Winning an asymmetric war

Commenting on the lessons of the Vietnam War, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said “we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.” Kissinger was speaking about the perils of what we now call “asymmetric warfare,” which is defined as “warfare in which opposing groups or nations have unequal military resources, and the weaker opponent uses unconventional weapons and tactics . . . to exploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy.” Guerrilla (“little war”) tactics, terrorism, and insurgency are all modern examples of asymmetric warfare, where weaker forces spread through independent cells like a virus to prevent victory by conventional forces. 

There have always been both Davids and Goliaths. The Goliaths just got bigger. With different arms, asymmetric opponents often have different ends as well. Sometimes survival is all that counts. 

The United States is well-equipped to counter invasion or attack by the most fearsome forces on earth. We employ the most powerful fighting force the world has  ever seen. We have even gotten much better and preventing terrorist strikes and fighting guerilla-type wars. But in 2020 America joined the rest of the world in fighting perhaps the most asymmetric war of all time. 

A microscopic virus called COVID-19 has invaded the entire planet. Pandemics are nothing new, and humans have conquered them before, including diseases far more deadly than COVID. This time, though, we have even greater superiority — on paper at least. We have the best health-care professionals and medicine ever, the most advanced technology, and the ability to share information everywhere almost instantaneously. We are cleaner, healthier, and smarter, too. 

On top of our medical advantages, computers and the internet also allow us to shelter in ways that would have been unthinkable just decades earlier. By the numbers, we have the upper hand against COVID. And yet, victory remains as elusive as it does undefined. Like a terrorist cell, COVID personified has a singular goal: survive and multiply. 

Despite our knowledge and ability, we battle an invisible, mindless foe with an almost infinite supply of expendable troops. Moreover, we supply all the weapons it needs. It co-opts strangers, friends, and loved ones to deliver its payload. It then turns our sanctuaries into battlefields: home, office, playground, house of worship, school, and stores. In part, fighting back means surrendering. Even retreat brings on more crises. 

In recent days, COVID succeeded where America’s most powerful enemies (past and present) have not: penetrating the American president’s security and hitting its target. Not since the Civil War has our president been so close to the line of fire in combat. In the summer of 1864, Confederates invaded Washington D.C., and a young Union soldier named Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. had to yell at President Lincoln to get down from the top of Fort Stevens as enemy sharpshooters took aim at his head. 166 years later, COVID bombarded President Trump. 

At home here in Nevada, COVID pulled off a surprise attack of its own, infecting Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director. As a West Point graduate, a captain in the army with two tours in Iraq under his belt, and the former director of Emergency Management for Governor Sandoval, Caleb is no stranger to emergencies. He has handled war, fire, floods, mass shootings, and riots. We are lucky to have him, and since his appointment in late March, he has been on the front lines of the COVID fight, so risk of exposure was always great. But even now, with all his knowledge and experience, he has no idea where or how he was infected. Fortunately, Caleb had a mild case and he is back on the job. But there is something spooky about the randomness of the virus. Such is the nature of asymmetric warfare.

Caleb is also an example of what makes the task ahead of us so difficult. We do not have the luxury of safeguarding our essential resources in the rear. The people we rely on most are also in the greatest jeopardy. Like Star Trek’s Starfleet of the future, company COVID policy seems to mandate sending the most essential human resources on the most dangerous missions. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, truck drivers, food workers, and more — all of them keep us going. We cannot afford to lose them, nor can we afford for them to stay on the sidelines either. Lawyers like me can call a timeout and the world goes on. Not so for first responders or the workers at the local grocery store. 

Like everyone in this battle, Caleb and other state and local leaders have been operating without a playbook. The balancing act between safety and almost everything else is nearly impossible. How we can and should have responded to COVID is a question far above my pay grade. It seems like countries and communities have tried many different things only to see victories turn into set-backs. Shutdowns and closures have likely saved lives, but they have also imposed tremendous costs as well in the form of economic catastrophe, educational set-backs, and serious deficiencies in quality of life. 

Asymmetric warfare has defeated superpowers, and viruses have brought down empires before. But we are still the heavy favorite in this fight as long as we recognize it for what it is. Conventional thinking won’t work. We must be flexible and adaptable. We need to be resolute as well. Souring public opinion and collective exhaustion are often the insurgent’s most effective tools. 

Our efforts in asymmetric warfare have taught us that superior technology and modern science alone will not bring quick wins. It is going to take a unified national effort and full commitment from all of us to finally put this virus behind us. All of us have had to do difficult, improbable things over the last seven months. But we cannot give up or give in to fear. Just because success against COVID is hard to measure does not mean victory cannot be had. We are in the fight of our lives, for each other, for the future, and for any semblance of a return to normalcy. But we will not win until we win. 

Daniel H. Stewart is a fifth-generation Nevadan and a partner with Hutchison & Steffen. He was Gov. Brian Sandoval’s general counsel and has represented various GOP elected officials and groups. He recently switched his registration to nonpartisan.

Vote no on Question 6

For more than 30 years, I’ve had the great pleasure of working at and leading Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC), a not-for-profit, member-owned electric utility in Northeastern Nevada. Our interest, and in fact our mission, is to improve the quality of life for our members, who also happen to be our neighbors, friends and family. We were built by the very communities we serve and I take the job of protecting the interests of our communities very seriously. 

I’m troubled by the recent trend of attempting to regulate the energy industry via constitutional amendment. Such practice ignores the legislative process where all viewpoints can be considered, limits our ability to be responsive to sudden changes and, as a result, ultimately harms the consumers we’re meant to serve. For those reasons, I would urge you to vote no on Question 6.

Energy legislation doesn’t belong in the Constitution. We have a saying in the cooperative world, “If you’ve been to one co-op, you’ve been to one co-op.” Admittedly, it might not be the catchiest phrase, but it speaks to the truth that we all were built by distinctly different communities to provide essential services in areas that have distinctly different challenges and needs. The same is true even for larger utilities. After all, what works best in Las Vegas does not work best in Reno or Carson City. When it comes to providing energy, one-size-fits-all is not an effective solution.

