Don’t rent trouble.
If ever there was an axiom that finds its highest expression in politics, it’s the idea that each day has enough potential trouble without creating more problems.
That’s undoubtedly why Republican Heidi Gansert is studiously avoiding saying how she would have voted on the tax-increase bill passed by the 2015 Legislature.
Gansert, a former assemblywoman and former chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval, has announced she’s running for the Reno state Senate seat currently held by Republican Greg Brower, who won’t seek re-election next year.
But unlike the most famous occupant of that seat — the late Bill Raggio, who once promised a voter he’d stand against taxes before voting for them — Gansert is not committing to anything.
“Each session and each piece of legislation is different,” Gansert said. “I would look at the legislation and decide [whether to vote for taxes] based on the best interests of my constituents.”
Of course: That’s what any good lawmaker would do.
But what would she have done had she been in Brower’s place on May 15, when Senate Bill 483 come up for its fateful vote? (Brower voted aye.) Gansert has not answered directly, despite being asked the question by three Nevada journalists.
“I wasn’t there. I didn’t have the privilege of listening to the 120 days of testimony,” she said. (Speaking as someone who was there and who did listen to innumerable hours of testimony, “privilege” isn’t exactly the word I’d choose.)
But certainly someone as conversant with the process as Gansert could say whether she’d have supported the most significant tax package perhaps in state history?
“Every session is different,” she said. “You have to be there to see what legislation is there and how it’s vetted.”
Gansert does allow that she supports Sandoval in making education funding a priority and in devoting precise sums to specific programs. That’s the kind of approach she’d take, she says. “The governor is right — we need to spend more money on education,” she said. And she says she opposes efforts to repeal the taxes.
Back in the 2009 Legislature, Gansert represented Reno in the Assembly. During that session, she voted against a package of supposedly temporary taxes that came to be known as the “sunset package.” (But she voted in favor of a hotel room tax that voters had supported in a nonbinding referendum, and she earned conservative criticism for the vote.)
Those votes, however, shouldn’t be taken as indications she’d support or oppose those same taxes in the future, she said. “Each package is different,” she said.
Something else from those days: Gansert voted for the state budget and other spending bills, but voted against the taxes to pay for them. Those taxes passed, with the votes of Democrats and some of Gansert’s fellow Republicans.
She acknowledged the disconnect but said she was concerned the payroll tax — which at the time applied to more businesses than it does today — would be too burdensome as Nevada struggled with the effects the recession.
During the 2015 session, some anti-tax conservatives were heard to say they supported some of the spending in Sandoval’s budget but couldn’t vote for those bills because they intended to vote against the tax package. Doing otherwise would be hypocritical, they said.
Not everyone embraces that principle, however. Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, campaigning in Mesquite, told the Mesquite Local News that “we” approved plenty of new education programs, while simultaneously boasting about his votes against the taxes to fund those programs.
But those programs were only possible because other lawmakers took courageous votes that they’ll now have to justify to voters. If they hadn’t, Edwards would have nothing to boast about.
Apparently, that’s another popular political axiom: Having one’s cake and eating it, too.
— Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.