Jim Clark: Nevada Policy Research Institute vs. Heidi Gansert (opinion)
Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) is a nonprofit think tank. It is non-partisan, even recognized by the IRS as a public charity, but its mission: promoting “policy ideas consistent with the principles of limited government, individual liberty and free markets” doesn’t appeal to many Democrats.
North Tahoe area board members include Nancy Croom, Bob Davidson and Steve Hardy (and before her demise, Maryanne Ingemanson); Reno board members include Atlantis Casino’s Ben Farahi and National Auto Museum Chair Ranson Webster.
Others are business leaders from Las Vegas where NPRI is now headquartered. NPRI also has a litigation center located in Reno. Full disclosure: I served as vice chair of NPRI in the 90’s and continue to support them financially. So much for background; here’s the story.
Nevada’s Constitution divides state government into the executive, legislative and judicial and goes on to say that no member of one of those divisions may “exercise any functions appertaining to either of the others …”
To underscore the point back in 2004 then Attorney General (now Governor) Brian Sandoval wrote: “Nevada’s Constitution bars any employee from serving in the executive branch of government and serving as a member of the Nevada Legislature.”
Historically Nevada’s Republican legislators have been ranchers, attorneys, retirees, doctors … almost always privately employed while Democratic caucuses have typically included at least a plurality of public employees.
In 2011 NPRI’s newly formed litigation center saw that Senator Mo Denis (D – Las Vegas) was employed by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and brought suit to enforce the Constitutional provision. Within hours of being served with the complaint Sen. Denis resigned his job and went to work in the private sector.
NPRI persisted and the trial court dismissed the case because there was no longer a case. NPRI appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court hoping to get a ruling that would validate the Constitution and Attorney General Sandoval’s ruling.
In 2014 the Supreme Court affirmed that since Denis changed jobs to the private sector the case was moot. No legal precedent established!
Fast forward to 2017. In the Nevada Assembly there are currently six Democrats and one Republican who are arguably employed by the Executive Branch; in the Senate there are three such Democrats and one Republican.
Imagine Nevada conservatives’ surprise last week when NPRI’s litigation center brought suit against the one Senate Republican, Heidi Gansert (R-Reno), who is employed by University of Nevada, Reno.
With nine Democrats as potential targets why is conservative NPRI going after a Republican? I have some ideas but readers need to know that I have not talked with anyone at NPRI about the Gansert litigation; I read about it in the newspaper. The opinions expressed are solely my own.
Here’s one possibility. Sen. Denis ducked NPRI’s harpoon by changing jobs. The matter wasn’t even heard by the trial court much less getting the Supreme Court to validate Sandoval’s attorney general opinion.
So if NPRI sues another Democrat legislator, retired U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would probably find him/her a job and NPRI’s harpoon would miss its target again.
But Sen. Gansert, who has a long history of loyalty to the GOP and Governor Sandoval, could say: “I’m going to stick with my job at UNR and ride this out all the way to the Supreme Court. I’m tired of government employee Democrats getting elected as legislators!”
If the Supreme Court ruled as NPRI thinks they should the resulting legal precedent could force a lot of Democratic legislators to resign their seats or hit the “help wanted” ads. It would also bar many potential Democratic candidates from running in future elections.
Crazy like a fox? Prince Machiavelli would approve.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.