Nuance and adaptability are rarely characteristics of constitutional amendments. If there is a need to pivot or change course, working around a constitutional amendment is simply not feasible. Changes would have to go back on the ballot and be approved twice, a process that takes years to achieve. That’s not the kind of fluidity that dictates success.

Perhaps more importantly, the primary intent of Question 6 has already been achieved.

Not only does Senate Bill 358 make Question 6 unnecessary because it already requires that 50 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable generation by 2030, it also serves as a prime example of the legislative process working effectively. After seeing the results of Question 6 on the 2018 ballot, state representatives recognized the desire of Nevadans to embrace renewable energy generation and proactively worked toward that goal. The result was legislation that achieves a reduction in carbon emissions while also maintaining the flexibility to fit more of the utilities around the state.

In WREC’s case, participating in the discussion resulted in large-scale hydroelectricity being included as a renewable energy source under SB 358, which allowed our utility to support the bill while also protecting our members. From an environmental standpoint, the appeal of renewable energy involves reducing carbon emissions. Because WREC receives its power from the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest, roughly 90 percent of our generation portfolio is carbon free. Unfortunately, hydroelectricity has rarely been considered “renewable” in the past for reasons that have far more to do with politics than practicality. Question 6 references “waterpower” but does not define what that includes. While hydroelectricity would seemingly fit, the Constitution doesn’t allow for the discussion and confirmation of such ambiguity that is naturally provided by the legislative process.

Hydro is highly efficient, and thus highly affordable, while also being carbon free. Without the ability for dialogue and nuance, Question 6 could have forced us to abandon hydroelectricity, which would have significantly raised the cost of electricity for our members without providing any change to our carbon footprint.

The Constitution should guarantee the rights of the citizens and provide the basic framework of the government. Policy matters, such as the source of electricity, should be enacted through legislation where all points of view and real-world impacts can be considered. Supporting Question 6 and supporting carbon-free energy are not mutually exclusive. Please vote no on Question 6.

Clay Fitch is the CEO of Wells Rural Electric Co.

Competence must be compensated; we can’t do school board governance on the cheap

Research suggests that there is a relationship between school board governance and educational quality, including student achievement. In short, competent and thoughtful school boards are associated with higher levels of student achievement. School boards are not a mere sideshow to K-12 education; rather, they are integral to student success. 

School board members are akin to a board of directors for a large corporation. Why is it that successful corporations understand the need to adequately compensate board members to attract a broad range of talent, but we in Nevada think we can run our multi-billion or multi-million dollar school districts essentially with volunteers?  

The question of governance is one of increasing interest these days. There is even a Nevada ballot question on the issue of higher education governance at the same time that the public is bearing witness to the drama and dysfunction that has enveloped our large urban school boards in recent years.

Given its good governance research program, the Guinn Center has regularly weighed in on school board governance in Nevada. Beginning in 2016, we have held candidate forums for individuals running for education boards. And for the past two years, we have been monitoring school board meetings around the state, assessing how boards spend their meeting time. Governance experts suggest that boards should allocate approximately 50 percent of their meeting time to student outcomes. Yet, we have observed that, with the exception of the Nevada State Board of Education, school board members in Nevada generally spend significantly less than 50 percent of their meeting time discussing student outcomes. Instead, meetings are filled with discussions of school naming opportunities, budgets, curriculum policies (e.g., sex education), safety, and even seatbelts, among others.

We know from at least one study that school boards that engage in “strategic planning, view their superintendent as a collaborator, and mitigate conflict” perform better in academic outcome indicators. Another meta-analysis of research reported that school districts with higher levels of student achievement show “clear alignment of board, district and school efforts in support of non-negotiable goals.” These boards “ensure these goals remain the primary focus of the district’s efforts and that no other initiatives detract attention or resources from accomplishing these goals.”

A familiar refrain in many circles in Nevada is that we don’t value education. We have all heard some variation of the quote: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” It turns out that the individuals who serve on Nevada’s education boards, including the State Board of Education, are among the lowest paid elected officials in the state.

School board trustees in the Clark County School District (CCSD) and Washoe County School District (WCSD) are compensated $750 a month or $9,000 a year for their service, while trustees from smaller school districts earn either $4,800 or $3,000 annually. The Legislature increased school board trustee compensation schedules in 2007 from about $5,760 a year to their current levels. If school compensation amounts were adjusted to account for inflation, CCSD and WCSD trustees would still only receive about $11,000 a year.

Several trustees report that they spend an average of 20 hours a week on trustee-related business. To do their jobs properly, they probably need to spend much more time than that. Either way, they are essentially getting compensated for their service at minimum wage or below. As a point of comparison, City Council members in Reno and Las Vegas earn $75,000 to $82,000 annually while overseeing budgets totaling $500-600 million. The CCSD Board of Trustees oversees a two-billion-dollar operating budget, and the WCSD Board oversees a budget totaling about half a billion dollars (give or take a few million). 

Not every state compensates school board trustees for their service. Of the top 10 largest school districts in the country, seven compensate their school board members. Some pay less than Nevada. Others – such as Alabama, California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and Virginia – pay school board trustees salaries. For instance, several school districts in Florida, including Orange County where CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara worked previously, pay school board trustees more than $40,000 annually. The Los Angeles Unified School District pays its board trustees $125,000 (and gives them paid staff).

Don’t worry. I am not suggesting this level of compensation for our school board trustees, but Nevada is not even close to paying a fair wage for the required investment of time.

Beyond the value proposition, establishing professional level compensation for school board members has a few other advantages. First, and perhaps foremost, professional level compensation would likely attract a greater number and a more diverse selection of professionals with the varied skills necessary for overseeing a large public organization. 

