Legal definition of adulthood boils down to convenience

The Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Mound House, Nevada

In the United States, you’re an adult once you turn 18. You’re old enough to drive, old enough to get married, old enough to raise children, old enough to vote, old enough to sign an apartment lease, old enough to open a credit card, old enough to buy a gun, old enough to watch porn and old enough to serve in the military and die for your country. 

If you are 18, however, you are not old enough to smoke (marijuana or otherwise now). You’re not old enough to drink. You’re not old enough to gamble. You’re not old enough to run a brothel in Lyon County even though you’re old enough to work in a brothel as a prostitute there. You’re old enough to work as a prostitute in Nye County. You’re also not old enough to get naked in front of a paying audience in Reno, but nobody will stop if you get naked in front of a paying audience in Clark County as long as you have a work card.

On the one hand, I can’t think of a more important lesson for new adults to learn than that the rules enforced upon us by our local, state, and federal governments are contradictory and capricious. On the other hand, maybe we’re teaching the lesson a bit too well. 

Speaking as a parent, I understand that not every 18-year-old is magically equipped with the discernment and maturity necessary to navigate the entirety of the adult world without issue. Speaking as a former college student, I also understand that not every 21-year-old is magically equipped with the discernment and maturity necessary to navigate the entirety of the adult world without issue. Speaking as someone with more than two decades of work experience, it’s also plainly obvious to anyone that steps outside and interacts with others that many people well over the age of 30 (or 40, or 50, or so on) are not equipped with the discernment and maturity necessary to successfully navigate a turn signal, much less any appreciable portion of the adult world.

Even so, I doubt anyone would seriously recommend we make the legal age of adulthood, say, 50 or so, contingent upon completing a successful signaled lane change. 

Just one signaled lane change. That’s all I ask.

I also understand that brains mature (and, sadly, sometimes decay) as they age. Scientifically, it’s clear that our brains continue developing well into our 20s. Given that, should we wait to legally define someone as an “adult” until their brain has fully matured?

It’s a fair question. 

Unfortunately, this is not a question science can answer. What it means to be an adult is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Being an adult has meant different things at different times in different societies. Even in our current time and society, being an adult means something very different to a single mother just graduating high school than it does for a college student living with their parents in their childhood home while they go to a local university. Becoming an adult and what it even means to be an adult, in other words, is a function of society, expectations and material conditions.

Legally, however, we are a country containing many different societies, each operating according to wildly divergent expectations, with obviously unequal material conditions. Consequently, when we’re talking about legality, it’s a question that’s best answered as an exercise in seeking a lowest common denominator. By what age are people most commonly in control over their own lives, at least as much as any of us are in control of them? By what age can we reliably hold people accountable for their choices? 

Currently the answer to that question, legally speaking, depends on the choice the person is making. If you’re making choices that society broadly favors, the age of adulthood is 18. On the other hand, if you engage in what society deems a vice, the age of adulthood might be closer to 21. If you engage in what society deems a crime, on the other hand, the age of adulthood might be closer to 12 or 13, unless the crime you commit is also a vice, in which case you might be prosecuted as both a child and an adult simultaneously.

Our working legal definition of adulthood is a definition of convenience. When it’s convenient for our society to treat someone as an adult, like when they commit certain crimes, join the military or sign a bank note for several thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt, we treat them as adults. When it’s otherwise inconvenient or uncomfortable to our society, on the other hand, we push the age of adulthood out a little further until we feel better about ourselves and the choices these new adults are making. 

This legally codified attitude of convenience has costs. 

Punishing children as adults so we feel “tough on crime” has gone a long way toward building our world-beating incarceration rate. Race far too often decides which teens are tried as adults and which ones are treated as inherently rehabilitatable. Charging teens for “distributing child porn” when they send a racy message to a friend only advances the comfort of adult busybodies that don’t believe anyone should send racy messages. 

On the other hand, treating young adults as children has gone a long way toward sustaining America’s unusually unhealthy drinking culture. Over 100 university presidents signed on to the Amethyst Initiative to rethink our nation’s drinking age over a decade ago due to the secretive and destructive culture of underage drinking that was created as a result of shifting the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. Thanks to the recently signed spending bill that slipped in a higher smoking age for what surely must have been fiscal reasons, that same pressure will be applied to tobacco consumption as well. 

Finally, at some point we need to accept that, yes, 18-year-olds have sex. Sometimes, they even have sex for money. 

No, 18-year-olds don’t always make good decisions around sex, alcohol, tobacco, or anything else. A lot of times, the decisions they make aren’t particularly convenient for the rest of us. However, it’s actually possible to encourage them to make better decisions if we let them make their decisions out in the open. Given the decisions we already let them make on their own and the countries we ship them to where they make some of those decisions, it’s well past time we stop moralizing and comforting ourselves and start acting like adults by treating adults like adults. 

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 david.colborne@lpnevada.org

To sprawl or not to sprawl, that’s the dilemma

Nevada landscape under blue skies

By Chris Giunchigliani

The future of the Mojave Desert and the people who live here are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inextricably tied. By protecting one, we protect the other. 

Unfortunately, a legislative measure that is in the works will dramatically alter the future of the Southern Nevada community and environment for many years to come.

Clark County officials are asking federal lawmakers to introduce a proposal that will favor real estate developers and sprawl at the expense of our public lands, wildlife and climate. It will expand residential and commercial development all the way to the California border along I-15. By increasing how much Southern Nevadans drive, it will also increase dirty emissions and air pollution in a place that already doesn’t meet federal air quality standards. And it will make climate change worse in the fastest warming city in the United States.

This is not acceptable. 

Late in my term on the Clark County Commission, I voted to support a resolution that gave county officials the authority to start drafting this proposal. I was told tribal, conservation, and wildlife concerns could be worked out. If I could, I would reverse my vote now that it’s become clear how the legislation would dramatically shape the future of Las Vegas.  

Unless drastic steps are taken, we are squandering an opportunity to draft a measure that could benefit underserved communities, invest in mass transit, reverse historical inequity in housing and real estate, protect our treasured landscapes, and defend our wildlife and natural resources. Instead, we have a proposal that hands over public lands to private interests, sidesteps environmental laws and ignores the important climate realities facing our community.

The proposal, known as the Clark County lands bill, will double-down on patterns of unsustainable and inequitable development that have brought us to the brink of climate disaster, polluted our air, and marginalized certain communities. 

