Profiting from getting suckered by pirates

So the Raiders stadium deal is falling apart, because the Raiders are greedy and underhanded about the after-the-taxhike details of their use of this “publicly owned” venue.  I’m shocked – shocked!  I mean, who would have expected this behavior from an organization of rich and powerful people with a history of indebting their host municipalities, who orchestrated a billion dollar tax hike for their personal private wealth creation via a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am special session that deliberately didn’t include time for scrutiny of any actual details?  

How could an organization named after pirates act this way?

If only there had been any voices speaking out against this before the votes were jammed through without debate. Had those voices been heeded, Nevada’s government could have avoided looking like an easy mark for future swindlers.

The most frustrating thing about the stadium debacle is that it showed just how thin the line between “competent lawmaker” and “feckless politician" really is. Gov. Sandoval and Senate leaders Mike Roberson and Aaron Ford are all smart men who ought to have seen this coming a mile away.  And don’t even get me started on all of those “No Taxes!” Republicans who twisted themselves into philosophical knots in order to justify their vote.  It actually would have been less painful to hear them just admit their integrity had a price and Sheldon Adelson and Mark Davis were willing to meet it.

But in showing their hand too soon, the Raiders have given our Legislature an enormous gift. If they accept the lessons to be learned from this mess, that gift will benefit them – and all Nevadans – for years to come. As the regular legislative session is about to begin, let’s review.

If you’re rushing things through, you’re screwing it up. There isn’t a Republican politician alive who hasn’t at some point railed against the way Obamacare was rushed through Congress on a party line vote without anyone ever having read the bill. The results were predictable – a disastrous government program that raised costs, lowered quality and choice, and led to local, state, and federal electoral wipeouts of the party responsible for saddling us with it. Republicans especially should have balked en masse at the obvious parallels with the way the stadium special session was run.

It’s OK to walk away.  Sometimes an idea that sounds good initially just doesn’t pencil out when you start sorting out the details. Just because you tried putting lipstick on a pig once doesn’t mean you can’t wash it back off and repent your animal abusing ways.

Know what you’re signing. If someone hands you a contract but doesn’t want you to read it, only a fool would sign it. Most legislators don’t actually read most of the bills they vote on, which is a habit they all should be ashamed of, relying instead on the summary from the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) or a lobbyist’s elevator explanation. Hey politician - your constituents hired you, not them, and by the way, no one held a gun to your head and forced you to accept this lawmaking gig. The least you can do is personally review pending legislation before deciding whether to impose it on the rest of us.

But it’s more than that. Bills that kick details down the road, like a stadium authorization measure so open-ended it allows a team worth $2.1 billion to demand $1 per year for rent, will always, always be abused.  Assume other people will take advantage of an opportunity to sucker you, and plan accordingly.

Competent legislating requires precise language and attention to detail.  Ideas don’t become law, bills do. Even really good ideas can be executed badly, especially by a citizen legislature full of non-lawyer freshmen who are less likely to recognize the unexpected consequences of poorly worded statutory language.

Shame is healthy.  Everyone involved with the stadium deal should make breakfast out of the egg on their face. Step back, repeal the room tax, and start again from scratch with some humility. If you can’t bring yourselves to repeal the tax, at least reconsider how you’re going to spend that money.  Building schools and mental health facilities put people to work, too, and the beers and peanuts there aren’t nearly so overpriced.

Finally, remember this above all:

Not everyone who tells you what you want to hear is your friend.  Not everyone who criticizes you is your enemy.  I was pretty hard on our political leadership during the Raiders special session last year. Meanwhile, pro-stadium folks were promising economic miracles that paid for themselves. Not to pat myself on the back, but… aw, who am I kidding? But as much as I like being right, it would have been a lot better if the Legislature would have gotten it right, too. The successful lawmaker seeks out smart critics to forge, temper, and cull their ideas by subjecting them to rigorous and honest scrutiny. If ideas and plans are good ones, they’ll withstand – and profit from – thorough debate.

Will the 79th Legislature take these lessons to heart?  Here’s hoping I’ll be shocked – shocked! – for real this time.

Orrin was a political columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2015 and 2016. He has appeared as a guest commentator on Nevada radio and television programs including Nevada Newsmakers and The Travis Christiansen Show. He began blogging in 2005 for his law school’s Federalist Society chapter and in 2007 started his own blog, First Principles. He can be reached at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.