One crazy year

It’s been quite a year.

Some ridiculously outrageous things happened over the last 12 months in politics. Let’s take a quick look back.

■ A racist rancher named Cliven Bundy found himself on the losing end of 20 years of court fights and put out a call for a “range war” when the Bureau of Land Management moved to serve a lawful court order to seize his cattle. Suddenly, his ranch became a Burning Man for misfit would-be solider types, who proceeded to ramp up the rhetoric.

Public officials from the governor on down condemned BLM officers — who quite reasonably showed up armed to do their jobs — until they realized the standoff could end in a bloodbath televised around the world. The BLM ultimately backed off, and Bundy kept his cows. It was not Nevada’s finest hour, but it was a traditionally Nevada solution: Avoid fixing the problem and let it fester for another day.

■ Feckless members of Nevada’s Legislature tossed the issue of raising Clark County’s sales tax to hire more cops to the equally feckless county commission, which of course failed to do anything. Commissioners, some desperate to hold on to their jobs or worried about how a tax vote might look when they’re running for the next office, couldn’t find the five votes needed to pass the tax.

It may have been the politically wise choice — two commissioners faced unusually tight re-election races — but the political calculations will have real effects on public safety. Nevada never seems to get the idea that when you’re not willing to pay for something, you go without and suffer the consequences. So, the next time you’re waiting for a cop to show up, remember those commission votes.

■ Speaking of taxes, a tax plan actually made it to a ballot, in and of itself a major accomplishment. The state’s business community warned the Education Initiative, a 2 percent tax on gross revenue, would destroy Nevada’s booming, diverse, low-unemployment economy, because maybe, just maybe, Nevada is that one special place where Ayn Rand’s ideas might actually work in the real world.

And the voters bought it: The Education Initiative failed 79 percent to 21 percent, having been abjured by business, casinos, mining, insurance companies, retail businesses and even organized labor. But not to worry: There’s rumors that the 2015 Legislature will produce a tax plan to help schools. Or at least there were, before …

■ The red wave! Because of widespread disinterest, pathetic disinterested Republican turnout was higher than even-more-pathetic disinterested Democratic turnout. As a result, the GOP now controls the governor’s mansion, all constitutional offices and both houses of the Legislature. Some of that was foreordained (Democrats were so lazy this time, they didn’t even put up a legitimate candidate for governor!) and some was unexpected (Republican Assembly? What?). But the state capital will definitely be a different place next year.

Of course, the joys of victory were immediately subsumed by leadership fiascoes: Speaker-designate Ira Hansen had to step down because of offensive things he’d written in a newspaper column. Majority leader-designate Michele Fiore was out, then in, then back out again after landing on the wrong side of new Speaker-designate John Hambrick. Committee chairmanships have shifted. And there’s an ocean of bad blood pooling between the Assembly’s conservative faction and its more moderate wing. And the session hasn’t even started yet!

Another immutable law of Nevada politics: Estimate what can possibly go wrong, add a few worst-case scenarios, multiply the result by two and that’s pretty close to what will actually happen.

Still, despite its myriad problems, despite the outsized influence of its business sector, despite the petty politics and the disappointing denouements, Nevada remains one of the best places to write about politics that there is. And at Christmastime, that’s a real gift. Thank you, Nevada, and I’ll see you in the new year.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. He’ll be on vacation for the rest of 2014. His column returns on Jan. 7. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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