Why? Tearing up our public lands will decrease the ability for the desert to capture greenhouse gas emissions. Despite conservation policies in place, it will ensure more cars, homes, concrete and pavement consume places that are now occupied by wildlife, plant life and outdoor recreators. More homes invite more lawns, swimming pools and sprinklers drenching water-thirsty landscaping and grasses. (Maybe the latter is why the bill also includes provisions that will aid the Southern Nevada Water Authority in getting their long sought-after pipeline to take groundwater from Eastern Nevada. )

Finally, the bill as written will ensure that wealthy developers continue to build exclusive housing for the affluent in far flung locations while many Las Vegans struggle to make ends meet in a place with the lowest supply of affordable housing in the nation.

Prior to the recession, one of the biggest concerns in Southern Nevada was sprawl. This current bill draft makes me wonder: Are we suffering from amnesia? Did politicians not learn from past mistakes?

This proposed legislation allows developers to rip up public lands from Mesquite to Henderson and all the way to Primm and Laughlin. 

More than 50,000 acres of public lands would be handed over to developer interests. Get ready for more traffic, more construction, and more dirty emissions. What’s more: The bill facilitates endangered species permitting for another 300,000 acres to be bulldozed for sprawl. That would effectively double the size of Las Vegas, allowing it to spill out of our valley into the adjacent desert landscape.

While the bill makes one scant reference to attainable housing, it does nothing to allocate funding for those opportunities. There’s also no mention of light rail, electric buses or bicycle infrastructure that will support the 4 million people who will call Vegas home if this new measure passes. 

The proposal also asks Congress to gut the Endangered Species Act for Southern Nevada and exempts Clark County from a bevy of bedrock environmental laws that are anathema to big business. A bill of this kind has never been put forth in Congress. But rest assured, this will be a playbook for other communities if a precedent is set.   

Proponents of the bill will tell you that this measure will protect public lands. Indeed, a few select areas will earn Wilderness Designations. But at what cost?  

Our community is at a crossroads. Are we a community of the future or are we stuck in the ways of the past? Are we going to learn from old patterns of development that have left us with polluted air, a warming climate, and severe inequality in housing? Or are we going to chart a new path forward, to remedy the problems we’ve created for ourselves and set a course toward a more inclusive, more equitable, more environmentally sensitive future?

I have faith that Clark County will rethink this legislation and determine whether it’s even needed.  Adopting true regional smart growth policies, requiring developers to focus on and provide attainable housing, expand mass transit, and funding   education and workforce programs. These would truly benefit their constituents and our communities.

Chris Giunchigliani is a former Clark County Commissioner and former member of the Nevada State Assembly.

After failing this ‘exam,’ Art Institute’s closed doors might stay that way

Art Institute installation in downtown Las Vegas

When officials from the Nevada Commission on Postsecondary Education arrived for their short-notice records inspection of the Art Institute of Las Vegas this past week, they didn’t receive the greeting they’d anticipated.

The doors of the troubled for-profit college at 2350 Corporate Circle in Henderson were locked. Now those doors figure to stay closed.

Commission Administrator Kelly Wuest said Thursday the lack of cooperation left no choice but to block the college from accessing Veterans Administration education funds. There is no appeal, but school officials can reapply for official status at a future date.

“It required a specific response time, and they failed to meet that response time,” Wuest said. “Once a withdrawal is submitted, it cannot be overturned.”

The commission is the state approving agency for postsecondary education, training and licensing for anyone seeking to use their VA education benefits. As part of that important mission, state officials inspect and supervise schools such as the Art Institute before releasing funding.

Although there’s no set time frame for Art Institute to reapply, Wuest said, “We would look at the condition … that caused the withdrawal.” And that inspection, if it ever comes, figures to be extremely thorough.

With a growing number of complaints surfacing from instructors who say they’re owed up to six months in back pay, that possibility appears increasingly remote.

It’s the latest body blow to the college, once part of a sprawling chain of more than 100 for-profit schools owned by the scandalized Education Management Corporation (EMC). The company in 2015 agreed to pay $95.5 million to settle a whistleblower complaint alleging recruiters used unethical tactics to boost enrollment and targeted military veterans eligible for VA education benefits.

The local college temporarily rose from the EMC ash heap after being sold to instructors in March, but since then it has fought for months to stave off losing its accreditation and has tottered on the brink of closure. Its many financial woes forced the state to suspend it from enrolling new students, and that left several hundred active students hustling to finish their classes and degrees.

It received a previous extension from the state postsecondary education commission after an illuminating Sept. 18 meeting that put a human face on the story. Graphic design student Roland Kailihiwa talked about mounting debts to the VA, financial aid challenges, and cuts in faculty that greatly decreased the quality of education and instruction. Other students weighed in and described an increasingly grim atmosphere, one in which some felt ripped off.

At that same meeting, United States District Court receiver Mark Dottore, still in the process of transferring the school to the buyer, implored officials to let the school remain open so that students could finish their term. He also assured members of the commission, “As to payroll, these people will be paid, one way or another I will find a way to pay those professors.”

Just last month as instructors toiled for zero compensation, Art Institute school manager William Turbay expressed guarded optimism that the college would make good on its debts with the best interests of the students in mind. 

In addition to being a withering shot to students who have placed their trust, money, and VA benefits into the Art Institute, the closure of the school clobbers the handful of instructors who stuck it out and have heard for months about brighter days ahead.

Wuest said it’s just the second time commission officials have had to withdraw VA education benefits approval. The first came in December 2018 when the Las Vegas branch of for-profit Brightwood College suddenly shut its doors as part of the greater collapse of parent company, Birmingham, Alabama-based Education Corporation of America, which once boasted of 70 campuses.

Scandal has become the norm at many for-profit colleges. In case after case, companies have been caught saddling unwitting students in withering loan debt and deceiving members of the military to exploit their VA education benefits. And those failures hit close to home.

In June, Attorney General Aaron Ford announced 335 former ITT Tech students in Nevada would receive $3.4 million in loan debt relief as part of a 44-state, $168 million settlement involving the failed for-profit college and the limited liability company that hustled student loans. “These students thought they were furthering their career, only to be subjected to abusive lending practices to pay for an education at a failed institution,” Ford said in a statement.

Although the Art Institute’s locked doors made the job of poring over the financial records of a school mired in debt and receivership a lot easier, students are still owed answers and help in moving forward from this mess. Instructors are owed a pile of back paychecks.

Neither is likely to enter 2020 with much to show for all their effort and loyalty.

