The pitfalls and perils of Carson City for newbies

An open letter to Odis “Tyrone” Thompson, who was unanimously appointed to the Nevada Assembly on Tuesday by the Clark County Commission:

I’m assuming — based on your extensive experience in local government — that you knew what you were doing when you applied for this job. Certainly, you impressed the Assembly Democratic Caucus with your knowledge of the issues.

But you’re about to step into a whirlwind of legislative activity the likes of which very few have ever seen. This is the business end of politics, the part that separates those who want the title from those who work for the people.

All the policies, procedures and inexplicable laws and rules you’ve ever rolled your eyes at on the local level came out of this system of government, which as Churchill pointed out is the worst one yet invented, except for all the others.

A few tips, from a simple observer who has spent more time in the capital than is healthy.

First, no matter what they tell you, it really is all about the money. Nearly every public policy fight revolves around this simple principle.

Take the fight over whether taverns should be allowed to have sports books or not. There have been sports-betting kiosks in taverns (which have restricted gambling licenses) for years. But now, the Nevada Resort Association (made up of folks who have nonrestricted gambling licenses) wants to shut them down.

Why? Well, for one thing, kiosks made about $600,000 last year. That’s chump change compared to actual casino sports books, but it’s enough to get noticed.

Which brings me to my second point: Whenever a lobbyist or an industry representative mentions the word “fairness,” be on alert, because somebody is about to get screwed.

To continue the restricted versus nonrestricted debate, larger casinos argue it’s not fair for restricted license holders to offer sports betting, because big casinos are required to build hotel rooms, restaurants and other amenities. That takes a much bigger investment than buying a local bar.

Plus, they argue, the law is clear: Restricted license holders shouldn’t compete against nonrestricted license holders, and the former are limited to 15 machines and that’s it.

Then again, those laws were written with the generous help of the NRA, and designed to limit competition, not expand it. This phrase might come in handy for those instances when lobbyists appeal to fairness: “Fair? Fair is where the pigs are!”

Third, as Sean Connery says in “Rising Sun,” his since-forgotten 1993 buddy film with Wesley Snipes: “You know what’s true? When something seems too good to be true, then it’s not true.” Companies exist to make money. Bureaucracies exist to get bigger budgets, more employees and a larger portfolio. Lobbyists exist to make those things happen. If anything happens that seems be at odds with the above, don’t believe it.

Fourth, beware things that happen at the last minute. Yes, the legislative process is haphazard and chaotic, and the voters in their wisdom have limited the session to 120 calendar says. Deadlines will be blown and issues will get pushed.

But if you adopt a policy of voting “no” on any new bill, amendment or ad hoc change to legislation that happens in the last 48 hours of the session, you’re probably doing the right thing.

Fifth, and finally, remember it’s government for the people. Many will try to persuade you that what’s good for business, the gambling industry, publicly regulated utilities, powerful local government agencies or the like is good for Nevada.

Sometimes, that’s even true. But that’s the exception, and not the rule. Never forget it.

That’s it, Mr. Thompson. Good luck in Carson City, and enjoy the ride.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or

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