Arguably, we have underestimated the knowledge, experience and professional competence necessary to effectively manage a school district. School board members must navigate public meeting laws, human resource laws, collective bargaining arrangements, financial reports with various accounting methods, education policy reports based upon statistical modelling, public administration matters and community interactions. There are few jobs requiring such a vast array of skills — and which play such a crucial role in the lives of so many. It is unreasonable to expect to find more than a handful of individuals who are both able and willing to take on such a position and the stress it brings.  

This is not to say that we have not had, or do not have, school board members with applicable skills or who have not contributed significantly. Nor is to say that through dedication and diligence, one cannot acquire the skills and knowledge to be an effective board member. It is to say, however, that for all of these individuals, whether they come to the position with all desirable skills or whether they develop some of those skills once in the position, professional dedication should be acknowledged and appropriately rewarded.

Additionally, providing professional level compensation would allow the public to hold school boards to professional level accountability standards. Effective school boards are accountability driven, focused on a vision of a culture of improvement and spending less time on operational issues. Our school boards are desperately in need of a clearer set of performance standards. Clear expectations and requirements would benefit both the public and board members.

Notwithstanding proposed efforts to revisit our current systems of school board governance in the next legislative session, lawmakers should explore increasing compensation schedules for school board trustees. Amid dysfunction and significant budget deficits, it may seem like a counterintuitive time to suggest additional compensation. But if we are sincere about our commitment to education and to improving educational outcomes and student achievement, and if we want to attract and retain real professionals, we must consider adequately compensating them for their service. 

Collectively, we pay Nevada school board trustees about half a million dollars. Doubling the current compensation schedules of Nevada’s 107 school board trustees would cost roughly $1 million dollars — a small price to pay for the potentially significant returns on improved board governance. It would be an important step in ensuring that our state budget reflects our priorities and our collective commitment to education. 

Research shows that a well-functioning school board is linked to higher student achievement. While we have made tremendous strides investing in educational programs and professional development and incentive programs for educators, we have fallen short in our investment in the individuals responsible for setting a vision, working with the superintendents, establishing goals and ensuring accountability. As lawmakers consider different governance models next year, revisiting school board trustee compensation should be front and center of these deliberations. Our school boards, board members, students and community deserve better.  

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 

‘The Roll Model:’ Chambers helped wheel Las Vegans with disabilities into a new era

You never knew whom you’d meet at the Tap House. One night I met a man who helped save my life.

I didn’t know it at the time, of course. John Chambers was just a friendly guy in a wheelchair who introduced himself and invited me to grab a beer and sit with him. He was with his friend, Billy Eddins, who also used a wheelchair to get around. We talked sports and politics, and about adaptive recreation. John ran the adaptive recreation program at the City of Las Vegas. Billy taught at the school district. In time I’d meet their wide circle of friends, many of whom played integral roles in developing adaptive recreation and physical education programs for the city and public school system.

Over the years we talked often about current events and the painfully slow progress Las Vegas was making when it came to embracing the Americans with Disabilities Act and helping to let the differently abled enjoy their share of the American Dream. We spent time in the poorly planned disabled seating sections of Cashman Field and the Thomas & Mack Center. We went to casinos that were still trying to get it right. Let’s just say some were trying harder than others.

In time I learned to never open a door for John Chambers – he’d roll over your foot. And heaven help the poor sap who told him taking an escalator in a wheelchair was off limits. Self-pity had no place in John’s life.

He was a genuine road warrior who traveled the world in the name of disabled sports. The young people and military veterans he mentored learned not to let their challenges outweigh their sense of fun and adventure. 

A role model? He’d cackle at such praise and remind you he was really a  r-o-l-l model.

In 2005, my life took a turn.

My daughter Amelia was diagnosed with brain cancer. The surgery was successful, but the chemotherapy she received took away her ability to walk. At age 9, she was in a wheelchair and dealing with the overwhelming after-effects the disease and treatment. Her parents were overwhelmed, too.

I immediately heard from John, Billy and many others. The Smiths found a whole community of support waiting with open arms. It was nothing short of lifesaving.

When I learned that John Chambers had died Oct. 9 in Arizona after a long illness at age 66, I was immediately returned to those emotionally delicate days. John helped remind the Smiths that they weren’t victims, and that they just needed to get back into the game.

And so we did, through weekly wheelchair sports activities and junior Paralympic events organized by John’s former wife Barbara Chambers, now in her 37th year at the school district, with volunteer support from city staffers Jonathan Foster, Lonny Zimmerman, and many others.

Almost everything we did was influenced by John’s buoyant, independent spirit. As Barbara puts it, “John had the passion. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. People felt that from John.”

A Los Angeles native made a quadriplegic after contracting valley fever as a teen-ager, John grew up in the era before the federal government began paying more than lip service to the disabled. He lived through the generation that changed wheelchair technology and spent his life speaking out as a tireless advocate for disability rights.

John played and coached on championship basketball teams and in 2011 was inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Hall of Fame. His 3-point shot was automatic, his golf game a hustler’s dream. Until his body weakened, he was competitive in a variety of sports. And he made sure the young people he encountered were introduced to the possibilities available to them even as he developed new ways for them to play.

With the city’s Adaptive Recreation Department, he helped expand basic programs outside the gymnasium and high school track. Before long, adaptive recreation included everything from water-skiing to weekend campouts.

And he worked the system, serving on the Governor’s Council of Developmental Disabilities in Nevada and was on the boards of the California Wheelchair Athletic Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the National Therapeutic Recreation Society.

That passion was obvious when he found Las Vegas businesses – and there were many of them – who hadn’t bothered to make their restrooms or dining rooms accessible.

“He was always fighting because nothing was accessible,” Barbara recalls. “He would complain. He’d have to go through a kitchen because there was no access to a dining room. It was definitely third-class citizen stuff. He’d travel with teams that wouldn’t be able to get into a restaurant, not even a Denny’s. A lot of places got grandfathered in and didn’t have to comply (with ADA). John was always trying to teach people about accessibility.”