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. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Picking economic winners and losers is dumb, no matter which party tries to do it

Tesla automobile

There is a large difference between government support for Big Business, and government support for free market capitalism, even though the two are often conflated by both the political left and right (though for vastly different reasons).  Giving what amounts to large cash giveaways or writing functionally company-specific regulations on an ad hoc basis is a bad approach. It invites corruption, undermines citizen faith in what should be the even-handedness of government, and stifles competition.  Whatever short term gains come from such arrangements, they are not, in the end, sustainable. In the long term, they are an obstacle to true prosperity, innovation, or economic diversity.

While I admired (and continue to admire) Gov. Brian Sandoval very much, I always thought his economic development approach was counter-productive in the long term.  It was like paying people to be your friends – you might be surrounded by lots of folks, but you aren’t exactly making deep connections most of the time that way. There has undeniably been a short-term boost, and there is a very good argument that we needed that boost after the Great Recession.  But now we’re also having to deal with the real costs of these selective government-business partnerships. Nevadans are right to wonder if it was worth the costs we’ve borne, and very correct to be skeptical about any cost-benefit going forward from here.

Instead, I’ve long argued that what Nevada ought to do is keep taxes low, limit regulations, and keep the doors equally open and inviting to any business large or small, native or imported, who wants to set up shop in our state.  Government should not be hand-selecting businesses for special treatment.

And so I was – mostly – encouraged by Governor Sisolak’s recent announcement that we are going to be rethinking the current tax abatement model which essentially pays out-of-state companies to come to Nevada.  Like his comments about gun control that I wrote about last week, Sisolak is demonstrating that he’s no foam-at-the-mouth socialist and is willing to be open-minded and solution-oriented.  

But he’s also undeniably a man of the political left.  And while I think he recognizes many of the problems with his predecessor’s approach, the “solutions” he’s toying with will lead him into the same trap.  By attempting to dictate the types of companies who come to Nevada, and the manner in which they conduct their business, he’s still putting his government in charge of picking (and predicting) winners and losers, something government is decidedly bad at doing.  

For example, Michael Brown, Sisolak’s new director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GEOD), has said he wants to focus on “workforce development” of various companies, small business owned by women and/or minorities, and higher average wages to ensure we aren’t importing welfare cases.  

That all sounds good in theory, but what does that look like in practice?  Will Mr. Brown or one of his employees go conduct an audit to ensure the “correct” people are being promoted, even if the owners of those businesses disagree?  Will companies front load themselves with a bunch of redundant managers to mess with the math on the wage requirements? Will they make hiring decisions based on demographic data instead of merit, as a sort of condescendingly racist window dressing to mollify the wokest political activists?  The governor has already promised more aggressive auditing to ensure Nevada is seeing the return on investment that was originally promised.

No matter how well intentioned, you still have government bureaucrats coming into a private business and pulling hard on all the strings attached to the initial financial incentives.  Once can see agents of the government (who will of course know better how businesses should be run than the business owners themselves) that they are altering their deals, and the owners should pray the deals aren’t altered further…

But even with the best of intentions and the most noble of bureaucrats, you still have certain companies being treated differently than others, based on who can best appease a government committee.  Even if the outcome is marginally “better” from a cost-benefit standpoint, you still have the risks (or the unseemly appearance) of corruption, and the perception (and perhaps the reality) that the politically well-connected are treated differently than another company which is otherwise similarly situated.  And that will, just as before, stifle other innovators, depress competition, and ultimately restrict long-term, healthy economic growth. Not only that, but companies who believe their loss of freedom wasn’t worth their initial tax abatements won’t stick around, leaving behind many of the costs without any of the benefits at all.

We’ve already seen a lot of this play out with our arbitrarily selective approach to marijuana companies and their regulation.  It is foolhardy to expand those mistakes to our wider economy.

The role of government is not to pick winner and losers, but to keep the playing field as even as possible for everyone.  Keep taxes and (more importantly) regulations as low as possible across the board, and then sell Nevada as what it should be – a land of economic opportunity for anyone willing to put in the work, and not just those who know how to work the strange politics of our state.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007.  He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016.  By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno.  Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

About that independent redistricting commission

Photo of the front of the Nevada Legislature building.

Almost a decade ago, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed political maps enacted by a Democratic Legislature.

The rejection came after both parties had been as condescending as possible toward Hispanics, with Republicans slightly more risible in showing how much they cared by packing Latinos into one congressional district.

Sandoval’s veto message insisted the Democratic plan violated the federal Voting Rights Act because it did not “afford Hispanics an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their own choosing.” (That this came from the state’s first Latino governor simply added to the spectacle.)

Eventually, a judge (with questionable authority at best) appointed three “special masters,” supposedly independent experts who drew the lines that exist today. After all the Sturm und Drang, five years later, an AP analysis determined the Assembly districts “gave more favor to Democrats in 2016 than the lower chamber of any other state legislature in the country.”

So they were fair but tilted towards the Democrats, who controlled 37 of the 63 seats in Carson City in 2011 when they drew the maps. The independent trio of conscripted cartographers had come up with different maps but ones that essentially mirrored the concepts proposed by the Democrats; that is, no awful gerrymandering had occurred.

This history becomes relevant as Nevada’s League of Women Voters, following a national League blueprint, has proposed a ballot initiative to amend the Constitution to create an independent redistricting commission. Much has been written about this already, including three excellent and very different columns on this site – showing how there is more than one way to see this effort. Not having been to Shrinking Violet School – not to mention the Your Opinion Might Not be Needed Here School – I have decided to weigh in, too.

Let’s get the common-sense stuff out of the way first: Of course, it gives elected officials an immense advantage, as the Constitution reads now, if they are allowed to (nay, mandated to) draw their own districts.  They can choose their own voters, exclude potential foes, make their longevity more likely.

Districts should be drawn fairly – but, as in all things political, fairness is in the eye of the beholder. And therein lies the rub.

The so-called Fair Maps Nevada Redistricting Reform Ballot Question seems simple enough:

The Commission will consist of seven Nevada members, four who will be appointed by the leadership of the Nevada Legislature, and three who are unaffiliated with the two largest political parties who will be appointed by the other four commissioners. Commissioners may not be partisan candidates, lobbyists, or certain relatives of such individuals. All meetings of the Commission shall be open to the public who shall have opportunities to participate in hearings before the Commission.

Let’s accept as an inarguable fact that you cannot, no matter how herculean your efforts, take politics out of this process. As Libertarian David Colborne, who supports the plan, put it: “People are political animals and the work the commission will be tasked with is political work.”

