‘Protection’ for whom?

For a state that doesn’t like having the federal government poking into its business, Nevada sure does allow plenty of other interests to influence its policies.

Because the Legislature routinely abdicates its responsibilities, Nevadans have grown used to ballot measures. And for well-heeled interests watching the national map from other places, Nevada might look like a suitable place to jump-start a widespread movement.

For instance, the Marijuana Policy Project has long targeted states where libertarian ideas run mainstream, or where the small voting population can make it easier to pass the kind of policy the group can’t get out of Congress.

After successfully pushing medical marijuana initiatives in Nevada, the group has already been back here twice with attempts at broader legalization.

The two Howards — Rich and Jarvis — have also become regular players here in recent election cycles.

The late Howard Jarvis remains one of the biggest names associated with efforts to rein in property taxes in Nevada. His California Proposition 13 initiative in the late 1970s is something some Nevada conservatives want to emulate.

Meanwhile, Howard Rich is a wealthy New York developer who advocates broader tax reforms. He’s dumped his money into several Nevada initiatives, including the popular eminent domain measure and the controversial Tax and Spending Control for Nevada, both in 2006.

This year in Nevada, we could easily see 20 or more ballot initiatives. After voters make selections for president, Congress, the Legislature and lower courts, they’ll be confronted with the pages of questions. And when fatigue sets in, things that sound pretty good might just lead an uninformed voter to make the wrong choice.

These initiatives are rarely as simple as what people think when they sign petitions to qualify them for the ballot. Take the two initiatives being floated by Nevada’s latest conservative cause celebre, Nevadans for Clean and Open Government. The proposals are “near and dear to my taxpayer heart,” said Kris Munn, chairman of the group and a Texas transplant who made an unsuccessful bid for Nevada’s Assembly.

One initiative would bar taxpayer money from being used for lobbying and the other would ban anyone receiving a sole-source government contract from making political contributions until two years after the contract ends.

Amid a “culture of corruption,” they sound pretty good.

But if you’re not a card-carrying Reagan Republican, these initiatives are scary. The lobbying ban, for example, prohibits unions from automatically taking dues out of workers’ paychecks.

Nationally, Americans for Tax Reform has tried to enact “paycheck protection” in a variety of states. The movement began after the 1996 election, when conservatives believed labor unions were responsible for Republican losses.

In 1998, an infamous deal here between the state GOP and labor unions kept paycheck protection off the ballot. The unions pulled their own initiative, which would have allowed labor leaders to raise money from their membership any way they pleased. In exchange, the GOP agreed to abandon its initiative.

The 1998 initiative was pushed here by Sheldon Adelson, who had famously scrapped with the Culinary union. And those who follow politics here closely will recognize some of the activists who pushed the initiative — Chuck Muth, Dan Burdish and George Harris.

Fast forward 10 years and some still have hard feelings over the “deal.”

Adelson, whose Las Vegas Sands Corp. will be quite active this election cycle with other initiatives, is a likely backer of the Clean Government group. Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform is another likely sponsor.

Anti-union initiatives don’t just pop up willy-nilly in a state that was granted an early presidential primary in part because of its large percentage of union voters. The initiatives arise when conservatives believe they need a get-out-the-vote carrot, or a bargaining chip.

Nevada conservatives who are already displeased with presidential nominee-to-be John McCain on a host of issues may need a little something to get them ginned up this November.

Ironically, by once again trotting out paycheck protection in Nevada, and probably with a lot of outside cash, conservatives may be awakening a formidable opponent. Nevada’s labor unions may not be great about delivering elections for an endorsed candidate (see Barack Obama on Jan. 19), but they’ll march lock step against paycheck protection.

Maybe Adelson already has another initiative deal in mind, like the strange bedfellow arrangement of 1998. Just imagine a gaming tax or convention center fight quid pro quo.

And who knows what else will be out there, or who will bring it?

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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