Pass the DREAM Act and keep families together

Candles on a table spell out DACA

This week contains an important anniversary for me and my family. June 15 marks nine years since the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children, also known as Dreamers, a renewable two-year authorization to stay in the country. I am one of approximately 700,000 recipients of DACA today.

I came to this country with my family from the Philippines at the age of six in 2003. We reunited with my father, who was working here. After many hardships, including my father’s loss of employment due to the recession and our family’s displacement due to a California wildfire, we settled in the great state of Nevada in 2007. 

I spent most of my formative years here in Las Vegas. As the newest student in fifth grade, I was welcomed into the community by neighbors with invites to play basketball or to swim at the park. Through the years, I learned how to best navigate the Strip as I visited my dad on his shifts at restaurants in the casinos and memorized the schedule for the 109 bus on Maryland Parkway to grab Jollibee or In-N-Out with friends after school. I attended Valley High School and graduated from the International Baccalaureate program. Home means Nevada to me.               

While DACA does protect select Dreamers from deportation for short periods of time, its limitations are hard to ignore. Less than half of the two million Dreamers in the U.S. are eligible for the program due to arbitrary age cutoffs. For Dreamers fortunate enough to qualify for DACA, we need to renew our status every two years. The real danger, though, is that the DACA program can be terminated at any moment. Although the Supreme Court ruled last year that President Trump went about terminating DACA the wrong way in 2017, the program can still be shut down again and remains subject to additional court challenges. It does not offer the permanent solution that Dreamers and our families need.

As a Dreamer, I know no other home but the U.S. Yet, every day we wake up in fear of being separated from our home: from our families, neighbors, and the only life we have ever known. Our lives are in limbo. We deserve the stability that our U.S.-born peers have simply by virtue of being born in this country. 

That is why I am fighting to build a more just and humane immigration system, so that families like mine no longer have to worry about whether or not they will be able to stay together. Immigration reform should be a top priority to leaders in our country, especially when there is so much at stake for hundreds of thousands of immigrant families. 

The first step toward keeping families together is for Congress to pass the DREAM Act. This bipartisan bill would create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, which more than three-quarters of American voters support. It is easy to see why the overwhelming majority of American voters want Dreamers to have the security of U.S. citizenship. Dreamers are Americans in every way except on paper. Dreamers serve as essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, pay federal and state taxes and contribute to Medicare and Social Security, and protect our country as members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

For years, immigrant families have been waiting for Congress to reform our immigration system to be more humane. The time is now. Every senator should seize this opportunity for bipartisanship and provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship once and for all. Temporary was never enough for our families and communities who live in constant fear of separation. 

I am thankful for Nevada’s leaders, particularly Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen, who continue to fight for immigration reform and support Dreamers like me. We need Senate allies on both sides of the aisle to advocate for us and finally pass the DREAM Act. With a path to citizenship, our families can finally live at peace in the place that has always been our home.

Cheska Mae Perez is a DACA beneficiary and a Families Belong Together organizer at the National Domestic Workers Alliance where she focuses on immigration advocacy, reuniting families, and ending family separations in the United States. Perez formerly worked in the presidential campaigns of Cory Booker and Hillary Clinton in Nevada.

Local leaders call on the Biden administration to protect the Ruby Mountains and places like it

The Ruby Mountains are a centerpiece of Nevada’s public lands. Whether it’s hiking to alpine lakes and glacial cirques, angling for brook and rainbow trout, or snowshoeing through a powdery byway, there is an outdoor adventure for everyone waiting in the Rubies. Yet, despite its unparalleled beauty, this jaw dropping outdoors has been threatened by speculators looking to make a quick buck by taking advantage of loopholes in the outdated oil and gas leasing program.

Fortunately, leaders in Nevada like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee are working hard to protect the Ruby Mountains and the wildlife, outdoor recreation opportunities, and local communities that rely on them — including through the Ruby Mountains Protection Act which would prohibit oil and gas leasing on this pristine landscape. But the work must not stop there. As the Biden administration carries out a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas leasing program, it is critical that it implements common-sense reforms to ensure that the Ruby Mountains and irreplaceable landscapes like them are never threatened again. 

Nevadans depend on the public lands in our state for grazing, hunting, recreation, and for supporting our outdoor and tourism economy. The Ruby Mountains in particular draw in visitors and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world to experience the towering peaks, horizon-chasing valleys, and remarkable wildlife. It is attractions like these that contribute to Nevada’s growing outdoor recreation economy, which generates $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue and supports 59,000 local jobs. But for too long, oil and gas companies have taken advantage of a system stuck in the past, threatening Nevada’s public lands and this economic pillar with reckless speculative leasing. 

For decades, the broken leasing system has allowed speculators to pursue leases of public lands with little to no actual oil potential, draining the Bureau of Land Management’s time and resources. The BLM administered lease sales for 2.6 million acres of Nevada’s public lands between 2017 and 2020, but the oil and gas industry purchased only 225,000 acres — 74 percent of which they bought for the minimum lease bid of just $2.00 per acre, generating minimal returns for taxpayers. This wasteful practice of offering leases in places with little energy potential harms communities like ours that depend on public lands for other activities including hunting, fishing, tourism, and outdoor recreation. 

Thankfully, Congresswoman Lee and Sen. Cortez Masto have introduced companion legislation in the House and Senate that would end the leasing of public lands with low or no drilling potential and enhance the management of other valuable uses of our public lands.