Four of the seven appointees will be ipso facto political – unless you believe that legislative leaders will suddenly have their partisan impulses dulled by the desire to be, ahem, fair. Four is a majority, if my math skills have not atrophied.

The other three will be appointed by the four whom we have already established as political. And simply because they all must be unaffiliated with the major parties does not mean they don’t, as most indies do, lean one way or another. These also will not be immaculate appointments; we can presume conversation will occur before names are put forward.

The stated goal of the commission also is evanescent. As Republican Orrin Johnson, who thinks the League is on a fool’s errand, illuminated: “The commission will be ordered to draw legislative and congressional district boundaries such that they are fair to everyone with shared ‘racial, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, geographic, or historic identities,’ and do not ‘unduly advantage or disadvantage’ any political party. “

“What’s lacking in the initiative language is a funding mechanism for the pallets of magic wands necessary to achieve this idyllic utopia.”

And then there is this part: “This amendment will require redistricting beginning in 2023 and thereafter following each federal census.”

So two years after the constitutionally mandated redistricting of 2021, which the Democrats probably will use to marginalize Republicans even more than the Republicans have worked to marginalize themselves, this commission will have the power to draw new lines. No wonder the Democrats are exercised and the Republicans are gleeful.

Indeed, the partisan reflexes have been amusing to watch.

The Democrats, who dominate Carson City (42 out of 63, larger than 2011, AND the governor) are not happy with the idea of an independent commission. (It’s no coincidence the party has ties to the pastor who found redistricting religion.)

The Democrats have worked hard to register voters, recruit better candidates and have one of the best state parties in the country (as opposed to one of the worst). Why, they argue, should they not reap the benefits of all that hard work when it comes to redistricting? Besides, they were “fair” in 2011; they will be fair in 2021 (so sorry if your seat just became competitive, Rep. Amodei….).

As for the Republicans, it is heartening to see how many of them suddenly care about map fairness. I am nearly verklempt.

Josh Hicks, a longtime Republican and former Jim Gibbons chief of staff, helped write it. Ryan Erwin, one of the best GOP consultants I know, is helping. And Chrissie Hastie, who has run many Republican PACS, is the registered agent for this initiative. All that’s missing (for now, that is) for this roster is Michael Roberson, the hardcore GOP partisan who worked with Hastie on those awful recalls and who is now the CEO of AMT, the firm founded by Billy Rogers and one of the best microtargeting shops in the country.

I stopped believing in coincidences about the same time I covered my first Nevada campaign. That notwithstanding, this much is true:  The fault, my dear Republicans, is not in unfair maps – that was settled almost 10 years ago – but in your ineptitude and the Democrats’ skill that you are underlings. Republicans have glommed onto this effort now – or at least most have – not because they believe in fairness, but because they see an opportunity to level a playing field because they are so bad at the sport played there.

As Democrat Bradley Schrager, who argued that the GOP has hijacked the League, argued, there also is some reason to believe such a panel is not needed in Nevada: 

“But as for substantive questions, what problem are you trying to solve with a redistricting commission? Has Nevada been plagued with the sort of hyper-partisan gerrymandering over generations that led to maps in North Carolina or Virginia being struck down by courts? That doesn’t seem like the case. One cannot point to single-party control of questionable legitimacy here, like in those states, where dwindling vote counts still resulted in majorities engineered by weak political parties. Nevada’s electoral swings over the years have come more or less organically, not immediately after or as a result of any redistricting.”

Schrager’s argument is quite compelling, but I actually have little doubt if the roles were reversed, the Democrats would be doing the same thing. Maybe not exactly, but a reasonable facsimile thereof.

No one gives up power willingly in politics, and no one doesn’t try to get power who does not have it. This is axiomatic.

Considering there is no such thing as an independent commission, perhaps we should rely on the third branch of government to do its job if a plan is drawn unfairly? If Republicans believe what the Democrats approve next session violates the Voting Rights Act, they can always sue, right? (Insert line here about how judges being allowed to run for office vitiates the impact of this argument….)

So the League is in a difficult position here, caught between Democratic fury and Republican love. Its cause is righteous, but I have been surprised at how the crossfire has affected its usual level-headed chief, Sondra Cosgrove, who also is a professor at CSN.

Anyone, including your humble correspondent, who has dared to ask questions about (much less criticize) the initiative is labeled “sexist” or accused of “smearing” her character. I get she is feeling a lot of heat from friends (now former?). But methinks the lady….

Maybe some people think Cosgrove is being duped by the GOP opportunists. I don’t.

But if she had simply said she would accept assistance in this difficult endeavor from anyone who wants to help, regardless of their motivations, that would have been more helpful — and credible.

It also would have served her better, because a commission designed to bleed partisanship out of the most political acts there is – elected officials trying to protect their existence in the system – is about to spark one of the most intense partisan battles in state annals.

Trump now testing his pet theories about ‘Surviving at the Top’

The front of the White House. Public domain image.

“What separates the winners from the losers is how you react to each new twist of fate. You have to be confident as you face the world each day but you can’t be too cocky. Anyone who thinks he’s going to win them all is going to wind up a big loser.”

— From Trump: Surviving at the Top

Having reached the pinnacle of power, President Donald Trump’s survival skills are being put to the test these days.

On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines, 23-17, to forward two articles of impeachment against him alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. A vote of the full, Democratic-majority House is expected to approve the charges with a likely acquittal at trial coming in January before the Republican-controlled Senate. A divided America will remain so as it enters the 2020 election home stretch.

Trump’s endless cries of “witch hunt” will reverberate through the Twittersphere. Somewhere in the darkness, a coven of witches is preparing a defamation lawsuit.

Trump successfully blocked key witness testimony during the House impeachment investigation in what Democrats allege amounts to obstruction of Congress. The abuse of power charge stems from Trump’s hustle of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an effort to get him to announce an unwarranted corruption investigation of likely presidential challenger Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The witnesses who managed to testify established the facts beyond much doubt, leaving only the question of whether holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to force a political favor amounts to an impeachable offense. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, such facts aren’t likely to matter much.

Sometime in January, the fourth president in the history of the republic to face impeachment will claim victory and return to business as usual. He will have once again survived at the top. In an intriguing book of the same name published in 1990, Trump with co-author Charles Leerhsen painted a portrait of a business titan in full, albeit one whose personal success story included separation from his first his wife and other setbacks that foreshadowed bigger financial trouble ahead.

