Nevada Legislature: Despite conflicts, Assembly GOP optimistic as session closes

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Eruptions of conflict between the 25 Nevada Assembly Republican caucus members become seemingly more and more routine over the first few months of the Legislature.

But with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s historic tax package and a number of competing revenue proposals rolling in, the pressure is on Assembly Republicans to overcome past turmoil and a caucus split on taxes to find some path funding the governor’s $7.3 billion budget with little less than 30 days left in the session.

Republican Majority Leader Paul Anderson said he’s “extremely optimistic” that the tumultuous caucus can come together in time to latch onto a funding source for the governor’s budget. “I think the folks that need to get together to close down the budget are going to stay strong together and get it done,” he said.

There’s been no shortage of physical and verbal scuffles throughout the session, including:

Republican Assemblyman John Moore filed a complaint against Anderson over a physical altercation in a stairwell in March. Moore initially voted down a Republican-backed bill during a committee hearing, which led to the altercation. The two later issued a joint statement saying that their emotions “got the better of them.”

Assembly members Ira Hansen and Victoria Seaman engaged in a public spat in mid-April. The two issued rival statements over Hansen’s refusal to hold a committee vote on one of Seaman’s pet initiatives and comments made to Seaman after she read a disparaging letter denouncing Hansen during a caucus meeting.

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore cursed at fellow Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards and yelled at him to sit down during a lengthy floor debate in late April. Fiore later apologized to other Assembly members for her remarks.

Anderson said the caucus didn’t expect to be thrust into leadership before the last election, and that many conflicts arise out of pressure to fast forward the learning curve. Navigating difficult and diverse personalities can also be an issue, Assemblywoman Robin Titus said

“In our caucus, we have 25 different ideas of what being a Republican means,” she said.

Fiore said other caucuses see similar fights between members of the same party but that Assembly Republicans, including her and Edwards, often loudly make their disputes public.

“There’s a lot of stress and emotion that goes on in front of the scenes,” she said.

Republican Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus said that conflicts over policies and bills can quickly turn personal after working in close quarters with other dominant personalities. “I’ll be perfectly honest: There’s at least one or two people out of that 25 that if I never saw again, I’d be more than happy,” he said.

But personality conflicts will take a backseat to the deal-making and arm-twisting required to pass a tax deal clearing the constitutionally mandated two-thirds majority. Here’s the challenge: Find a tax package able to garner enough bipartisan support to avoid 15 opposition votes from staunch anti-tax Republicans or wary Democrats.

Fiore called the governor’s proposed plan raising business license fees “dead in the water” and said she counts around twelve legislators that strongly oppose raising taxes.

Nine Assembly Republicans have signed a “no new taxes” pledge touted by conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform.

She questioned increased education funding in the governor’s budget and said the state should try to live within its means.

“I don’t think that we need all of the governor’s wish list,” she said.

Anderson said he hasn’t counted votes on any tax measure yet, and wanted to wait to analyze revenue and cost projections from the state’s Economic Forum last Friday.

“Whether or not we get all the way there this session, or fund all of those programs all of the way this session, I don’t think I could answer that today,” he said on Thursday.

Regardless of how the session ends, many newly elected Assembly Republicans will need to keep an eye on how their votes will affect their re-election in 2016. With a number of key seats likely to be competitive, organized labor and other key Democratic allies are already drumming up support and holding almost weekly rallies in Carson City and Las Vegas protesting Republican-backed legislation.

But Assembly Republicans for the most part remain confident. They point to passage of high-profile bills including construction defect reform and creating business-funded private school scholarships as proof that the caucus can work together.

“We’re making big changes to important policies, and if all we were doing was hitting each other with whiffle bats in the caucus room, it just wouldn’t happen,” Silberkraus said.


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