Notes on a Legislature -- Week One

This is the way a Legislature begins, not with a whimper but a bang.

I have never seen it, nor have many longtime legislative observers (also known as older lobbyists): On the first day, with families on the floor, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford launched into a partisan diatribe, referring to how the upper house was run in 2015, as GOP Minority Leader Michael Roberson looked on with a pasted-on smile (his wife was there, surely threatening to kill him if he exploded) that he has now made his Twitter profile picture.

My guess is Ford probably regrets that opening salvo, which sets an uneasy tone between two partisan combatants who already were going to be wary of each other. What’s more remarkable was the word I must use to describe Roberson’s reaction on the floor and during the week: restrained. Not a word you see by his name very often. Vegas books have the over/under for it lasting at Day 12.

----What is Roberson up to? Despite predictions (pundit hangs head in shame), Roberson came into the session relaxed and smiling, not dyspeptic and angry. He seem to relish his role in the minority. What’s he angling for? The newly hirsute Roberson, I’m told, is thinking about running for lieutenant governor in 2018, with many already sure Mark Hutchison is going back to being a full-time lawyer. Not out of the question, though: Another shot at CD3, when rookie Jacky Rosen could be vulnerable in an off-presidential year. What about his right flank? Roberson is acting as conservative as can be after 2015’s taxing session, and his hiring of longtime activist Dan Burdish, whose pal, Chuck Muth, activated some on the right against him, was a smooth political tactic.

-----Ford has a river of doubt to ford: The majority leader may not yet seem to have a clear agenda, but he could still rebound from that first-day stumble by letting Roberson’s inevitable brickbats wash off his back and developing a relationship with the governor.  Ford doesn’t need Roberson to get stuff done, but he needs Brian Sandoval. The governor will play it cool for most of the session, not tipping his hand beyond ESAs. The Democrats already have introduced bills to roll back Republican measures from The Red Session, but Sandoval will not agree to most of those (if any), and he does not mind spending the summer in the North. So watch the Sandoval-Ford relationship. If Ford can find a way to triangulate, the Democrats could have a winning session.

----Speaking of 2018: I’m told newly minted nonpartisan Patty Farley, having surrendered the presidency of the Michael Roberson Fan Club, has been assimilated without incident into the Senate Democratic Caucus. The real question: If she wants to run for re-election (likely), will she switch parties? And the follow-up: Wouldn’t sooner be better than later? As one Democratic insider put it: “If she runs as an independent, we will have to run a Democrat against her.” Subtle.

----150 years of solitude: GOP Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, the unexpected news release machine early on in Session 17, said he was “disturbed by the fact that over 150 years of tradition were tossed aside” when Democrats tossed out the so-called 24-hour rule for bills to marinate before they are voted on. The irony: The rule was written in 2013 by….Speaker Jason Frierson. Further irony: The Republicans abandoned it frequently when they were in control, and Wheeler himself, who began a Feb. 23, 2015, Transportation Committee meeting thusly: “I just want to let everyone know and remind everyone that during the floor session yesterday, the 24-hour rule for a work session for voting on a bill was set aside. Committee members, know your bills when you come in. Read them before you get here. Make sure you have your questions. We are going to have a lot of bills in this session, and some of the easier and smaller ones we will vote on that day. Please understand that when we have heard the bill, occasionally we are not going to use the 24-hour rule, especially as we start reaching deadlines.”

Wheeler said Frierson had assured him that he would not use the absence of a rule to ram and jam, and that staff had requested the change so they would not have to wait so long during crunch time. As for the century and a half claim by Wheeler, Frierson wryly suggested that the 150 years Wheeler must have been thinking of was how long it had been since “the abolition of slavery.”