With the advantage of hindsight, the book is revealing – if perhaps not in the way it was intended. It’s the tale of Trump the tough guy, the admirer of generals, car company executives, boxing champs and strong men generally. It’s the story of a man who illustrates how successful he is by showing off toys that range from the Trump Shuttle airline and Trump Princess yacht formerly owned by Adnan Khashoggi, to Mara Lago, New York’s Plaza Hotel, and a string of Atlantic City hotel-casinos highlighted by the Taj Mahal. Then he claims yachts and mansions don’t mean much to him personally; they’re just signs of his success on the way to bigger and better business scores.

The book is also informative in its reminders of Trump’s relationship with the media. He takes to task anyone who dares peek behind the curtain of his career and is especially vicious to the late Wayne Barrett, whose solid journalistic effort tormented Trump for a couple decades.

Although Trump describes himself as a tough guy, he spent no time acknowledging that many of the real tough guys he’d been involved with in business were members and associates of organized crime. First came the New York and New Jersey mobsters and their front men in everything from concrete and construction to banks and unions. In the new century, Trump’s world was filled with allies of Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs and mob figures, men who made “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano look like low-rollers.

Then, as now, Trump was particularly sensitive about the size of his bankroll. When Forbes explored the question in a May 1990 article, Trump replied, “The story painted a portrait of me as a besieged businessman who was getting by mostly on chutzpah.” He accused the magazine of being “willfully wrong” and damaging his reputation in an effort to sell copies.

So, what were Trump’s rules for surviving at the top?

Being “disciplined.”

No, really. He wrote that.

His second rule? “Be honest – even if the world around you is often dishonest.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Then there’s rule three: “Don’t think you’re so smart that you can go it alone.”

Four: Be “reachable,” meaning it pays to advertise and return calls. Five? Stay close to home, meaning to remain focused in the office instead of distracted on the road.

Finally, there’s rule six: “Be flexible” in scheduling. These days that rule has translated into plenty of presidential “executive time.”

Lest one remain skeptical that Trump’s ego in 1990 might have gotten the best of him, Trump reminds the reader, “Toughness is knowing how to be a gracious winner – and rebounding quickly when you lose.”

What’s more: “I believe in being smart and not cute. I don’t respect cheaters. My admiration is reserved for those who have achieved greatness and then topped themselves.

“I’m never satisfied – which is my way of saying that there is a great deal I still want to do and should do.”

I suspect we are experiencing the deal he wanted to do.

In all, Trump: Surviving at the Top was an over-the-top portrait of a tough, confident guy who appeared to be at the top of his game. But it’s important to remember what happened in the wake of the book’s publication.

By 1991, weighed down by junk bond financing and 14-percent interest, Trump Taj Mahal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization with reports of $3 billion in debt. Trump himself had amassed a reported $900 million in personal debt.

In 1992, Trump Castle collapsed under the weight of $338 million in debt, Trump Plaza Casino sank under another $550 million. In New York, Trump’s prized Plaza Hotel was awash in red ink.

In 2004, it was a new century, but the same old tune: Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts took a dive with into Chapter 11 with $1.8 billion in debt.

In 2009, sporting a new name but the same leadership, Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for Chapter 11 with a reported $1.2 billion in debt. Trump agreed to resign as chairman of the company that bore his name after reducing his control just 10 percent.

The Trump Shuttle and Trump Princess were part of corporate fire sale as Trump’s business genius melted like a clown’s makeup in the rain.

Surviving at the Top?

No, but he did run up debt to lenders and vendors before playing the bankruptcy laws like a Stradivarius.

That was a decade ago, before millions of Americans decided a confidence man-turned-reality TV celebrity was just what the country needed in the White House. Those who imagine he will depart quietly only kid themselves.

In the man’s own words, “Some people are always saying that I can’t go on like this forever, and that I’m at the beginning of the end. I’d rather see myself as being at the end of the beginning.”

If that doesn’t chill your blood, nothing will.

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. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Guns and a growing governor

Governor Steve Sisolak at his office in Carson City

It takes a lot of courage for a politician to admit when he was wrong about something, especially if it means backing out of a campaign promise extra-popular with one’s political base.

So I have to give Gov. Sisolak a lot of kudos for rethinking his “ban the scary-looking guns” campaign pledge. There is a ton of great stuff to unpack from his comments on gun control in an interview this week with the Independent, and it’s worth simply annotating:

“Candidly, I think I underestimated the amount of emotion that was involved with some of the rural communities as it comes to firearms,” [Sisolak] said

I was worried that Sisolak would be the governor of Las Vegas instead of Nevada. But what this shows is that he’s listening to – and more importantly, giving respect and deference to – a significant part of his constituency that didn’t (and won’t likely) vote for him. In these hyper-partisan, tribal times, that’s something to salute from any elected official.

It is surprising, though, that you can live in Nevada as long as Mr. Sisolak has without previously understanding the hearts and cultures of rural Nevada. It’s a reminder to other Clark County politicians with larger ambitions to get out of the city and understand and appreciate the rest of the state somewhat earlier in their careers. 

“We’re dealing with the sheriff of Humboldt County, we’re dealing with sheriffs that are just saying we’re not going to enforce the (background checks) law. I mean, that’s problematic.” 

Any government official in a free society has a competing responsibility to enforce the laws, but to only do so in a way that does not violate the fundamental rights of others. If the Legislature passed a law saying it was illegal to criticize the governor, that law would be plainly unconstitutional, and I would condemn any cop who tried to enforce such a law, from elected sheriffs to rookie swing-shifters. And it would be no excuse in my mind that the Supreme Court had yet to formally declare such a law unconstitutional.

Our new “red flag” laws are a closer question constitutionally speaking, but close enough to the line that I’m comfortable with law enforcement officials deciding to err on the side of not abridging fundamental rights. But beyond even that, it is wise of the governor to recognize that successfully governing a free society requires the consent of the governed. When a critical mass of people refuse to obey or enforce a law because they feel it’s illegitimate, the prudent government will back off.

“I didn’t think it would be that emotionally charged or that it’s a litmus test issue for folks that don’t understand, or don’t want to take the time to understand, when we’re trying to explain to them.”

I think the governor is truly trying to honestly come to grips with a point of view he’s not been previously familiar with, but some arrogance that comes of having been an elected official for a long time slips in here. “These people just don’t understand what I’m telling them” is as inaccurate as it is condescending. Folks in rural Nevada (and plenty of gun owners in non-rural Nevada) understand exactly what so many of these anti-gun groups are all about (if you don’t know, a failed presidential candidate can spell it out for you), and understood better than the governor did the due process problems with last year’s legislation. 