But speculative leasing is just one of the many problems that stem from the antiquated leasing program, and the Ruby Mountains are just one of the many special places that have been put on the chopping block. Across the West, places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Arches National Park in Utah have all been jeopardized by this leasing system stuck in the past. In addition to Nevada’s leaders, members of Congress like Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Rep. Teresa Ledger Fernández, and Sen. Jacky Rosen are working hard to protect America’s public lands and taxpayers. Their legislation takes aim at cleaning up dirty abandoned drilling infrastructure, holding oil and gas companies accountable for cleaning up their messes, and bringing the 101-year old royalty rate oil and gas companies pay for drilling on our federal public lands, along with other fiscal terms for the federal oil and gas program, into the 21st century. 

Together, common-sense bills like these demonstrate that there is momentum in Congress to reform the federal leasing system so it works better for everyone. These bills also provide the Biden administration a sensible roadmap to use in their review of the federal oil and gas leasing program to protect our nation’s public lands for generations to come. 

Pam Harrington is the Northern Nevada field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, David Ricker is the policy chair for the Nevada Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Carl Erquiaga is the Nevada field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Russell Kuhlman is the executive director for the Nevada Wildlife Federation.

How will Nevada voices be elevated to prioritize America Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund spending?

Educators, students, and families are living in an unprecedented moment in our history to inform and influence the Nevada State Department of Education (NDE), school districts, and schools to dramatically improve our education ecosystem. I think it is critical that we speak up to ensure that our students and teachers get what they need.

As a teacher and a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow, I recently participated in focus groups with my teaching colleagues from across the state to provide recommendations to our state and district leaders on how best to prioritize the spending of the America Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Understanding these one-time funds could be utilized to make measurable strides toward an excellent and equitable education for our students is a weighted responsibility we do not take lightly. We built our background knowledge about other funding sources in order to stretch every dollar and impact all students. Students must be kept at the center of every decision. 

Nevada’s preschool through 12th grade education system is receiving approximately $1 billion from the federal government through the America Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) to support efforts to return to, expand, and maintain safe, in-person teaching and learning. This is in addition to the $717 million Nevada districts received through CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security) Act, ESSER I and ESSER II allocations. Ninety percent of the $1 billion will go directly to school districts in order to target academic recovery and interrupted learning, avoid devastating layoffs, and increase mental health resources and social-emotional supports, especially for our students and families most disproportionately affected by the COVID crisis.

Regardless of the school setting within our various districts across the state, the following five recommendations were at the heart of every conversation:

  1. Mental health and social-emotional Support for students and teachers

The mental health and social-emotional well-being of our students and teachers is paramount as we address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order for educators to best support our students, the state and districts must make effective and on-going professional learning and resources for social-emotional learning available. 

For example, Clark County School District recently purchased Panorama Education (programming to help schools facilitate social-emotional learning) to address teachers’ professional learning needs in order to effectively implement SEL in their classrooms. Students are returning to school after experiencing great trauma during the pandemic (in addition to trauma from other sources). Our teachers must have the tools and opportunity to develop the mindsets to engage in trauma-informed teaching and environments. All schools must have the resources necessary to provide the wrap-around services that our students and families need.

  1. Professional learning/development for teachers, education professionals, and support staff

Educators, families, and district and state leaders believe that we must “invest in people, not programs.” Teacher efficacy directly impacts student learning outcomes and achievement. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer the value and necessity of teacher leaders to provide support to their colleagues and impact student outcomes. It is critical to identify and build the capacity of teacher leaders to facilitate professional learning opportunities and mentor colleagues at school sites. Developing teachers’ effectiveness through advancement certifications will lead to a sustainable increase in teacher efficacy and student achievement.

  1. Mentorship for early career and veteran teachers

High-intensity and effective mentoring is proven to increase retention and student achievement. In Nevada, teacher attrition is a significant challenge. We must invest in teachers beyond their first year and increase opportunities for peer learning.

  1. Grow your own educational professional programs & career pipelines

Diversifying our profession is key to ensuring an excellent and equitable education for our students in addition to addressing the teacher-student diversity gap. Strengthening partnerships with state colleges and the Nevada Department of Education will set the stage for home-grown, diverse students entering the education profession, raising the academic achievement of our schools. Middle and high schools can begin this process early through course electives, CTE programming, and dual enrollment courses.

  1. Transparency and accountability of federal funding

The state of Nevada and school districts must provide clear and consistent communication regarding how the ARP ESSER funds are being utilized and the impact each decision has on student outcomes. Regular reporting, accurate data, and trackable results must be accessible to all stakeholders.

Educators, families, students, and community members must lend their voices now during this critical time and advocate for sustainable policy decisions in order to ensure a more equitable education for all students in Nevada. I ask that stakeholders contact their local and district leaders and NDE to join the stakeholder conversations.

Jen Loescher serves as a regional math trainer at Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program, supporting middle school math teachers. She is a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow.

It’s not a worker shortage, it’s a worker renaissance in a post-pandemic economy

Headlines continue to call attention to a shortage of workers in the leisure and hospitality sector here and around the country. Workers are supposedly staying at home and avoiding work given federal unemployment insurance benefits — or so the story goes. But the commentaries fail to fully acknowledge that the “weird” labor dynamics we are observing may be the result of a paradigm shift fueled by workers who are reimagining work in a post-COVID economy. This ‘worker shortage’ may actually be driven by a shift in worker preferences regarding job satisfaction and work environment, which is leading many to choose different career paths (or stay home). Those who believe this paradigm shift is occurring simply because of a supplemental federal benefit will be left behind in a post-pandemic recovery if they do not also reimagine their workspaces.