His superpower was helping others with disabilities overcome obstacles and see that life was still a grand adventure — a participation sport whether the activity was basketball, bowling, or climbing a curb and taking the escalator. The key, he knew, was getting off the sideline and into the game.

Now retired from the school district, Eddins recalls Chambers as a teacher who taught by example.

“John taught everyone that life is valuable and should not be taken for granted no matter what the abilities are,” Eddins says. “John taught me to value everyone. It doesn’t mean you have to like or agree with them, but value them and respect their dignity.”

For Clark County Parks and Recreation Department manager Lonny Zimmerman, Chambers was a mentor and compassionate father figure

“For a soft-spoken man, he was always just a pillar of strength and inspiration,” Zimmerman says.

Although John was a leader in developing recreation programs for the disabled, Zimmerman says his ultimate goal was greater. At a time most recreation programs for the disabled were segregated from able-bodied ones, Chambers promoted the concept of inclusion years before it became accepted practice.

“John was all about inclusion,” Zimmerman says. “His heart’s own belief was that if you were a person with a disability, you should be able to recreate at a park across the street from your house and not have to travel across town.

“He said, ‘We’ll know we’re successful when we no longer have to have an adaptive recreation division and a person with a disability is included as a person just like everyone else.”

After his family and friends, John’s loves were baseball and the Grateful Dead, the band he saw play more than 150 concerts. Beer might also have ranked in the top 10. He spent so much time in Arizona during his annual pilgrimages to baseball spring training games that he wound up moving there after retiring. He married his longtime partner, Ann, two years ago. He leaves behind an adult daughter, Megan Chambers, who was his heart’s greatest joy.

John kept his sense of humor and keen awareness of current events until the end. He said he didn’t need a bunch of flowers at his funeral, Barbara recalls, or many tears either.

John Chambers’ parting wish?

“He wanted everyone to get out and vote,” she says.

I think it’s the least we can do for a great Las Vegas roll model.

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 Contact him at On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Two-thirds of Nevadans are wrong. Again.

Approximately a week ago, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s The Nevada Poll™ (now with crosstabs!) asked 512 likely voters in Nevada a simple question:

In response to the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police, some cities have cut police department funding and shifted the revenue to social and community programs. Do you support or oppose this reallocation of money, known as 'defunding the police'? 

Of those that responded, 51 percent were “strongly opposed.” Another 13 percent were “somewhat opposed.”

Each and every one of those respondents were wrong.

It’s not the first time this has happened. An even larger majority of Nevadans voted in favor of Question 2 in 2000 and 2002, which wrote a ban on same-sex marriage into the state Constitution. At least we’ll get a chance to undo that in the ballot box this year when we vote, appropriately enough, in favor of Question 2.

Being generous to the supermajority of Nevadans for a moment, however, if you ask most people if putting more police on the streets leads to less crime, they’d answer emphatically in the affirmative. It’s simple common sense. If you have 10 criminals and only one police officer, more criminals will get away than if you have, say, two police officers or even 10. How could this not be true?

Don’t ask me. Ask the FBI.

According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, in 1999, there were 4,525 police officers statewide, policing an estimated population of 1,814,905 Nevadans — just under 250 police officers for every 100,000 Nevadans. Twenty years later, there were 5,549 police officers statewide, policing an estimated population of 3,086,380 Nevadans — just under 180 police officers for every 100,000 Nevadans. That means, for every City of Sparks’ worth of Nevadans, there are now 70 fewer police officers on the streets than there were 20 years ago. 

Naturally, the FBI’s data shows crime has skyrocketed over the past two decades, right?

Huh. Looks like crime went down.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The level of violent crime is considerably less than the level of property crime, so large relative increases in violent crime — for example, the 44 percent increase in violent crime that occurred between 2000 and 2007 — are impossible to see in that graph. Let’s just compare the ratio of police officers to violent crime rates; perhaps we’ll see the expected relationship there:

On the one hand, this matches our intuitions somewhat. Increasing violent crime rates led to a corresponding increase in police hiring, which then appears to have led to a corresponding drop in violent crime. We see that pattern occur after a peak in violent crime in 2007 and another, smaller peak in 2015. 

On the other hand, we would also expect corresponding drops in police employment to lead to fairly immediate increases in violent crime. Instead, there seems to be a solid half-decade lag (at the very least) between a decline in police officers per Nevadan and a noticeable increase in violent crime. 

Crucially, police employment and violent crime were both lower in 2019 than they were in any prior year in the past two decades. 

Now let’s just examine the relationship between property crime rates and the ratio of police officers:

Here again there’s a period of decreasing police employment corresponding to a period of increased property crime between 2001 and 2007. After 2007, however, both property crime rates and police employment have largely fallen together. Since the Great Recession, there appears to be no correlation at all between the ratio of police officers per Nevadan and property crime rates. 

In fairness, however, the poll didn’t ask whether people supported depopulating police departments. The poll asked whether people supported defunding police departments. Even RoboCop is considerably more expensive to employ than, say, a police sergeant

What’s the relationship between police funding and crime?

Using the Urban Institute’s State and Local Government Finance Data tool, which has police expenditure data up to 2017, we can compare police expenditures per capita (how much each of us, including our children, pay, on average, for police expenses statewide, adjusted for inflation) against the crime rate and see if there’s a relationship:

As before, the property crime rate (which, again, decreased steadily over the past two decades regardless of what resources we put into policing) is high enough to potentially hide any relationship between violent crime and police spending, so let’s graph that relationship as well:

Once again, violent crime rose while police expenditures rose, then fell while police expenditures fell following the Great Recession. The only point in the last two decades that supports Clark County Sheriff Lombardo’s assertion that, and I quote, defunding the police “ends with fewer cops on the streets and crime numbers dramatically up,” is the period between 2013 and 2017, when a modest increase in police funding arguably may have triggered a precipitous fall in violent crime rates. 