“I don’t have enough of an intimate knowledge about exactly what an assault rifle is,” he said. “You know, I’ve met with folks, I’m trying to become more educated. It’s not the look of a weapon that makes an assault rifle. Is it the velocity? Is it the expanded capacity to rapid-fire? I mean, those are the kinds of things.” 

It’s a shame that the governor didn’t educate himself on what he wanted to ban before promising to ban it. But (and I mean this sincerely) better late than never. And let me save him some time – Gov. Sisolak will never learn “exactly what an assault rifle is,” because the term “assault rifle” is a political term, not a technical one. The definition is whatever is politically convenient to whomever is using the phrase, and nothing more. 

The fact that the governor is pointing out the obvious will win him no points with the more rabidly tribal members of his base. But speaking the plain truth will earn him real respect among his saner friends and critics alike, including me. I hope he continues to stick to his guns (so to speak) in the face of what is sure to be some backlash on these comments from the left.

“Once you ban one thing, you ban product A, they come up with product B. That’s going to be the same thing that product A did. All you’re doing is making more money for gun manufacturers.”

Again, here is the newly self-styled progressive champion talking about the futility of regulating for the sake of regulating, and preaching the wisdom of a lighter government hand. Good for him.

***

The lessons the governor is learning about firearms don’t have to stop with that one issue. Listen seriously to people who disagree with you – you’re much more likely to grow that way. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes. Don’t make promises that can’t be kept, or laws that can’t be enforced. Human beings are clever, and for good or ill, will easily find ways to side-step poorly crafted regulations. Educate yourself about whatever you intend to regulate before deciding if or how to do the regulating. 

And for my friends on the right who would give the governor no quarter, or read these comments nefariously, why would you want to push him back in his partisan corner?  I disagree a great deal with the governor, although not as much as I disagree with the more strident members of his base. But we should all agree that coming out of one’s political shell to respond positively to those unlikely to vote for you in the next election is a step in the right direction towards dousing the flames of these absurdly and self-destructively partisan times. 

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

Underestimating governors has a price

Nevada Governor's Mansion

Gov. Steve Sisolak said he “underestimated” the passion of the public on firearms issues and is still studying how he might fulfill a campaign promise to ban assault rifles — an ill-defined category of weapons — as California lawmakers call for neighboring Nevada to ramp up its gun control.

Indy Q&A: Sisolak on 2020, gun law changes and marijuana enforcement

How?

How can anyone “underestimate” the passion of the public surrounding firearms issues in this state? 

How is this possible? Has he been asleep for the past… how many decades? Five? Six? When did that left-wing nutcase, hippy-dippy ultraliberal governor California had in the 1960s — Ronald Reagan was his name, I think — sign the first modern gun control measure, the Mulford Act?

Surely Gov. Sisolak was awake when Question 1, which required background checks between unlicensed dealers, passed in 2016. Surely Gov. Sisolak was awake when his gubernatorial opponent, then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, found a technicality to avoid implementing the ballot measure. Surely Gov. Sisolak was awake when his opponent ran on his success in finding that loophole — the only sign of intellectual vigor and success Adam Laxalt could and will ever summon — when he ran for office against… well… Gov. Sisolak. 

Surely.

The surprising part isn’t that nearly every rural sheriff is refusing to enforce Nevada’s gun control laws. The surprising part is that there is one rural sheriff in Nevada who thinks his job is law enforcement instead of being a one man common law-inspired fourth — no, wait, this is Nevada, so fifth — branch of government, co-equal with the governor and the Legislature. The Bundy family, after all, argued that their county sheriff’s jurisdiction supersedes all other jurisdictions during their standoff in Bunkerville. Since that happened in Clark County, surely former Clark County Commissioner Sisolak was awake for that. 

Don’t get me wrong, my heart is with the rural sheriffs who aren’t interested in enforcing gun control against an openly hostile population (as well as the urban sheriffs who aren’t interested in moonlighting for Immigration and Customs Enforcement). It’s also somewhat refreshing to see conservatives recognize that prosecutorial discretion is a legitimate issue for once. However, since people have been surprised by the contents of Nevada’s Constitution in the recent past, we should remind ourselves that, per Article 4, Section 32, each county sheriff’s office exists solely at the discretion of the Legislature. That, perhaps, might explain why rural Nevada’s sheriffs waited until after the session was over to openly defy the branch of the government that could put them out of a job.

Unfortunately for Gov. Sisolak, the entirely predictable passion of Nevada’s firearms owners isn’t the only thing he underestimated. 

Take, for example, the incestuous regulation of marijuana in this state. An early clue should have been when Deonne Contine, who wrote the initial regulations governing recreational marijuana, resigned from the Department of Taxation to run for Assembly and the marijuana industry responded by donating to her ultimately doomed campaign. Given that precedent, it should have come as less of a shock when it was revealed that now-former Deputy Executive Director Jorge Pupo wasn’t just friendly with the industry he was supposed to be regulating, he was practically having an affair.

Or take the parlous governance of the various industry boards and commissions. An early clue should have been when Patrick Gavin, former executive director for the Charter School Authority Board, resigned at the end of 2018 after lawmakers learned that the board was over three years behind in some of its work — an impressive accomplishment for a board formed in 2014. Education choice has been a key issue for Republicans throughout this decade and its successful implementation was one of Gov. Sandoval’s main triumphs. If even a high profile board implementing one of the defining policy initiatives of Gov. Sandoval’s career was mismanaged, what else was falling through the cracks? 

We certainly have some idea, now, don’t we?

Or take the entirely self-destructive leadership of every level of the Clark County School District. At the top, Superintendent Jesus Jara is, if you grade his latest evaluation like a test and divide his score by the four points possible in each category, a D+ superintendent, earning a B for vision and student success targets, a D for core values, and a failing grade (59.75 percent) for theory of action. That failing grade isn’t surprising given that his theory of action, if there is one, is to shoot first and videoconference about it later

That, however, is downright competent consensus-building communication compared to the Clark County Education Association’s leadership’s communication style. 

Before Gov. Sisolak was elected, the CCEA endorsed Sisolak over Chris Giunchigliani. Ordinarily, this would be a small piece of trivia — it might justify putting a tastefully sized CCEA logo on a walk card, perhaps, before it was swiftly forgotten. However, demonstrating the level of subtlety and tact that Nevada has grown to expect from Executive Director John Vellardita since the CCEA split from the Nevada State Education Association, the CCEA claimed that Chris Giunchigliani “protected perverts” and sex offenders.