As employers in Nevada and other states struggle to fill thousands of positions, one often cited culprit is the federal $300 weekly unemployment insurance (UI) benefit. But the claim that this supplemental benefit is solely or even primarily responsible for the millions of missing workers is far from conclusive. Several studies, including one last year conducted by Yale University economists, have found “no evidence that more generous benefits [CARES unemployment benefits] disincentivized work either at the onset of the expansion or as firms looked to return to business over time.” On the other hand, a Bank of America research note issued last month concluded that “low-wage workers currently have a disincentive to work due to generous UI benefits.” Recent data, however, diminish the impact of the federal UI benefit: In May, around 559,000 jobs were added in the U.S., driven by “strong growth at restaurants, bars and other food service establishments, which added 186,000 workers.” This suggests that workers are returning to kitchens and casino floors as more job opportunities arise – in other words, hiring is accelerating!

In short, the federal unemployment insurance benefit may play some role in a worker’s decision to participate in the labor market, but it does not fully explain current dynamics. Focusing on this one factor to the exclusion of others obscures a larger (and more interesting) paradigm shift that may be occurring nationally, and in Nevada. And if we do not consider the larger trends in the workforce, we will miss an opportunity to help low-wage workers move into the middle class and connect them to ways to learn new skills – thereby supporting long-term economic growth.

To fully appreciate this trend in shifting worker attitudes, we must start with how the pandemic jolted and dislodged workers’ sense of confidence in the stability of their employment. Last March, the pandemic forced the closure of shuttered businesses, schools, colleges and public spaces. Hospitality workers and others in Nevada were warned repeatedly that “millions of jobs probably aren’t coming back, even after the pandemic ends.” They were told they needed to “reboot entirely, learning new skills for new jobs” and “seek work with new industries or in new occupations.” In response, workforce ecosystem stakeholders rallied to provide opportunities to dislocated workers. Many institutions of higher education, libraries, and platforms like Coursera launched new programs that allowed workers to return to the classroom to upskill or explore a new career. In Nevada, the College of Southern Nevada, for example, launched more than twenty accelerated “rapid response” degree and certificate programs.

Evidence suggests that workers in Nevada and elsewhere wisely heeded these market advisories. Participation in efforts and programs to help dislocated workers – particularly those that offer “online certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships, micro-credentials, boot camps and even lower-cost online master’s degrees” – have been robust. Udemy’s 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report found that 38 percent of the workforce was upskilled in 2020, an increase from only 14 percent in 2019. Online learning institutions reported “that interest in both free and paid credentials is holding steady at a rate that is significantly higher than what many were seeing [in 2019].” 

Among these online learners are “furloughed or laid-off workers looking to pivot to new careers, and people with stable jobs who are now working from home.” According to the National Student Clearinghouse, online higher education institutions saw a 2.2 percent increase in enrollment this spring, and part-time enrollment grew 5.1 percent — a stark contrast to declining undergraduate fall and spring enrollment patterns. One noteworthy finding – a 2020 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that “for every 100 displaced workers, only about 1 is ever induced to enroll in a public college within four years of layoff.” The low demand among dislocated workers for traditional educational programs (e.g., a two- or four-year degree) is a striking juxtaposition to the relative attractiveness of and rising demand for short-term, accelerated courses and certificate programs, bootcamps, and micro-credentials.

Women, in particular, appear to be availing themselves of these upskilling opportunities. This makes sense given that women (and people of color) were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Information from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse survey reveals that women in Nevada were more likely than men to enroll in a greater number of classes this (spring) term. Throughout the late fall and winter, on average, more Nevada women than men (and sometimes twice as many) reported that they were taking classes for a “different kind of certificate or degree” (and often at a new institution). If Silver State women are busy upskilling and/or pursuing new degrees, this may delay their return to the labor market. These personal investments of time and resources can strengthen a family’s economic and financial security over the long term and can also serve the needs of employers who are confronting “major talent shortages.”

Other workers who were directly affected by the pandemic may have chosen to reassess their interests, revisit their careers, and leave the hospitality and leisure industry entirely. Prior to the pandemic, job satisfaction, particularly among low-wage earners, was low: only 40 percent of workers classified their employment as good; about 45 percent of workers polled said their jobs were “mediocre;” and 16 percent admitted they were working “bad jobs.” Washington Post economics correspondent Heather Long summarizes this dynamic: “There is also growing evidence - both anecdotal and in surveys - that a lot of people want to do something different with their lives than they did before the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak has had a dramatic psychological effect on workers, and people are re-assessing what they want to do and how they want to work, whether in an office, at home or some hybrid combination.” A February 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that two-thirds of adults who were unemployed, furloughed or temporarily laid off indicated that “they’ve seriously considered changing fields or occupations since they’ve been unemployed.” Zip Recruiter economist Julia Pollak noted, “70 percent of people coming off unemployment benefits are going to new employers.” 

Not unlike many readers, I know individuals who have reimagined their post-COVID careers and have left the hospitality and leisure industry. One of our friends, who was laid off from his job on the Las Vegas Strip, is starting his own furniture refurbishing business. Several female colleagues, who were compelled to quit their jobs and oversee the virtual education of their children, have decided not to return to their hospitality jobs and are exploring consulting opportunities in a new industry that will give them greater autonomy over their schedules.

