Candidates support more open government
A survey of legislative candidates shows wide support for new laws expanding the transparency of the legislative process, including making lawmakers adhere better to the open-meeting law and giving the public time to read legislation before it is voted on.
A total of 153 candidates were asked to participate in the survey by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Nevada Press Association. Sixty responded – 41 Republicans, 14 Democrats and five members of the Independent American Party.
Fifty-nine Democrats didn’t respond to the questionnaire, including 27 incumbent lawmakers. The only incumbent Democrats to respond were state Sen. Sheila Leslie of Reno and Assemblyman Harvey Munford of North Las Vegas.
But a significant number of Republicans didn’t respond, either – 32 in all including 10 incumbents. Two Independent American Party members also did not respond to the questionnaire.
One observer pointed out that, since NPRI is bills itself as a conservative think tank, some Democrats may have just ignored the survey without looking at the questions.
Among those who didn’t respond were Assemblymen Kelly Kite and Randy Kirner, whose district includes south Washoe County, and state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Douglas County.
Nearly all the challengers from both mainstream parties favored following the open-meeting law and requiring a 72-hour wait before any vote. But there was some resistance from veteran lawmakers who said requiring three days’ notice of any proposed action would be practically impossible at the end of a legislative session.
“Not possible,” said Yerington Assemblyman Tom Grady. “Don’t have the three days.”
Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who was Assembly minority leader in 2011, said both that and the requirement that a bill be made public 72 hours before any vote would work only if the state Constitution were changed to lift the 120-day session limit.
John Ellison, R-Elko, said requiring lawmakers to follow the open-meeting law wouldn’t work and he opposes it.
And Republican Minority Leader Assemblyman Pat Hickey of Reno said he was “leaning yes” on the open-meeting law question, but he said “some flexibility may be required for the proposal, given the 120-day time limit the Legislature has to finish its business.”
Republican Assemblyman Pete Livermore of Carson City said he supports both those requirements.
Most first-time candidates and incumbents said they would support some amount of time for the public to review a bill before a final vote.
There was nearly unanimous support for a law change requiring lobbyists to report all contributions, including while the Legislature is out of session.
Reno’s Leslie sponsored that legislation in 2011. It passed the Senate unanimously but never received a hearing in the Assembly.
Making local government labor negotiations open to the public also drew strong support.
Leslie, however, said she would oppose that: “I don’t think inviting TV cameras into negotiations with public employee unions is in the best interest of government,” she said.
Reno Republican Assembly candidate David Espinosa agreed, saying negotiations are “sensitive matters that an open-meeting inclusion would transform into an entrenchment of sides and an opportunity for grandstanding and demagoguery.”
Andy Matthews, president of NPRI, said the answers are revealing and show growing support for more governmental transparency in the Legislature.
“Nevada’s citizens have a fundamental right to know how their government is operating and how their elected officials are spending their money,” he said.
“From these responses, there’s clearly an appetite for more open government in Nevada,” said Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association.