Since then, Vellardita has continued a scorched earth campaign, burning through every ounce of goodwill that might yet exist for teachers in Clark County by threatening to strike, pushing the County Commission into passing a tax hike they wanted nothing to do with, and, most recently, imposing a dues hike against the 3 percent raise his organization’s chosen governor fought so hard to get out of the last session to fund a war chest that may or may not fund a ballot initiative if the next session doesn’t go their way. This all followed a bitter arbitration battle that led to a deal that was supposed to keep the peace between the CCEA and the school district for three years — a peace that didn’t even last for a school year. 

In other words, Clark County School District’s administrative leadership is constitutionally incapable of communicating clearly, and Clark County School District’s labor leadership is constitutionally incapable of arguing in good faith. One would think Gov. Sisolak wouldn’t have underestimated the institutional dysfunction in the school district of the very county he served as county commissioner before he made promises and started writing checks. 

What if, however, we’re the ones who are doing the underestimating? What if we, as Nevadans, are underestimating how much scrutiny we need to apply to governors?

All the problems listed above are problems that existed during Gov. Sandoval’s term. Many of the problems listed above existed well before that. Education in Clark County has always been a dumpster fire built on a radioactive wasteland. Managing the various boards that report directly to the governor has always been an exercise in herding Adderall-addicted cats. Rural Nevada has always been borderline-ungovernable (some, in fact, would argue that’s part of rural Nevada’s charm).

Additionally, Gov. Sandoval wrote billions of dollars in tax credits to electric car makers and NFL teams with less than a week of cumulative legislative oversight. Gov. Sandoval also passed the largest tax hike in Nevada’s history, along with a “sunset” provision attached to it to guarantee that the same Republicans who passed it in the first place would get a chance to posture against it four years later.

Gov. Sandoval should have been held to a level of scrutiny. Any level at all, really. 

Since he wasn’t, it’s Gov. Sisolak who’s going to have to receive eight years’ worth of deferred scrutiny, with interest. To be clear, he’s earned it. Nobody forced him to continue to accept an endorsement from a union that smeared his intraparty competition as a sex predator sympathizer. Nobody forced him to promise a pay raise to public sector employees while simultaneously promising no new taxes. Nobody forced him to continue to directly manage dozens of dysfunctional industry boards that were observed to be unmanageable during Gibbons’ and Guinn’s administrations. Nobody forced him to run on a platform of gun control in a state that, once you drive north of the Skye Canyon Park Drive off-ramp, largely thinks that it should be legal to privately own the very same nuclear weapons the federal government used to poison their grandparents in the 1950s so they can shoot back next time. 

He made those choices himself and he has to live with the consequences of them. 

We, on the other hand, also made our choices. We chose to ignore the Governor’s Mansion for eight years. We chose to treat a friendly smile and a square jaw as a license to govern. We underestimated the power of the governor in a state where the governor is the only branch of the state government with reliable business hours. 

Gov. Sisolak underestimated the public. We underestimated the office of the governor.

We all should know better.

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 david.colborne@lpnevada.org

Redistricting: The maps are not the territory

Photo of the front of the Nevada Legislature building.

By Bradley Schrager

In early November, the Nevada chapter of the League of Women Voters filed a petition with the Secretary of State to amend the state constitution to form an ‘independent citizens commission’ responsible for drawing the maps for legislative and congressional redistricting. If enough valid signatures are gathered between now and next June—97,598 signatures is the threshold—the measure would have to pass twice, at the 2020 and 2022 general elections in order to become law. 

Although redistricting is already the task of the 2021 Nevada Legislature, the proposed measure would force a redundant round of further map-drawing in 2023.

There are a number of questions the League needs to answer for anyone thinking of supporting this initiative, and chief among them is why it has apparently permitted the Nevada Republican Party to hijack its good name. After decades of nonpartisan activity, it either has licensed itself out to GOP opportunists willingly, or has permitted itself to serve as host to some very dull right-wing parasites. This petition is now—it can hardly be denied, for anyone paying attention—a Republican ballot measure.

But as for substantive questions, what problem are you trying to solve with a redistricting commission? Has Nevada been plagued with the sort of hyper-partisan gerrymandering over generations that led to maps in North Carolina or Virginia being struck down by courts? That doesn’t seem like the case. One cannot point to single-party control of questionable legitimacy here, like in those states, where dwindling vote counts still resulted in majorities engineered by weak political parties. Nevada’s electoral swings over the years have come more or less organically, not immediately after or as a result of any redistricting. 

In 2011, split government led to court-dawn maps, after a gubernatorial veto. The resulting maps were close to what the Democrats had proposed, and the court accepted the efficient Democratic concept that two Assembly seats should be nested within every Senate district. In other words, there was no legitimate complaint that the process had been rigged unfairly. Ask yourself honestly, did Democrats end the decade with legislative majorities because they appealed to Nevada voters more successfully than did the GOP, or because of maps drawn eight years ago? 

Don’t like incumbents or the ‘political class,’ as a general rule? The mechanics of incumbent advantages in elections are built into campaigns, not just geographic districts. Incumbents have resources and recognition that are, and always will be, difficult to overcome. And more than a decade of term limits in Nevada has led, quite clearly, to more rapid turnover in legislative offices—even faster than just the 12-year term limit, as elected officials seek opportunities as they arise, not just at the close of final terms. 

Do you want lower registration advantages in new districts, so we have closer races at the polls? That seems to reflect some misplaced faith 1) that you can actually arrange closer races to suit your tastes, and 2) that closer races make better politics, or result in more responsive or enlightened government, when it is just as likely that it will require more money in politics and encourage more shrill campaigning. Unless the League has a simultaneous plan simply to manufacture more Republicans across the state, this is just technocratic arrogance. How is this petition anything other than an artificial propping-up of a Nevada GOP that has shown neither the organizational ability nor the political will to attract a growing number of voters to its platforms and candidates?

Seen that way, it is no surprise that Republican donors and operatives attached themselves to this ‘independent’ effort from its inception, and appear to be involved in every step of the development of this initiative petition. Those types are craven but not stupid, and they know an opportunity, a shortcut, when they see one. This is a chance for the GOP to gerrymander—to gain redistricting advantages unwarranted by electoral performance—while fighting publicly under a deceptive anti-gerrymandering banner. That sort of cynicism normally, and rightfully, goes unrewarded. 

Do not forget that this is a GOP that attempted to force mid-decade redistricting in 2015, when fleetingly in the majority, and followed that up with the risible recall campaigns against three sitting state senators. Now it’s ‘nonpartisanship’ and ‘good government’ for all, is it? You can try to sell that, just as President Trump can try to sell his general concern for worldwide corruption while heading a voraciously kleptocratic administration, but do not expect voters to be so easily misled.

But if this commission proposal is a solution to a nonexistent problem, attracting the usual political reptiles, how would it actually work, by its own terms.

Not very well. The commission itself is situated in some strange, new, invented political branch, both in and out of the Legislature, an unelected tribunal exercising what the petition labels ‘legislative functions.’ This already renders it constitutionally suspect. 

The appointment process for commission members is a hash. Four political appointees will appoint three further members who, apparently, are not permitted to have been interested in politics much at all. None of them can even have been registered with a major party for four years previous, a requirement that seems to indulge rather than dissolve the idea that party registration is an indelible and disfiguring aspect of one’s self these days.

Any final plans for district maps must garner the votes not only of a super-majority of commission members (5 of 7), but also must have those votes spread among its GOP, Democratic, and nonpartisan members. This may sound like it encourages earnest cooperation, but it also serves as an easy veto; any party can withhold its approval of any proposal which it does not like, and force map-drawing into court. Let me restate that: This plan to bring both independence and fellowship into redistricting contains within it the express, immediate ability of its partisan participants to wreck the process entirely, for any reason or no reason at all. 

The League’s proposal creates a questionable constitutional body; arranges its membership haphazardly; permits no-fault veto of its maps by any dissatisfied party; and ends up exactly where we were in 2011, in district court. It rewards poor electoral performance, and therefore probably discourages the self-examination, reform, and renewal that all political parties periodically must undergo. It is neither accurate in its diagnoses nor healthy in its prescriptions. 

So enough with the posturing about independence and floating above the partisan fray. Enough with the clichés about maps drawn in “smoke-filled backrooms,” as the League says on it blog, an image as tiresome as “cigar-chomping union bosses.” The League ought, more profitably, declare exactly what its deeper concerns are regarding our elections and politics, and then engage on changes that would address them with as many people as it can. This redistricting commission proposal, however, declares little and fixes even less, and turns its nonpartisan label into a hostage the League of Women Voters has handed over to fortune.

Bradley Schrager is an attorney with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, LLP. He formerly served as general counsel to the Nevada State Democratic Party.

In the new world of legal sports betting, NFL clobbers an obscure cornerback

Sports book at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas

Until recently even avid NFL fans would have been hard-pressed to give you an in-depth read on Josh Shaw.

Although in his fifth season in the league, the cornerback from USC hadn’t made much of an impression in the professional ranks. Selected in the fourth round by Cincinnati in the 2015 draft, he seldom started. He bounced from Cincinnati to Kansas City, and then on to Tampa Bay. This season found him in Arizona, squatting on the Cardinals’ injured reserve list.

Shaw vaulted from professional obscurity to undeniable notoriety last month after it was discovered he’d placed a three-team parlay at Caesars Palace on NFL games in violation of league rules. He suddenly found himself on the front page of the sports section without intercepting a single pass. Which is a good thing since he’d only accomplished that feat once in his career.

After a league investigation confirmed he’d bet on other games, the NFL hit him on Nov. 29 with a suspension of more than a year. That’s a total of 21 games. Although this past week it was reported that Shaw appealed, don’t be surprised if the image-conscious NFL finds a way to make an even greater example out of him. It would be easy enough to do – especially since he’s not a star player. Due to that injury, he was little more than an overpaid fan this season. From the look of things, his shoulder injury also impaired his good sense.

To make matters worse for him, Shaw even bet against Arizona in that infamous three-teamer at Caesars. Forget playing for the Cardinals again. Imagine the reception he’d receive in the locker room from fellow players. Who would want to take the field with a person willing to play an angle against his own team?

Bottom line: Shaw was made to order for suspension – and for the league to show it’s still deadly serious about its image when it comes to gambling enforcement.

A clear-cut decision is also important for the legal bookmakers who are finally enjoying unprecedented acceptance across the country. At a time when state after state is jumping on board, the last thing anyone needs is the scent of scandal. Although it’s not always reported in the press, Nevada sports books for years have played important roles in providing information that has led to the exposure of suspected game fixes. It’s an old tune, but the last thing the legal side wants is even a whiff of question about the credibility of the games.

Back when Nevada was the only state with legalized sports gambling, the NFL publicly remained averse and extremely sensitive to any proximity to the bookies. Forget the fact gamblers were part of the league since its inception and players had often been linked to bookmakers. Although Alex Karras and Paul Hornung were suspended in 1963 for gambling on football, and Baltimore quarterback Art Schlichter was sanctioned for gambling on the game two decades later, others linked even tangentially to illegal bookmakers – as most of them have been outside Nevada – suffered huge hits to their public image. Outlaw bookie Don “Dice” Dawson’s ties to Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson (no relation) and Detroit passer Bobby Layne haunted their hall-of-fame playing careers.

Although it’s often been criticized for inconsistent enforcement of its own rules, and accused of hypocrisy for vilifying Nevada’s legal sports book industry, the league has much to gain in properly handling the Shaw incident.

It’s not the first time the NFL has looked askance at him. Shaw concocted a wild story about saving a drowning family member to cover up for injuries he suffered associated with a dispute with a girlfriend. He sprained his ankles after jumping from a second-floor hotel balcony to avoid the police.

He later told si.com prior to the 2015 draft, “Everything that happened in the past is solely because of me…They (NFL officials) want to look me in the eye and have me look them in the eye and tell the truth.”

A little more truth might go a long way in 2019.

Because I’m left wondering whether the Shaw story goes anywhere from here. Perhaps not.

But let me speculate briefly.

It’s not much of a stretch to presume that a sidelined player would keep in touch kept with his teammates, and perhaps even the Cardinals training and medical staff. I wouldn’t be surprised if NFL security has checked, or at least wants to know, whether Shaw pumped players or team officials for information on pre-game injuries, attitudes and intangibles. Because that’s what a guy who was willing to bet against his own team would do.

Nobody asked, but I’d be double-checking his cell records.

Some will call the suspension excessive and remind you he was an inactive player placing a sports bet in a state where such gambling is legal. There was no sign of a sports fix or something really ominous. So it’s no big deal, right?

It probably sounds naïve in a nation so undeniably obsessed with sports betting, but there’s a lot more at stake than the faltering career of an underperforming cornerback. Not just for the league, but for the multibillion-dollar sports book industry, too.

If the suspension sets the right example, then I’m betting it’s the biggest thing Josh Shaw ever accomplishes in the NFL.

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. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith