiore was once again sitting atop the Taxation Committee. She said in a statement she was grateful to Hambrick — the man whom she helped become speaker and who had apparently just tried to take away her committee — for his support.

Missteps, false starts, mistakes and growing into the job are all understandable, but at some point, this group is going to have to govern. Or is it?

In the chaos over committee assignments, Fiore also threatened fellow Republican caucus members with recalls if they were to join the so-called nuclear option, in which a minority of the 25-member GOP caucus would join with a majority of the 17-member Democratic caucus to install a more moderate Republican as speaker. It’s something unheard of in the Nevada Assembly, where leaders usually take the podium with a unanimous vote from members of both parties.

Ordinarily, I’d say the nuclear option is a bad idea. Not only does it transgress the rules of the institution, but it would also alienate conservative lawmakers, sow distrust and resentment and surely result in myriad unintended consequences later in the session. The fact is, Republicans won a majority, and their party’s elected officials have the right and the obligation to select a leader of their choice.

In fact, even amidst the chaos, there are positive signs: Hansen ultimately realized his continued presence as speaker would make the work of the Assembly much harder, and so (with some prompting by Gov. Brian Sandoval) he stepped down. Hambrick, a compromise choice, showed some independence and intelligence by trying to remove Fiore as Taxation chairwoman; her personal tax problems will undoubtedly be a distraction if she continues in that job. He’d have done better by sticking to his original decision.

Ordinarily, I’d say we need to respect the result of the election, even and perhaps especially when we don’t agree with it. Republicans outworked, out-organized and out-voted Democrats, and they deserve the chance to run the place the way they think it should be done and rise or fall with the consequences.

But the machinations we’ve seen so far make me question whether the Chaos Caucus is up to the task. Because while the political drama is entertaining, Feb. 2 looms. And on that day, these lawmakers are expected to go to work with some serious problems to solve. They need to show us they’re equal to the task, and soon.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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