After the Great Recession, Nevada did indeed embrace a radical idea. We cut police department funding and shifted the revenue to nothing — or, more accurately, we shifted it back to the people by failing to forcibly extract steadily increasing police budgets from Nevadans’ wallets via taxation. Since there weren't the tax funds to do so, there were no corresponding increases in social and community health funding during that time period. That was a considerably more Libertarian solution than what advocates for defunding the police are actually proposing. Even so, even though we replaced police funding with nothing — absolutely nothing — our crime rates were and still remain lower after the Great Recession than they were at its start.

Today’s proponents of defunding the police are asking for something considerably more modest and more moderate. Now that we’ve proven by sheer economic necessity that there is no meaningful relationship between police spending and public safety, they would like to see whether increasing funding for mental health and social programs might do the trick instead. 

For what it’s worth, I’m skeptical that will do the trick, either. However, I’m a lot less skeptical of that proposal than I am of the notion that we should, to borrow a phrase from Steve Grammas, president of the state’s largest police union, “be overly funding police departments, never defunding.”

We already overly funded police departments. Then we defunded them. Now we’re safer — and we have the data to prove it.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at

Low-income students need advocates for better access to a higher education degree

Tumultuous times! Democrats are advocating for us to get out and vote. Republicans are advocating for protecting our businesses. The WEA is advocating for teacher protections in K-12. But who is advocating for our most vulnerable students’ affordable access to a degree in higher education?

Like many of our fractured systems, the pandemic shed a light on the inequities in our higher educational system: lack of reliable Wi-Fi access to participate in online learning; lack of food and safe housing; lack of adequate advising as to how to navigate the complex process of applying for and then funding an education.

Did you know that even before the upheaval of COVID-19, low-income (often minority, first generation) students graduated at roughly one-third the rate of higher income students? Studies show that college graduation rates align with the income level of the student’s family (see: U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics/NCES). Those in the lowest quintiles are least likely to graduate because they often lack the support structure to be successful, taking with them student loan debt that they can’t pay back because they don’t have the degree that affords them the better paying job.

My work as the college and career facilitator at Reno High School the last 5 and a half years has made it abundantly clear that too few people, in K-12 and higher education, are advocating for these bright, motivated students looking to create a better life for themselves and their families. The college application process has become extremely time-consuming and complex, as has navigating the financial aid/scholarship process. 

But once a student is in college is when the struggle truly begins. I’ve watched as students struggle to study and learn from home environments that are not always conducive to academic excellence. Low-income students often are working while managing heavy course loads. In some cases, home environments actually provide barriers as students are pulled from their studies to supervise younger siblings and/or manage poverty, health and addiction issues of family members.

Higher education, like so many industries, is adapting to a COVID/post-COVID world with less funding. As these institutions and the stakeholders who support them reimagine and adapt to our new reality, it is imperative that they think outside the box. It is also imperative that they do not settle for the status quo, merely protecting the few support structures in place such as TMCC’s Summer Bridge, Nevada Promise and UNR’s Pack Advantage programs. 

Higher education must prioritize the needs of these students over opulent dorms, state of the art recreation centers and sparkling new academic buildings. Colleges need to prioritize financial aid, affordable housing and peer and adult mentors who help students find internships and career opportunities so that they can graduate and successfully launch their careers.

Why does this need to be part of our collective dialogue? Because studies show that a college degree still equates to lifetime earnings almost double those without a degree — and also opens the door to more career options. Adults who are able to support their families and participate fully in society strengthen the social infrastructure for everyone.

Stephanie Lerude is a college/career advisor and vulnerable student advocate and former WCSD employee.

Arguments against eliminating the elected Board of Regents from the Constitution (Question 1)

regents meeting

Question 1, which would remove the Board of Regents and their election from the Nevada Constitution, is a solution in search of a problem. It would not relieve perceived problems that could easily be addressed without a change in the Constitution, and could lead to some very negative consequences. Greater accountability of the regents and the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) is a laudable goal, but Question 1 moves control from a small elected board of regents that meet 8-10 times a year to the 63 citizen legislators that meet only every other year.

The Legislature already has full authority over state funding that goes to higher education—both dollar amounts and how it is spent—and the current language of the Constitution allows the Legislature to prescribe the duties of the Board of Regents. Question 1 would allow partisan legislators to micromanage educational policy and curriculum.

Proponents say that Nevada is unique in having a single elected governing board for higher education, but fully half the states have constitutionally defined boards and some with excellent systems of higher education—Colorado, Michigan, and Nebraska—also have constitutionally elected boards governing one or several universities. Nevada is unique only by placing the community colleges under the elected Board of Regents, but that is in statutes and would not change with Question 1. The statewide Nevada system of colleges and universities allows significant efficiencies with combined human resources, payroll, campus police, and computer network operations.

Removing the constitutional separation of higher education could lead to political and partisan interference in our public colleges. In states without constitutional protections, governors or legislators have removed university boards or presidents. Although the proponents of Question 1 tout the new proposed provision on academic freedom, the language is actually quite dangerous because it allows future Legislatures to define the “reasonable protection of individual academic freedom” which would cover not just faculty but also students and ill-defined “contractors”. A future Legislature could define academic freedom however it desires and thereby greatly distort its true meaning and value.

The true aims of Question 1 are hidden by removing regents from the Constitution but leaving implementation up to future Legislatures. Active proponents of Question 1 have proposed putting the community colleges under a separate board (2017); replacing the chancellor with six appointed bureaucrats in Carson City and adding six new boards overseeing the system (2019); and, most recently, changing from elected to appointed regents (a bill by one of the sponsors of Question 1 that passed the Nevada Senate in 2019). The other sponsor of Question 1 testified against that bill saying it would make it “difficult, if not impossible, to pass” Question 1 because “the people will not vote to get rid of their ability to select their own representatives.”

If you believe that voters should hold elected officials accountable, you should vote “no” on Question 1 to preserve your constitutional right to vote for regents. A “no” vote will also protect academic freedom from political interference.

Kent Ervin and Jim Richardson are current and retired faculty members at the University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. Their opinions are their own and they are not representing the university or any faculty group. Richardson has lobbied for the NV Faculty Alliance. Kent Ervin lobbies for them now.

Pandemics, wildlife and climate change

Red Cross volunteers make masks for Spanish flu

So here we are enduring the worst pandemic in over a century and still scratching our heads over how it happened. We’re the greatest country on earth, aren’t we? How did we allow it to come here? Why can’t we lick this scourge that’s forcing us to bow down before its relentlessness? There is plenty of inaccurate and questionable information out there, fueled by social media and, of course, by Donald Trump. 

Our response to the pandemic has been anything but great and too many of us refuse to pay attention to what science is telling us: COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease; that is, it transferred to us from animal carriers. We in the U.S. were lucky we mostly escaped the ravages of other recent zoonotic diseases: Ebola, MERS, and Zika, with a few cases of Swine Flu and Bird Flu. Even the scourge of AIDS, which first appeared in the 1980s is thought to have originated in animals, possibly primates, our closest relatives. Back then, we probably weren’t paying attention.  

Scientists tell us that zoonotic diseases are becoming increasingly common and COVID-19 is just the latest iteration of an alarming trend. When these diseases that naturally reside in animals mutate, they can infect people and we may have no biologic defenses against them. Our world is intimately interconnected and diseases can spread rapidly, as seen during the pandemic that is upon us. The human/wildlife interface is becoming increasingly smaller. 

The factors that allow animal diseases to infect humans are wildlife exploitation and habitat loss, such that humans and animals are coming into closer contact. The risks increase as more people take up more land and exploit animals through trade in living animals and animal parts. And when people enter new habitats and encounter the animals that live there, it opens the door to more zoonotic disease episodes. Scientists say new diseases are expected to appear regularly.

As climate disruption creates worldwide chaos with increasingly violent weather and natural disasters, the barriers between wildlife and humans continue to disintegrate. Habitats are being destroyed and animals are being smuggled across borders, sold in live markets or made into products. This is what we suspect happened in China, where the coronavirus pandemic is thought to have originated. But we still don’t know for sure how the virus causing COVID-19 emerged. 

And we can’t just point fingers. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. consumes roughly 20 percent of global wildlife including about 224 million live animals and a stunning 883 million dead specimens a year. Our demand for wildlife-based décor, fashion, and meats shifts disease risk to other countries – it doesn’t negate the risk. We and other wildlife-consuming nations like the E.U. and Japan need to pick up where China’s wildlife-consumption ban left off: by banning all wildlife trade and closing wildlife markets as a first step. 

We have to reconceive the future. Livelihoods and lifestyle choices must change. COVID-19 has shown us how interconnected the world truly is. We must acknowledge that other emerging zoonotic infectious diseases are lurking out there just waiting to become another pandemic — one that may be far worse.

Rita Ransom is a former science teacher, environmentalist, and member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

It’s too late for Nevada GOP to distance itself from militia intimidators

When reputed Boogaloo Bois Andrew Lynam, Steven Parshall and William Loomis of Las Vegas went looking for like minded extremists — you know, proud patriots bent on igniting a civil war — they didn’t find their soul mates on some hearts-and-flowers dating site or in a sepia corner of the dark web.

It wasn’t Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn that facilitated the hookup. They found extremist kinship last spring at a ReOpen Nevada anti-mask rally to protest the state’s coronavirus pandemic guidelines. Hey, what were the odds?

The gatherings are thinly veiled Trump and Second Amendment rallies that have drawn heavily armed members of the Three Percenter militia and have been enthusiastically heralded by the leaders of the Nevada Republican Party, such as they are. The Nevada GOP doesn’t endorse violence, mind you. It just encourages supporters to bring semi-automatic weapons and tactical gear to public events because the Second Amendment can’t get too much love.

But let that sink in for a moment: When alleged American terrorists wanted to get together, they went to a glorified Republican Party political rally.

From their chance meetings, according to court documents in their federal criminal case, the three men proceeded to pursue their goal. After a couple of false starts, they allegedly plotted to firebomb a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas. They were arrested before lighting the Molotov cocktails they had transported to the protest.

The heavily armed Lynam, according to court documents, made it clear at the outset his outfit was “not joking around” and was only “for people who wanted to violently overthrow the United States government.” The violence of the Boogaloo Bois and other right-wing paramilitary organizations, many masquerading as patriot-game playing militia clubs, continues to rise as the country gets closer to the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Followers of the leaderless Boogaloo movement and militia organizations are accused of crimes ranging from homicide to, just this past week, plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the government. They have used anti-mask rallies across the country, and especially in Nevada and Michigan, to vilify Democrat governors under the guise of peaceful protest. Trump himself has cheered on the armed protests on social media.

In Minnesota, The Washington Post reported Friday, the privately financed Atlas Aegis company is attempting to hire US Special Forces veterans to staff its election-site security efforts against supposed destruction by Antifa. If the hair on your neck isn’t standing up, you’re not paying attention.

In Nevada, the rhetoric spewed from the far right and those who egg them on in the Trump’s Republican Party has been essentially identical. State GOP leaders don’t advocate violence. They just grin like idiots and talk about patriotism when the extremists show up bracing for battle.

The anti-mask militia these days is unmasking its true intentions and morphing into pro-Trump poll intimidators as Election Day approaches. And intimidation and overt voter suppression is a crime. Not that those heeding the call of the far-right influencers in the media are pausing to consider such trivialities: They have a revolution to fight.

When searching for answers to the presence of far-right militia, Boogaloo Bois and Proud Boys members around Republican Party rallies nationwide and commonly in the Silver State, you don’t have to look far to find Trump’s dirty trickster Roger Stone. Stone, fresh from his July presidential commutation of a 40-month sentence for lying to Congress and six other felonies, has maintained an uncommon intimacy with members of the Proud Boys, using them for security joining them in a “white power” salute.

But there’s trouble in the ranks of the bullyboys of the far right.

The FBI, for one, is on the record to state intimidation about polling places won’t be tolerated. When FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke Sept. 24 before a congressional committee, his language was unequivocal despite the troubled president’s irrational and inflammatory rhetoric about rampant voter fraud.

“Now, we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” he said.

This past week, Wray joined three other top security experts to again make it clear they’re fully focused on securing the election.

“We’re not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections, or criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Wray’s remarks don’t sit well with the president. In a conversation with Fox Business fawner Maria Bartiromo, Trump said, “He’s been disappointing. He doesn’t see the voting ballots as a problem.” In that same interview Trump once again called out Gov. Steve Sisolak for somehow rigging the election by facilitating statewide mail-in voting.

And the Nevada GOP eats it up and remains loyal to Trump even as his scandalous taxes, including in mysterious money flowing out of Las Vegas – surprise! – is exposed in The New York Times.

As hard as it may be to believe, this campaign won’t go on forever. It will be over soon enough — even if the incumbent and his trusty second have refused to wholeheartedly agree to the peaceful transfer of power.

But if election night erupts in violence, Nevada’s GOP leaders need only check the mirror to find the culprits of complicity.

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 Contact him at On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

What George Forbush teaches us about police accountability

City of Sparks signage

Last Tuesday, my fiancée (who’s running for Sparks City Council), her opponent, and another Sparks city council member participated in a roundtable hosted by This Is Reno about the issues facing the city we live in.

I bring this up not to promote her campaign — she does that just fine on her own, and besides, if you’re like most readers of this publication, you can’t vote for her anyway because you don’t live in our city, much less our ward. I also don’t bring this up to brag about how, if everything goes right, I might actually end up married to a sitting City Council member at some point in my life, even though, at the risk of being a bit of a “wife guy,” that is something worth bragging about if you ever get the chance. 

No, I bring this roundtable up because, towards the end, they discussed the current employment status of George Forbush. 

George Forbush, for those previously uninitiated in Sparks municipal drama, is or was — neither City Council member on the roundtable was willing to commit either way — a Sparks police officer. The reason he is or was (again, we have no idea) a Sparks police officer instead of something considerably more definitive is because he was considerably more supportive of extrajudicial violence on Twitter than some people generally like government employees we issue firearms to be.

Especially when we pay them $177,167.94, as Sparks taxpayers did last year. 

Now, context is important and, in context, George Forbush’s salary is not particularly unusual. His base pay of $100,853.95 per year is perfectly in line with the pay scale the City of Sparks negotiated with the Sparks Police Supervisory Protective Association for sergeants in the police department in their most recent labor agreement, and is actually on the lower end of what Reno pays their sergeants. The $29,706.97 of overtime pay he received last year, meanwhile, is also perfectly normal among police officers (if not a little on the low side). Given that sergeants are paid at time and a half for overtime, and given that George Forbush’s hourly rate (assuming 80 hours per two weeks, according to the labor agreement) works out to around $48.49 per hour, that means his overtime pay is $72.73 per hour. At that rate, he worked around 408 hours of overtime last year, or just under eight hours of overtime each week. 

A 48-hour workweek is not particularly unusual.

As for the “other pay” of $46,607.02, meanwhile, that’s easily explainable by the fact, per Article D of the labor agreement between police sergeants and the City of Sparks, sergeants receive education incentive pay, on top of the normal base rate and overtime. Also, Article E provides for special assignment pay, also on top of the normal base rate and overtime. Oh, and, if a sergeant has to do a lieutenant’s job, Article F provides acting temporary pay, also on top of the normal base rate and overtime. Then there’s Article G, which provides night differential pay — that’s an additional $3.61 per hour for each hour worked between 5:00 pm and 6:00 am. Did I mention standby duty, in which, per Article H, police officers are paid a quarter of their hourly rate for each hour they’re on call? What about the $3,250 in longevity pay he received for being on the police force for a decade, which is provided for in Article I? Oh, and let’s not forget the clothing, watch, eyeglass, and cell phone allowance in Article J, which also provides for a City owned firearm whenever a firearm owned personally by a sergeant is seized and placed into evidence somehow, presumably of its own volition. 

Apparently personal firearms do that sometimes.

The reason I bring — the reporting on his rank is inconclusive as the Sparks Police Public Information Officer refuses to answer even the most basic of questions about him, but he’s paid like a sergeant, so let’s call him Sergeant Forbush for now — Sergeant Forbush’s modest remuneration of $177,167.94, not including health benefits or retirement contributions (those were an additional $79,409.31 last year) is because when he said on Twitter, and I quote, “I have 6 AR 15 rifles. I always thought having an AR15 or AK47 pistol was pointless because of lack of shouldering, but now I am going to build a couple AR pistols just for BLM, Antifa or active shooters who cross my path and can't maintain social distancing,” he was clearly experiencing acute economic anxiety, as one does when one earns less than $400,000 a year.

I mean, look at him. He only made $177,167.94 as a taxpayer-funded entry-level supervisor. That’s only $37,698.58 more than the governor

This column, however, is not about Sergeant Forbush or his pay scale. The last thing I, a Libertarian, want is for you, dear reader, to focus upon the laughable pay routinely collected by well-armed municipal employees at taxpayer expense. As for the sergeant himself, This Is Reno has covered his social media posts, the chilling effect his encouragement of far-right Twitter accounts had upon those who don’t think police officers should cheer for pushing political enemies out of helicopters, and the outpouring of support (yes, support — I’m not being facetious) in favor of Sergeant Forbush and his tweets from the community in exhaustive detail.

Frankly, Sergeant Forbush is not particularly interesting. Much more concerning is the ironclad system of legal and labor protections that he and his fellow police officers operate under. To understand what I mean, let’s examine two questions: When is it acceptable to fire a police officer for speech and, once that line is reached, what does it take to do so? 

When is it acceptable to fire a police officer for speech?

Morally, the answer is straightforward. Police officers are functionally referees. To preserve credibility with the communities they serve, they should remain neutral and be unfailingly supportive of the rule of law. Morally, police officers are supposed to protect and serve everyone — both BLM protesters and, ah, BLM protesters — and should publicly conduct themselves accordingly. 

Legally, however, it’s a different story. 

As most of us are already aware, the First Amendment of the Constitution forbids Congress from abridging our freedom of speech. Thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment, which prevents states from abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, and the incorporation doctrine, which defined our First Amendment rights as some of the privileges and immunities citizens of the United States are entitled to, states and their constituent local governments are also prohibited from abridging our freedoms of speech. Government workers are, of course, usually citizens of the United States. Ergo, they, like every other American, enjoy freedom of speech and neither the federal, state, nor local governments have the right to abridge their speech. 

That, however, just means the government doesn’t have the power to jail government employees for speech. It does not mean the government is under any obligation to employ anyone. The Constitution prohibits the government from punishing you for your speech as a citizen. It most emphatically does not prohibit the government from punishing you as an employee.

As noted free speech attorney Ken White explained a few years back:

When the government is an employer, it's wearing two hats: government-as-your-government and government-as-your-employer. The government-as-employer can punish employees for things it couldn't punish them for acting as government-as-government. Which things? It's complicated.

How complicated? Keeping things simple, if a public employee says something pursuant to his or her job — either at work or about their work — then the government’s primary role is as an employer, not as the government, which means the government has all the same rights to terminate the employee a private sector employee would have, at least as long as you’re not a professor at a public university (okay, keeping things simple enough for government work). If, however, the speech is not directly related to an employee’s work, it might be protected provided it’s about a matter of public interest, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the government’s interest in discipline and order, especially in the workplace. 

Using Sergeant Forbush as an example, his tweets, noxious as they might be, might be protected as long as his job does not involve policing the very protesters he fantasized about murdering, but only as long as his speech didn’t compromise his ability (sergeants are supervisors, after all) or the police department’s ability to maintain discipline and order. 

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the officers working underneath our recently promoted sergeant were uncomfortable working under someone who openly fantasized in public about killing the very citizens he swore to protect and serve. Stranger things have certainly happened this year. What happens next?

What does it take to fire a police officer?

Article G of the labor agreement between sergeants and the City of Sparks grants the right of management to relieve any employee from duty for any legitimate reason. However, Article K also grants sergeants a grievance process. 

Let’s assume for a moment management attempted to fire Sergeant Forbush. Instead of using his newfound labor mobility to pursue the undoubtedly lucrative and plentiful private sector opportunities police salaries must be competing against (otherwise why else would they be so high?), he instead files a grievance according to the procedure outlined in Article K. 

How does that work? 

According to the grievance procedure, Sergeant Forbush first has to file a grievance in writing with the police chief within ten working days from his attempted termination. After receipt of the grievance, the police chief then has fifteen working days to respond in writing to the grievance, during which time the police chief examines the evidence and consults with Sergeant Forbush. Then the police chief makes a decision — does the termination stick? 

Let’s assume for a moment the answer is yes. Now is Sergeant Forbush truly, irrevocably fired? 

Not yet. Per Article K, the grievance may be appealed to the city manager, who then has 15 working days to respond in writing to the appeal of the grievance. 

Consequently, per the labor agreement Sergeant Forbush and his fellow sergeants work under, only if a sergeant’s immediate supervisor, the police chief and the city manager all agree he should be fired will he actually be fired — and it could take over thirty days for that decision to be made. 

Now, in the private sector, when people get fired, they usually stop getting paid, even if they convince their employer to change their mind at some point down the road. So, though this grievance process is unusual in the private sector, waiting 30 days or so to find out if you’re getting paid again has to be remarkably unpleasant for our hypothetical sergeant, right? 

Well, about that. 

As Sparks’ City Council members pointed out during the roundtable, the 2019 Legislature also passed the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, which applied additional protections. Some of those protections were rolled back in the most recent special session, but not all of them. NRS 289.057 still does not allow police officers to be suspended without pay until after an investigation is concluded — which includes all appeals. Additionally, NRS 289.080 allows police officers facing an investigation against them to have two representatives of the officer’s choosing present with the police officer during any phase of an interrogation relating to the investigation. Oh, and NRS 289.120 also allows Sparks police officers to appeal the city manager’s decisions to the District Court. 

All of the grievance procedures outlined above, by the way, don’t just apply to terminations. They apply to any other disciplinary actions as well. 

So, even if the police department decided someone making three times the median household — not individual, household — income in Sparks and armed at taxpayer expense should be held to a higher standard of behavior than, say, a high school student, it would still take at least a month and the active cooperation of the police chief, the city manager, and possibly even a District Court judge to do absolutely anything at all about it. 

Sparks’ police chief, by the way, retired last month after a long and storied run as chief which began 15 months prior and hasn’t been replaced yet. Sparks’ city manager, meanwhile, was appointed four months prior to the hiring of the now-retired police chief. His former assistant, by the way, is now Reno’s city manager. It apparently cost the City of Reno $30,000 to find him. 


George Forbush, like the rest of us, has a fundamental right to freedom of speech. Unlike the rest of us, however, he also now enjoys a legal right to a high six-figure salary, a city-issued firearm, and both labor and legal protections which insulate him and every other police officer in the state from even modest disciplinary measures. 

The question we should be asking, both in Sparks and in the rest of Nevada, isn’t whether George Forbush should be fired. Though that question is important (for the record, I think he should), it’s beside the point. The question we should be asking ourselves is this: 

If police officers aren’t accountable to their police departments or their cities, who are police officers accountable to, other than themselves?

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at