Nevada voters do not have the luxury of being dumb.
Are the voters in Nevada a bunch of dummies?
The question was posed before the Supreme Court this week by Las Vegas attorney Dominic Gentile. He argued that the term limits question was not complex, and the voters understood quite well the initiative’s potential effect, regardless of technicalities now raised by the legislature, which wants term limits tossed.
Are voters in Nevada a bunch of dummies? The question lingers, extending beyond term limits or any other single issue, inviting contemplation of complex issues and uninformed citizens. Of government mechanisms so intricate they can’t be understood without hours of study. Of what voters want, versus what they get, and what they end up creating.
The term limits case serves nicely as an example of how simple concepts become complicated. The must-pass-twice requirement for constitutional amendments, intended to ensure deliberation, leaves a two-year hole for legal maneuvers that add layers of complication. The current challenge to term limits has its roots in a confusing bout of court activity that occurred between its first ballot victory and its second, two years later.
For a future source confusion, look at PISTOL, the oddly-named eminent domain initiative from 2006 that seemed conceptually straightforward. Nevada voters overwhelmingly approved it once, understanding well their own outrage at the notion that one citizen could benefit by enlisting the government to take property from another citizen.
Then the 2007 legislature set out to improve PISTOL before its 2008 appearance on the ballot. The PISTOL improvements exist now in statute. But wait, that’s not all. The legislature also passed a resolution – call it PISTOL Version 2 — to amend the constitution again. Version 2 will need a second legislative approval in 2009. Meanwhile PISTOL Version 1 could pass again in 2008.
Leaving aside whether PISTOL Version 1 needed improving – many believe it did – the whole mess has become stunningly complex.
Are Nevada’s voters a bunch of dummies? Or does the preceding make your head spin? Who could expect the average voter, busy with life’s daily details – jobs, kids, homework, volunteer work, etc – to untangle the mess that lurks beneath the straightforward question?
How about taxes? A recent example of tax complexity appeared on the 2006 ballot. AB 554 from the 2005 legislative session required voter approval to perform some taxation housekeeping. Did even half of the voters understand what this bewildering item was, much less why they were voting on it?
Look beyond the ballot, at Dillon’s rule. Not at whether home rule is desirable, but at whether its absence makes things confusing. Busy voters have to follow the progress of local issues from city hall to Carson City and back. Are the voters dummies if the reason for the trip isn’t immediately apparent?
And now, in Washoe County, here comes the mother of all complex issues. A recent proposal by investment firm Goldman Sachs to lease Truckee Meadows Water Authority assets is about to be vetted in public. Politicians find the possibility intriguing. The TMWA board, comprised of five politicians and two political appointees, voted 6-1 to explore it. The public seems to hate the idea, with generalized fear of privatization as the most-cited reason for knee-jerk aversion
There is layer-upon-layer of complexity to be peeled back in the proposed TMWA transaction. Analysis related to pricing, to employee compensation, to local control, to the structure of the entity. And there’s the ever-present, but never-discussed effect of monopoly.
TMWA was statutorily exempted from PUC oversight when the non-profit utility was created. Theoretically, if the voters don’t like the direction, they can take vengeance on the elected officials who sit on the board. We’ll see whether that’s well understood by the voters or the office holders. But as usual, whatever the outcome, Nevada voters don’t have the luxury of being dumb.
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