And labor statistics indicate that if these new career options do not work out, workers are quitting. As reported by Quartz’s Tim Fernholz, “the U.S. economy is currently experiencing the highest rate of workers quitting their jobs that we’ve seen in the last two decades.” Fernolz adds, “We’re seeing businesses start to compete for new workers by offering better wages, benefits and training—because workers are demanding it. In white-collar occupations, the experience of working remotely for the last year has led them to make new demands for autonomy, and quitting if these demands aren’t met. At many restaurants, there is a reckoning over decades of substandard pay and working conditions.”

For these reasons and more, we should be cautious not to oversimplify the current labor market as experiencing a widespread worker shortage. The unemployment rate in Nevada remains high (registering 8.0 percent in Nevada as of April 2021). Nationally, there are “a record 8.1 million unfilled jobs.” And while wages in the leisure and hospitality sector “accelerated markedly” in both April and May, there is still “very little evidence that the leisure and hospitality sector’s hot labor market is about to catch the rest of the economy on fire.”  Furthermore, many of the unfilled jobs (particularly in the manufacturing sector) require skilled labor (and we were grappling with a skilled labor shortage long before the pandemic).  As such, efforts to support workers upskilling and learning new skills will serve the economy over the long term.     

We may see some movement in labor market participation rates later this summer. First, some restaurant and retail chains have announced they will raise hourly wages to $15 per hour.  Furthermore, on July 1, 2021, the minimum wage in Nevada will increase to $8.75 per hour if the worker is offered health benefits and $9.75 per hour if the worker is not offered qualifying health benefits. Second, as an increasing number of Nevadans get vaccinated, this may serve to address some of the health concerns that are keeping some workers at home.

It is also widely anticipated that once full-time, in person instruction resumes in schools, women, who account for half of the workforce in accommodations and food services in Nevada, may rejoin the labor force at a faster clip. As has been noted elsewhere, roughly 1.8 million women nationally have left the workforce and there are no signs of reversing the trend (even the April increase in national labor force participation “was accounted for by men entirely).” A Federal Reserve survey found that “one in five of the people who are not working or working less, are doing so because of disruptions to child care or in-person schooling.” Opening schools in the Clark County School District could help draw thousands of southern Nevada women back to the workforce.  

The pandemic has challenged the way we understand our work environment and has prompted a paradigm shift. The public health crisis has provided employers with an opportunity to revisit the organization and structure of work and workers, including an opportunity to consider quality of life and work issues. Many workers have responded by upskilling and learning new skills. Employers may need to reimagine the workplace to allow for greater flexibility. It is noteworthy that in a recent Harvard Business School survey, more than 80 percent of the workers who had been working from home throughout the shutdown stated that they “either don't want to go back or prefer a hybrid schedule.” The continued pace of the recovery and the smoothing of weird labor market dynamics will depend on how well our decision makers address some of the long-time barriers (e.g., childcare) and how well our business leaders are able to adapt to the paradigm shift and reimagine a workplace that supports workers through greater (scheduling) flexibility, work arrangements, and access to additional learning and training opportunities. If our state economy is to thrive, we must not fall prey to oversimplified explanations. Rather, we must embrace the increased fluidity and complexity of the workspace knowing that such an act of commitment and courage will reap greater economic benefits over the long term.

Nancy Brune, Ph.D. is the founding executive director of the Guinn Center, a statewide, independent, nonpartisan policy research center. She is a senior fellow at the Boyd School of Law and serves on the Law and Leadership Program Advisory Council. Dr. Brune received her Ph.D. from Yale University and her Master of Public Policy and B.A. degrees from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Guinn Center, she was a senior policy analyst at Sandia National Laboratories, where she worked on issues of national security. You can follow her on Twitter @NancyBrune or email her at nbrune@guinncenter.org.

Short-term aid calls for long term solutions

After a challenging year for public schools and the end of the most recent legislative session, it finally looks like brighter days are ahead. We have a COVID-19 vaccine to protect our educators and families, infection rates are steadily declining, the Legislature worked to restore funding shortfalls and an infusion of federal funds will provide schools with an opportunity to reopen their doors safely and successfully. 

But we also need a reality check — the federal funds will not be the education panacea many hope for. The return to school will be cloaked in myriad new challenges and intense pressure to deliver on lofty goals. All the while, federal dollars provided to school districts to address problems specific to the pandemic will be at work opening schools safely, restoring learning losses and closing the achievement gap widened by distance learning.

The best Nevada can hope for with these federal dollars is a return to normal. But Nevada’s normal has done a disservice to our students for years. Normal is maintaining the largest class sizes and some of the highest teacher turnover rates in the nation. Normal is substandard academic achievement and ranking last in college readiness exam scores. Normal is congregating at or near the bottom in K-12 funding, year after year. Normal is simply not providing the resources necessary for students to succeed.  Let’s face it, normal is shameful.

Further, expecting these one-time federal dollars to transform education is a tall order given that this direct aid to districts will only represent a 3.8 percent annual increase in funding over the five fiscal years they are available. When the dollars do expire, we could be left with a fiscal cliff that damages students. Innovative or successful programs will disappear. Gains will be lost. Without state lawmakers committing to a plan to fully fund schools, federal funds will only offer a brief reprieve from inevitable and catastrophic budget cuts. 

However, these dollars do present an opportunity for schools to demonstrate they can put additional funds to good use. We know from years of research and targeted programs here in Nevada that additional funding, spent well, leads to positive outcomes for students. But initiatives that attempt to unravel the academic, social and emotional consequences of the pandemic could take time. Getting it right may take some trial and error. We must both trust those who know best - educators, principals and professionals - while insisting on transparency and communication. There must be open and good faith dialogue between districts and their communities. Particularly in Clark County, disagreements must be put aside while we do what is right for our students. 

But as mentioned, this funding is limited in time, scope and amount. We simply cannot sit idly by and expect this one-time federal allocation to lift Nevada out of years of inadequate funding and support. We would be setting ourselves and our students up for failure. 

So, what should we avoid? We should avoid complacency. These funds will expire, and we will find ourselves several years down the road facing the same K-12 funding problems. We should avoid expecting our public education system to be rescued by these dollars, especially given the relatively small amount of funds available when spread over several years. That said, we should avoid letting this opportunity go to waste. We should demand a plan from leaders and aim to walk away from this experience with well-documented, proven strategies to guide best practices in the future. 

If we play our cards right, we can emerge from this crisis stronger, but only if we recognize the enormity of what is ahead of us. There is no quick fix to lifting Nevada out of its last place status in public education. Federal dollars can put us on a path, but it will take strong state leadership, fierce advocacy on the part of the community, meaningful communication from districts and schools giving everything they can to make this work.

Beverly Rogers is Chairman of the Rogers Foundation founded in 2013 by Jim Rogers to transform lives by supporting public education and the arts in Southern Nevada. Through the foundation she provides college scholarships, supports school programs, helps recognize educators and provides systems of support and platforms for local artists to flourish and thrive. Beverly is also a member of The Nevada Independent Advisory Council.

Thinking critically about critical race theory

I’m not going to pretend I know what critical race theory is. Refusing to do so, however, apparently puts me ahead of a lot of Nevadans.

Don’t get me wrong, I have some ideas of what it might be. I’m not alone in that — the Washoe County school board recently sat through an 11 hour lecture on critical race theory delivered via a near-endless parade of public comment. According to some of the comments, when a vehicle with California plates parks in the school district parking lot, that’s critical race theory. When God isn’t mentioned in public schools, that’s also critical race theory even though white people are consistently less religious than most minority groups. Birth rates plummeting below replacement levels? That’s critical race theory. Loveless sex, suicidal despair, drug abuse, pornography, sexual chaos, and the district’s sexual education program behind it all? All critical race theory.

What about “females” getting elected to school boards? What about treason, Marxism, 19 million (wholly imaginary) dead Black babies, and (wholly imaginary) instructions on how to safely lick an anus in our school curriculum? Yes, Nevada — it’s all critical race theory, at least according to one especially colorful public commenter improvising during open mic night at the Washoe County school district administration building. 

If it seems to you like complaining about critical race theory is just a way for certain people to gripe about social changes they disapprove of, you’re not alone. In certain corners of conservative punditry, in fact, this behavior is explicitly encouraged. The goal, as the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo describes it, “is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’” 

In other words, the current moral panic surrounding critical race theory is an explicit attempt by conservatives to motivate their political base using the worst argument in the world. Just as certain lazy libertarians like to yell “Taxation is theft!” with the goal of getting people to transfer their instinctive dislike of theft to taxation, conservatives are hoping people will transfer their instinctive dislike of whatever “critical race theory” summons in their minds upon incantation to whatever sociopolitical changes they wish to fight.

This sort of rhetorical maneuvering was easier during the Cold War when communism was an obvious villain and partisan hacks could claim everything they opposed was “cultural Marxism.” The Soviet Union, however, collapsed three decades ago. The best Marxism can do nowadays is mildly annoy everyone with depressing prop comedy and obnoxious teens on Twitter. The idea that a borderline-suicidal stand-up comic and ☭COMRADE_HOXHADIST1945☭’s twelve followers on some social media platform are going to somehow undermine anything more consequential than a household chore schedule sounds downright delusional at this point.

As complaining about “cultural Marxism” does little to motivate anyone who isn’t actively collecting Social Security these days, conservative activists have been searching desperately for an alternative. This isn’t the first time they have looked for one within the musty halls of the academic wing of the social justice movement. Brietbart.com, for example, has an entire section devoted to “intersectionality.” Why anyone should be worried about “intersectionality,” however, always requires an explanation. “Critical race theory” merely requires an imagination.

So what is critical race theory?

Again, I’m not going to pretend I know, but I can tell you the Washington Post has a handy explainer of the concept, as well as conservative reactions to it. That’s admittedly not a primary source, however — nor, for that matter, is Citizens for Renewing America’s explanation, which explicitly draws the connection in the conservative universe between “cultural Marxism” and critical race theory.

Subtle.

On the other hand, I can tell you we’re not going to find out what critical race theory is by attaching body cameras to teachers so we can all collectively surveil one other’s children in their classrooms. Frankly, advocating for widespread, ubiquitous surveillance of our children sounds like something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984 — in other words, it sounds like “cultural Marxism,” except that it’s being advocated for by people who claim to be conservative. Granted, this wouldn’t be the first time communist and far-right interests allied with each other, but it still seems a little counterproductive.

What I can tell you is that the term critical race theory is searched for far more often than “intersectionality” these days, especially (though not exclusively) in Republican-leaning states. That’s why, if I had to guess, critical race theory appears to be the latest pavlovian bell conservatives are ringing to raise funds and crowds by grabbing the attention of people whose minds race whenever they hear someone talk about race. If our school board meetings are any indication, that bell is ringing loud and clear.

