The Gang of 63 has passed the halfway point of Session ’17 (if they insist on going the full 120 days), so it’s time to hand out some awards.
Always remember that you can ace or fail a midterm and affect your grade for better or ill by the final. But for now:
----Tactics Over Strategy Award: The Democratic leaders, Jason Frierson and Aaron Ford, have been pummeled nearly everywhere (including here) for not having a plan despite having a blueprint. That is, they have been getting a lot of media attention for enacting the Equal Rights Amendment and having show hearings on the minimum wage and other base issues. But media attention, like Blanche DuBois’s looks, is transitory. At some point, as Jim Rome used to say, it’s all about scoreboard. What is their strategy to get Gov. Brian Sandoval to sign bills? Is it in the same place as President Trump’s secret plan to defeat ISIS? Halfway through, I’d venture to guess they don’t know.
----The Apocalypse is Nigh Award: After getting everything they wanted last session, with the exception of that, you know, tiny tax increase, the state’s business community is in a daily panic this session. They seem surprised that labor, the trial lawyers and progressives are out for revenge now that their peeps are in control. If they are allowed to get away with their agenda, apparently Tesla will leave, Faraday will cease to exist (oh, wait….) and small businesses will shutter across the state. The perception is real; the overreaction is palpable.
----The Invisible Man Award: I’m trying to think of his name, that fellow across the courtyard with the high popularity ratings and a scythe on hand. Gov. Brian Sandoval has not yet been a factor during a session in which he will matter more than ever by Day 120. He appears thoroughly uninvolved, but holds private meetings with legislative leaders. This is either a brilliant strategy or a disastrous one for him, depending on what he really wants. If he can’t induce the Democrats to bend to his will, what has he accomplished in his final session? Sandoval has always been meticulously careful not to telegraph what he really wants or what he will sign, with a few exceptions (bye bye, minimum wage increase). This has proved a conundrum for Democrats, who will either make him a record-setting Veto Corleone as his mentor Jeb Bush was -- or send over only a handful of Pyrrhic victory bills for him to kill. The governor has to become a factor at some point. And if the Democrats are not careful, he will appear in a few weeks with his veto pen, armed with many ink refills, as a personification of, with apologies to Milton, darkness visible.
----The Honey Badger Award: In all the years I have covered the Legislature, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone having as much fun as Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson. With his new hirsute look, he is The Most Interesting Man in the (Legislative) World. His vitriolic news releases, his unannounced off-the-record chats in the press room, his button-pushing with Ford (who no longer takes the bait). Roberson seems to have no agenda other than embarrassing the Democrats and making sure they are perceived as a no-law-and-disorder party while showing himself to be hyper-conservative Don Gustavson’s evil twin. Roberson has ample political skills and clearly wants to run for something else – lieutenant governor or Congress again, perhaps. But I wonder if he realizes no matter how far to the right he dances, he will always be tripped up in a GOP primary by his leadership on the $1.5 billion tax increase of 2015?
----The Quiet Man Award: With the exception of an uncharacteristically brutal release or two, Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson has been doing what did so well as de facto speaker in 2015: Just going about his job, building bridges, cultivating accessibility with the media. Frierson knows that he needs Anderson to get some of his caucus members to sign onto bills, so Sandoval will not be able to veto them quite so easily. Anderson is playing it cool, as he always does, realizing that despite his small numbers (15), he can be a real player at the end. This is what a smart leader does.
----The Issue That Didn’t Bark Award: ESAs! ESAs! ESAs! Educational Savings Accounts, defunded by the state Supreme Court and resuscitated by the governor, were supposed to be the fulcrum of Session ‘17. How do I know? Because I kept saying it. And because the Republicans said so. But so far this is the non-issue of issues. That could change in the second half, but I don’t believe that the Democrats can let it go to the governor without some serious and means-tested changes, nor do I think Sandoval can demand that the voucher-style program is his way or the veto way. This is a classic example of what’s important in the bubble ain’t in the real world.
----Biggest Tax Increase in History Award: No one seems to have noticed that the governor who proposed and enacted the largest aggregate tax increase in history in 2015 is trying to also be on top with the biggest single tax percentage boost. How in the world do you justify a 10 percent tax increase on anything? Only if it’s a drug that you don’t like and one the federal government says is illegal. Amid the blizzard of pot bills this session, the tax increase seems to have acquired little notice so far. There was no opposition (!) during the first hearing, and the Democrats actually are considering increasing the increase. Not to speak heresy, but why is such a vice taxed at such a high rate while another one that theoretically produces more addicts is only taxed at, say, 6.75 percent?
----Best Rookie Trio in Years Award: Julia Ratti already was a known quantity in local government. But her smarts and toughness are impressing many in the building. Yvanna Cancela also knew her way around the political world as a Culinary Union operative. But her workmanlike willingness to take on fights, no matter how quixotic they might seem right now (immigration, Big PhRMA), has caused waves. And while Nicole Cannizzaro has grabbed fewer headlines than the other two, her steady, studious performance has not gone unnoticed. And as a prosecutor, she has real bona fides on law enforcement issues. Three women who could be the future of a Nevada Democratic Party that had its bench decimated in 2014.