Somebody should make a theory about how and why that works.

David Colborne was active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he blogged intermittently on his personal blog, ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate, and served on the Executive Committee for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now the father of two sons, an IT manager, and a registered non-partisan voter. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david@colbornemmx.com.

Tune out the politics and turn on playoff hockey

The world would be a much better place if we invested ourselves a little more in playoff hockey, and a little less in partisan politics. 

The comparison between political partisanship and organized sports is obviously nothing new. News coverage over political battles is routinely, and deliberatively, couched in terms just as easily found on the sports page. Moreover, the tribal instincts driving fanaticism are largely the same in both instances. 

As Jonathan Haidt brilliantly articulated in his book The Righteous Mind, much of our behavior is derived not from conscious decision-making, but from primitive biological impulses. And one of the strongest of those impulses is the social drive we, as individuals, have to belong to a group. 

Our tribal tendencies shape much of our lives and personalities without us even realizing it—including the way we dress, what brands we purchase, how we select partners and even the way we signal our interests to the people around us. 

Both politics and sports feed off this fundamental biological human trait—however, the impact such tribalism has on our ability to act collectively couldn’t be more different in each circumstance. 

The biases, cognitive dissonance and blind allegiance generated by tribalism tends to corrupt the way we interpret the world around us—which might not be a big deal when talking about a go-ahead goal or a two-minute minor, but it has massive implications when dealing with social issues that affect the rights, livelihoods and freedoms of our neighbors. 

Just as political partisans perceive the world around them differently, sports fans are similarly inclined to abandon objectivity. Obviously, the Vegas Golden Knights won their series against Colorado because they’re the best team to ever grace the sport of hockey—but to an Avalanche fan, the series was likely viewed as a procession of unfortunate puck bounces, lucky (or unlucky) plays and questionable officiating. And while you and I know Vegas won because they should have been number one in the league to begin with, Colorado fans undoubtedly feel they’ve been cheated. 

With few exceptions, however, we tend to tolerate such irrational tribal bias in the world of sports. After all, it’s just a game. Relationships rarely fall apart because of divergent allegiances to different teams—and team rivalries add to the sense of community we feel as we scream at the television to cheer on the young athletes wearing our preferred jerseys. 

However uninterested in sports one might be, the sociological power of tribalism has a profound hold on the primitive corners of our brains—which is why during playoff season it seems as if suddenly everyone in town claims to be a fan of Stone, Pacioretty, Fleury et al. 

In this sense, indulgence in nonsensical fanaticism can actually have a positive impact on the world. In fact, given how we are mentally hardwired, it can be quite helpful for building a sense of community. It’s a similar communal phenomenon as small-town churches, Elks lodges and even neighborhood block parties. (Are block parties still a thing?) We like to be a part of a group—even if it’s just a group of people shouting at their television for 60 minutes of skate time. 

The “team spirit” surrounding Nevada’s first professional hockey franchise epitomizes this positive impact of certain tribal tendencies. Much to the surprise of the entire league, Las Vegas is an exceptional hockey town. It’s as if the entire community has linked arms to tell the world that we can do it better than anyone because… that’s Vegas. We do everything better. 

While such tribalism has done wonders for bringing a diverse and otherwise transient city together, the same cannot be said for the political allegiances of our time.  

Political tribalism has increased our most illiberal tendencies, making enemies out of otherwise well-intentioned and intelligent people. And it does so while increasing our willingness to punish those who refuse to join the ranks of our preferred political team

Understanding the role tribalism plays in how we interact with the world—and understanding when it is destructive—requires nuance that human beings aren’t especially willing to employ. It requires a recognition of our own cognitive dissonance, confirmation biases and primal impulses. And that’s a pretty big lift when discussing something as contentious as modern political disagreements.  

Unfortunately, an ever-increasing portion of our lives have been consumed by the team sport of partisan politics—breeding ever larger contempt for those who don’t share our philosophies and dividing us along (usually nonsensical) party lines. 

With each passing year, it seems as if the opportunities to escape such relentless partisanship is harder to find. Having just wrapped up a legislative session, the positive energy generated by something as simple as a hockey game offers a welcomed sensation of unity.  

So, while it won’t fix our biggest social or cultural challenges, a little more playoff hockey and a little less politics is something we should all be thankful for in Nevada. 

Michael Schaus began his professional career in the financial sector, where he became deeply interested in economic theory and the concept of free markets. Over a decade ago, that interest led him to a career in policy and public commentary—working as a columnist, a political humorist and a radio talk show host. Today, Michael is director of communications for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and lives with his wife and daughter in Las Vegas. Follow him on Twitter at @schausmichael.

Amid cheers for recovery, rental assistance delays and eviction threats still leave thousands in no mood to celebrate

These are very good days for Nevada’s Democrats.

With their majority in the Assembly and Senate, victories at the 2020 Legislature were numerous and even the state’s progressives are smiling. Badgered on a daily basis during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. Steve Sisolak has barely been able to wipe the grin off his face during his bill-signing roadshow. With the coronavirus pandemic cooling nationally, for now at least, Nevada’s all-important gaming and tourism sector is rebounding.

And the largesse contained in the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan has the potential of smoothing the transition to new-normalcy. That prospect also adds to the Democrats’ swagger as they all but shout, “Here are all the good things we’re doing for you!”

Before elected officials throw their backs out taking a second bow, a touch of humility is in order.

Even for those well-practiced at patting themselves on the back, it still must be hard to balance the celebration with the grim truth that in Nevada thousands of renters find themselves in real trouble. They’re utterly confused by the increased paperwork of the rental assistance process, still waiting on a long list for help, or bracing for eviction as state and federal kickout moratoriums fade. That doesn’t include the pandemic’s impact on those trying to access local social service nonprofits buffeted by changing rules in recent months.

The good news — not just for Democrats, but for those who most need to hear a little good news — is that the second round of assistance under the American Rescue Plan easily eclipses the $97 million pumped into the system under the CARES Act. At $160 million, it’s an impressive figure that unfortunately might wind up being used down to the penny depending on COVID’s wicked caprice. The American Rescue Plan dollars started flowing into the system in late March.

We’ll see if it lasts past Labor Day.

Meanwhile, this week Democrats worked to balance their happy dance with a show of concern for the ongoing struggle and the reality that the economy is far more precariously perched than most would like to admit.

I think Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones was among those who managed to strike the right tone. Jones took part in a Thursday Facebook discussion hosted by Battle Born Progress, where he once served as president, and a Wednesday “Housing Resource Talk” at Desert Breeze Community Center led by Rep. Susie Lee with Nevada Assemblywoman Brittney Miller and representatives of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and the Clark County Social Service Department.

In short, this is no time to rest on legislative laurels.

“The moratoriums from the state government and the federal government were critical to get us to where we are today, which is finally people are starting to get back to work, starting to have that ability to pay their rent that many of them couldn’t for months and months,” he told his fellow progressives via Facebook Thursday. “But we’re staring down that time frame now where the state moratorium is over. The federal moratorium issued by the CDC has been challenged in the court, and what’s left of it is really fairly weak.”

Clark County Social Services has taken on the responsibility of acting as a clearing house for regional government entities and has hired 300 to speed processing and get checks in hands. Prior to the county taking a primary role, more than a dozen local nonprofits were involved in the application processing. That, I’m told, did not go well. I’m left wondering if some of those nonprofits are feeling their own financial stress these days.

With increased personnel and online application streamlining, the line for rental assistance is shorter – approximately 9,000, down from 22,000 at the first of the year – but it’s a tenuous improvement that depends on several factors beyond everyone’s pay grade.

And, apparently, a lot of folks’ abilities to figure out the more complicated and time-consuming paperwork process. Where the CARES Act funding was “fairly lenient,” Jones said, and enabled checks to be cut to landlords for a cluster of rental assistance, the new funds come with more substantial forms. Others inside the county point to the changes causing confusion for those who were in line when the CARES Act funds ran out in late December.

That’s what makes the Democrats’ successful legislation that provides an “affirmative defense” for renters threatened by eviction for nonpayment. They can halt the process by applying for rental assistance.

Ah, the paperwork.

“It’s been very challenging to process that additional paperwork and make sure that what people submit doesn’t have to be resubmitted and go through multiple iterations of the application,” Jones said before sounding a reminder of how well the often-squabbling government agencies in Clark County are working together toward a common goal. “… Everyone is rowing in the same direction right now to make sure that we’re able to serve the needs of those who are struggling still even as our economy starts to reopen.”

It’s something to remember for party cheerleaders who are tempted to drink too much of the “Vegas is Back” champagne, lest they end up red-faced for celebrating too soon.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

The next sheriff

Will you be voting for someone for Clark County sheriff in 2022?

The prospect of a new sheriff is often met with bated breath by the various stakeholders of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD). At all levels, whether officers, civilian staff, employee unions, policymakers, police reform advocates or residents, it comes down to one of two questions: Will it be business as usual, or will the new sheriff shake things up? With Sheriff Joe Lombardo announcing a run for governor, Southern Nevadans are once again in a position to exercise the most substantial civilian oversight we have over the LVMPD: electing its leader.

Like judges and the district attorney, I rank the sheriff up there with the elected positions that tend to be most difficult for most voters to confidently assess. Most voters in Clark County have no interaction with the sheriff and have limited (if any) interaction with the LVMPD. Accordingly, in 2018, only 15 percent of registered voters even voted for sheriff in Clark County.

For the last two years, the country has been pushing for more conversations between communities and their police. And up to now, our vote for Clark County sheriff has essentially been to confirm the promotion of the handpicked successor of the outgoing sheriff. And it is understandable. Job qualifications that include a law enforcement background means the pool of candidates is already shallow and weighs heavily in favor of Metro’s executive staff. But this election cycle, we must be willing to have a deeper conversation with, and learn more about, our candidates for sheriff. The 2022 election is the perfect opportunity.

In a year that has seen “defund the police” and “ACAB” become loud (if fringe) rally cries, it has been a tough time for the many cops who show up for work and do their jobs with distinction. Whoever succeeds Sheriff Lombardo is throwing themselves into the deep end of a sea change in the relationship between police and the community. Amid low police morale, declines in police recruitment, calls for reform, new laws coming into force from the Legislature and calls for greater civilian oversight, it will not be an easy job by any stretch — governor may actually be the easier job of the two.

But this is also a time of extraordinary opportunity. A new sheriff can bring new priorities, new initiatives and create more avenues for engagement and partnership. Metro has already made extremely positive strides in mental health services in the Clark County Detention Center, partnerships with community-based organizations and supporting inmate reentry programs. A new sheriff can also seek to address perennial criticisms of Metro, such as accusations of handling protests and homelessness with a heavy hand and not doing enough to address allegations of misconduct against officers. (According to Metro’s Internal Affairs Bureau, 66 percent of complaints against officers in 2018-2019 were resolved with no finding of wrongdoing.) Building trust and tearing down an “us versus them” mentality in the community will be an essential task for our next sheriff.

Meanwhile, too many voters do not feel the need to care about the office of sheriff. (“I am a law-abiding citizen, why should the sheriff matter to me?”) For the 15 percent of registered voters who voted for sheriff last time, why did you care enough to do so? And for the 85 percent who didn’t, why didn’t you? If it is because you felt you were not qualified enough to cast an informed vote, I hope in 2022 the candidates do a better job at reaching out, and that the media and voters will ask all the hard questions. Even if you are not concerned about the policing aspect of the job, at least be concerned that the sheriff has a surprising amount of autonomy from oversight from elected officials in Clark County and the City of Las Vegas and is the steward of a $655 million budget, a service area roughly the size of New Jersey, a large county jail, and a staff of almost 6,000 commissioned police and corrections officers plus civilians.

Ultimately, it all comes down to accountability. The sheriff is accountable to the voters, but incumbent sheriffs regularly enjoy high approval ratings. Are we really that good at picking sheriffs or is this another example of willful ignorance on our part? Either way, Metro’s future relationship with the community is within our control as the voters of Clark County. We should not be afraid to have the hard conversations with those who throw their hats into the race.

The new sheriff must be able to navigate between powerful interests that will fight for the status quo and those calling for the whole system to be torn down. For the last year, what policing in our community should look like has been front and center. Metro’s values reflect those of the sheriff, and the chosen sheriff reflects on us. We owe it to the men and women who put on that uniform every day — and to ourselves — to be active participants in the conversation and the election. 

Nathaniel Waugh is a member of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Board of Trustees and a program supervisor at Hope for Prisoners where he focuses on workforce development for dislocated workers and recently released offenders. He received his Master of Arts in Urban Leadership from UNLV.

Time for full transparency

The Legislature on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session in Carson City.

The Legislature is not required to comply with the state’s open meeting law. I wonder how many people are taken aback by this statement and how many think it is not a good idea. 

Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 241, “Meetings of State and Local Agencies” is more commonly referred to as the “open meeting law”. The idea behind open meeting laws is well understood and compliance is expected: Meetings of public agencies will be open to the general public, citizens will be allowed to provide comments, and official records will be prepared and available upon request. Violations of open meeting laws are often met with civil action against the agency involved, usually accompanied by media coverage.

NRS 241.016 (1) is clear: “The meetings of a public body that are quasi-judicial in nature are subject to the provisions of this chapter.”

Article 4, Section 15 of the Nevada Constitution expands: “..The meetings of all legislative committees must be open to the public,..”

Straightforward? No. Article 4, Section 6 of the Constitution allows the Legislature to “...determine the rules of its proceedings...” and in NRS241.016 (2)(a)The following are exempt from the requirements of this chapter:

   (a) The Legislature of the State of Nevada.

Yes, the Legislature exempts itself from the requirement of the open meeting statute.

What has resulted from these contradictions is an absence of transparency and, I perceive, a presumption among legislative leaders that major bills can be deliberated and voted on without much if any public input, without public observation, and in some cases, without a formal record of the proceedings. Whether intentional or not, public participation and input is being restricted by the Legislature itself, the very body that should be most concerned about ensuring an open and transparent process. To wit:

·         During the last two weeks of every session, both the Assembly and Senate suspend ALL rules. This means that even if open meeting law was typically and generally followed, adherence is not required during this period.

·         During the last two weeks of the 81st legislative session, 44 bills were introduced (30 in the last week).

·         Committees often discuss and vote on bills at hastily called “behind the bar” meetings held on the floor of the chamber during short recesses. Public access is not allowed, and no formal record of the meeting or subsequent vote is prepared. In the final two weeks of the just-completed session there were 672 committee actions (473 in the last week). Controversial or exempt bills (bills the Legislature declares exempt from all deadlines) are often decided out of public view, behind the bar. 291 bills were exempt this session.

·         Committee agendas change at the last minute, which is outside of open meeting law requirements. Sometimes the change happens within one or two hours of the scheduled meeting, giving members of the public little opportunity to adjust.

·         Committee agendas do not have to be specific. Close to legislative deadlines and often during the last two weeks of the session, agendas frequently state “Possible work session” or “Discussion of previously considered items”, hardly enough information for the public to know what is going on.

·         Legislative leaders have no concern for time. Meetings regularly do not begin at the stated time. In many instances, the delay is an hour or more. This creates issues for members of the public on tight schedules.

All in all, exemption from the open meeting law allows the Legislature to introduce important legislation outside of legislative deadlines, often in the final two weeks of the session, forcing last minute scheduling of hearings and allowing for little public input beyond stakeholders who have been part of the bill-drafting process. Examples this session are SB448, a major energy bill introduced on May 13, 2021, heard in committee May 17th and 19th, and approved by the senate May 21st and by the Assembly May 31st, and AB495, the mining tax bill, introduced, heard and passed by both chambers on May 31st.

Transparency by our elected officials and by all legislative bodies is paramount to an open and just society. The clear and deliberate flaunting of NRS241 by the Nevada Legislature must not be tolerated. Elected officials, especially in recent years, have begun to support more open transparency legislation. If Nevada’s state legislators are serious about transparency, they need to repeal their exemption. Will they have the courage to do that?

Doug Goodman is the founder and executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform.