Higher education research can solve problems

By Jason Geddes

There’s a reason why younger people today don’t know much about polio.

The infectious disease has been nearly eradicated from our planet. In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that there were less than 25 known cases of polio. 

But polio, which causes muscle paralysis in some and death to others, went unimpeded until the mid-20th century. 

The near end of the disease was the great victory of research by a University of Pittsburgh team lead by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1952. That team created a vaccine that has been used around the world to nearly eliminate the dreaded disease that once affected millions, including at least one U.S. president. 

Research in higher education remains as essential today as it did in 1952 and should be considered in broader terms, not just in the often-obvious realm of science or engineering. 

Nevada is lucky enough to have a research institution and two public universities that have achieved a nationally recognized research designation. 

Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Desert Research Institute solves community problems at the local, regional, state, national and global level. 

In 2018, for the first time in the state of Nevada, both public, doctoral-granting institutions joined 128 other universities across the nation in receiving the “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research” designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Along with the prestige of joining the ranks of the most notable research institutions in the nation, this classification brings wide-reaching benefits. 

From attracting top researchers from around the world, to broadening existing research efforts, this designation has the potential to attract new business, as well as contribute to strengthening the state’s economy. It also makes NSHE universities more competitive for research grants. 

However, the “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research” designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is not assigned for life. 

Unfortunately, $20 million in research funding for UNLV and UNR was cut from the state budget. This funding, coupled with a cut of $7.5 million in Knowledge funding from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development budget, totaled a nearly $30 million reduction in available research dollars over the next biennium. These cuts could have a significant impact on both UNLV and UNR’s ability to maintain the R1 designation by Carnegie in the future. 

There are so many examples of the research being done by our professors and students at NSHE institutions. 

At DRI, two new research projects were launched to study hydrology at The Nature Conservancy in Beatty, Nevada. These projects will help southern Nevada water managers predict hydrologic responses to climate change and improve future planning for how groundwater flows in our state and region. 

And at UNLV, the International Gaming Institute is continually teaching and promoting best practices in responsible gaming in Nevada, the U.S. and abroad at a time when gaming and hospitality growth is at an all-time high. 

Meanwhile, UNR researchers have been at the forefront of developing an early warning system for wildfires that has been used here in the Silver State and in the region. The mountaintop Alert Wildfire camera system provides early detection of wildfires and also provides fire managers with wildfire behavior intel that helps combatting them. 

These are just a few examples of the work being done. From research about space and Mars, to medical science or from history and the arts, to social and anthropological research, a broad spectrum of work is being done at NSHE’s institutions to better our community and world. 

Cutting research specific budget line items in the scramble and fervor to pass the state budget for the biennium may have been short-sighted, despite the many demands on available funds. Looking forward to the next legislative session, we can turn that story around. 

The research being done in higher education is important and relevant, but it doesn’t always draw the biggest headlines. Unless, of course, you’re curing polio. 

I’ll suggest that research on water issues, wildfires, and gaming, go a long way in keeping Nevada’s residents and visitors safe and growing our state’s economy. If the nationally distinguished research efforts at Nevada’s higher education institutions are going to continue to thrive, we must recognize their value and work together to ensure they are adequately funded in the future. 

Jason Geddes, Ph.D., is Chairman of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents

Nevada’s leaders are showing the rest of the country how to address wild and rangeland fires

Fire-scarred sagebrush

By Assemblywoman Heidi Swank and U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

A few weeks ago, we joined dozens of Nevadans in Reno for a first-of-its-kind summit on one of the most devastating problems affecting our state: the fires devastating our rangelands and impacting our communities. As we sat in that room with firefighters, ranchers, conservationists, scientists, power company executives, representatives of government agencies, and others, we were encouraged to see how many partners from all over the state are committed to keeping our communities safe and working with us to undertake prevention efforts and help affected communities rebuild. 

Yet the summit highlighted key shortfalls in addressing wildfires. Most fundamentally, state and federal governments simply have not allocated enough money to respond to fires. This is especially true because fires on Nevada’s often sparsely populated ranges don’t always affect human structures, and federal guidelines prioritize funding to reimburse losses to businesses and residences. The federal government must also recognize that we’re not just facing forest fires; rangeland fires pose an enormous threat as invasive cheatgrass and climate change take hold, yet funding for rangeland recovery is woefully inadequate to the need. Just as critically, the federal government has no long-term plan to address how to restore the landscape over the years-long period it will take to recover from many of Nevada’s megafires. Finally, conversations at the summit confirmed that we need much more coordination, communication, and collaboration at the local, state, and federal levels. 

As Nevada’s elected leaders, we’ve been working together for years to increase that coordination so we can develop solutions to the urgent crisis of wild and rangeland fires. We know agencies are scrambling for funds as wildfires multiply and intensify. That’s why both of us have taken action to institute funding “fixes” that create a permanent disaster fund for fires, so that agencies aren’t left empty-handed when they need money the most. In 2018, one of us—Senator Cortez Masto—was instrumental in passing such a fix in the United States Senate. This year, the other, Assemblywoman Swank, helped win a corresponding fix in the Nevada state legislature. We’re proud our partnership brought to life this critical source of wildfire funding, and we’re also working in our respective chambers to boost preparation and recovery.

At the state level, Assemblywoman Swank has made wild and rangeland fire prevention and recovery a priority. She introduced groundbreaking legislation that has created an interim study committee to dive deeply into the subject of these fires and generate solutions so that future Nevada state legislatures can adopt legislation that will protect our communities and strengthen our economies. She has also successfully passed an amendment to a natural resources bill that set aside $5 million for wildfire “prevention, restoration and long-term planning.” The state can access the funds once the federal government or private organizations match the reserves.

For her part, Senator Cortez Masto is fighting in the U.S. Senate to help state and federal partners get the money that’s needed to combat wildfires. She’s helped ensure that state, federal and external funds are used in the most efficient way possible to prevent fires, and to assist communities with recovery after fires happen. She’s also met with rural leaders to make sure farmers and ranchers are at the forefront of discussions on protecting our public lands from wildfires. She’s traveled across the state to hear from local leaders, and these conversations prompted her to organize a Wildfire Summit in August.  

Both of us are committed to working together to protect all Nevadans, but especially those at the greatest risk. Rural and diverse communities, including our Native tribes, are disproportionately at risk when wildfires strike. For Native American communities throughout the United States, a long history of neglect has prevented them from having the critical resources and support needed to combat wild and rangeland fires on their lands. These communities’ historic displacement onto federal reservations puts them at risk – federal reservations are six times more likely to be located in grasslands and forests that are most vulnerable and prone to fires. Disadvantaged groups are also less likely to be able to afford insurance or services like fuel removal and tree trimming to make their homes fire-resilient, and crowding in multiunit housing makes evacuation difficult. Other vulnerable communities include people with physical disabilities and seniors, as mobility issues impair quick evacuations when every second matters. These at-risk communities are at the forefront of our minds as we brainstorm solutions to prevent and respond to rangeland and wildfires so that we can save lives, protect property and ensure the economies of our local communities are secure. 

The time for action on wild and rangeland fire prevention and recovery is now. Our state is burning at a record pace, and more damage to entire ecosystems and communities lies ahead if we don’t fully and proactively commit ourselves to wildfire solutions. The lessons we learned at the Wildfire Summit only strengthened our resolve for Nevada to continue to convene stakeholders, drive the conversation forward, and take the lessons we’ve learned to Carson City and Washington, D.C. to fight for the tools and resources our state needs. We’ve proudly laid a foundation to strengthen local, state and federal partnerships to address wildfires, and we’ll continue fighting alongside one another to keep our beautiful landscapes and communities in Nevada safe. 

VanDyke unqualified and unfit to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Photo of the U.S Capitol

By Ross Miller 

The American judicial system as we know it is under attack. On Wednesday, the Senate held a confirmation hearing to approve former Nevada and Montana Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawrence VanDyke has never served as a judge. 

In fact, VanDyke was barely qualified to serve as Solicitor General in Nevada. While serving as Solicitor General under former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, VanDyke was given an unprecedented special dispensation to practice law in the state after failing to take the state Bar Exam within the two-year window set by Supreme Court Rule 49.8.  VanDyke not only took advantage of the rule but flagrantly disregarded its reasonable constraints, forcing the state Supreme Court to take unprecedented action to prevent a lawsuit. 

VanDyke’s disregard for the rule of law, which a Circuit Court justice should respect and seek to uphold rather than circumvent, is the first in a laundry list of red flags displayed by the Trump nominee. When VanDyke ran for the Montana Supreme Court in 2014, he was removed by from the ballot by the Montana Supreme Court after not meeting eligibility requirements. While the decision was overturned on appeal, VanDyke lost the seat to incumbent Michael E. Wheat. 

To put it simply, an aspiring judge, solicitor general, or lawyer for that matter, continuously exploiting the law and overriding precedent in order to ascend to a more powerful position is an indicator that they should not hold that position in the first place. In fact, the American Bar Association has rated VanDyke “not qualified” to serve as a Ninth Circuit judge for precisely that reason.

Appointed judgeships were once seen as the pinnacle of a lawyer’s career. Such an appointment should represent the culmination of a career of hard work and focused judicial decisions backed up by strong legal precedent, demonstrating to the American People and the country’s highest elected officials one’s ability to make sound legal decisions based on facts, separate from the political appointment that got you there. 

Instead, Lawrence VanDyke has not only chosen to circumvent existing laws and exploit their loopholes to ascend to positions of power, but his record while holding those positions of power poses an even greater moral quandary to those vying to confirm him. VanDyke has openly stated that he believes the ruling in Roe v. Wade should be challenged even though a record number of Americans support access to safe, legal abortion. VanDyke also used his position as Montana Solicitor General to advocate against LGBTQ+ rights. 

And in his free time? VanDyke is an active member of the Federalist Society, and has ties to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and has spoken at several ADF conferences and events. The Alliance Defending Freedom is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

Knowing both VanDyke’s troubling credentials and his ideologically-extreme legal advocacy, Nevada U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have vocally opposed VanDyke’s appointment, noting that the Trump administration ignored their efforts to find a consensus candidate. Prior to the Trump administration, appointments were often made by consensus with senators in an effort to best reflect the will of the people the court would represent. With the nomination of Lawrence VanDyke, that has all gone out the window.

VanDyke has made it his life’s work to oppress the rights and lives of those who are different from him. The American people do not share his extreme and dangerous views, and there are over 150 federal court Trump-appointed judges whose values and work mirror that of VanDykes. Their presence in the federal court system will present one of the greatest challenges to American democracy in our lifetime.

Ross Miller is a former Nevada Secretary of State. He is a law partner at Clark Hill Law Firm in Las Vegas, where he specializes in civil investigations, election law, administrative law, and risk mitigation.

Should Representative Amodei support impeaching President Trump?

President Donald Trump waiving from the entrance door to Air Force One

From a procedural standpoint, as Rep. Amodei went to great pains to explain in his uniquely circuitous way, it’s a little early for that. Congress first needs to decide what they’ll impeach President Trump for and that will require people to focus on a specific Trump action for longer than the average lifespan of a fruit fly.

From a political standpoint, Danny Tarkanian relocated to Northern Nevada months ago, undoubtedly hoping that, for once in his life, he can stay in the loving embrace of a Trump-adoring base without losing a general election. It hasn’t happened yet — his political record more closely resembles the winless 1998 UNLV football team than the national champion 1990 Runnin’ Rebs his father coached — but hope springs eternal, especially now that some Republicans are already building up the narrative that Amodei might be vulnerable. Additionally, Nevada’s second-most popular Laxalt-bred gubernatorial candidate (or, if you prefer, the least popular one) recently replaced Amodei as Trump’s Nevada campaign chair.

From a moral and ethical standpoint, I thought the previous president should have been impeached, I think this president should be impeached, and I already support impeaching the next one. There’s a reason most countries never copied and pasted our political systems into theirs, opting for parliamentary systems instead — presidents are just too powerful everywhere they’ve been tried. Most presidents, like Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, inevitably turn into unaccountable tyrants, removable only through civil war or death. 

The United States has avoided that fate thus far due to cultural and political norms that encourage presidents to use far less power than they actually possess. Donald Trump isn’t the first president to ignore those norms — Thomas Jefferson famously bought the Louisiana Purchase despite there being no explicit permission in the Constitution for him to do so — but he is the first to refuse to apologize or feel remorse for it. Even Nixon, for all his faults, felt accountable enough to something beyond himself to resign. Even Nixon’s conscience eventually told him that, whether he went too far or not in his own mind, the consequences of his actions had gone far enough and should go no further. 

I’m not personally convinced that President Trump is a better man than Richard Nixon and I don’t think you should be, either. 

However, as fun as it is to rant about the impeachibility of Donald Trump and presidents in general, there are more than enough columns, both on and off the internet, about that. There are far fewer columns, however, about how past representatives from Nevada faced impeachment. By my count, there is so far only one, courtesy of the Nevada Current, which published theirs before mine was published (but, I will carefully add, not before mine was written). It’s a good piece and worth reading. 

Unlike the Nevada Current, however, I prefer to start at the beginning — and that means starting only a few years after the very first Nevada Day.

As fortune would have it, Nevada achieved statehood before America’s very first impeachment. Andrew Johnson was a Tennessee Democrat chosen by Lincoln to be his vice-president to help unify the country toward the end of the Civil War (imagine Trump choosing Hillary Clinton as his vice-president, or vice-versa, to understand how magnanimous this was). Unfortunately, the pool of pro-Union Democrats from former Confederate states was, shall we say, a little shallow, in much the same way the pool of anti-Trump Republicans from former Confederate states is. Under ordinary circumstances, this wouldn’t be a major issue — Andrew Johnson certainly would not have been the first vice-president to be ignored by everyone around him. 

Lincoln’s assassination made circumstances substantially less ordinary. 

Even if Andrew Johnson were a competent, patient statesman, he had his work cut out for him. The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, the party that supported and won the Civil War; the Democratic Party, on the other hand, was the party of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. Both Congresses in Johnson’s term reflected the outcome of the Civil War, with the Republican Party enjoying unprecedented supermajorities in both houses; the Senate, for example, was nearly 90 percent Republican during the final two years of Johnson’s term. Consequently, as long as the Republicans in Congress maintained party unity, Johnson couldn’t even hope to sustain a veto.

Andrew Johnson was not a competent, patient statesman. 

In 1866, Andrew Johnson started a speaking tour to push for more lenient policies against the defeated South — this being the way to get the word out in the era preceding Twitter, television, or radio. His plan was to highlight the divisions between the moderate and radical wings of the Republican Party to advance his preferred policies to allow previously pro-Confederate voters and politicians to control Southern states once again. Though morally reprehensible in hindsight, it made political sense — northern voters were largely more interested in getting things back to normal than they were in advancing black enfranchisement or permanently disenfranchising the previously Confederate-supporting political class. 

Luckily, in a rare moment of fortune for southern black people, Andrew Johnson’s speaking tour was uniquely disastrous. Instead of advancing his policies of hasty reconciliation, he single-handedly discredited them by, among other things, angrily arguing with his crowds and suggesting that notable abolitionists, including some Republican congressmen, should be hanged. His ineptness arguably may have delayed the implementation of Jim Crow by a decade. 

Congress, meanwhile, had to decide what to do with a president touring the country and demanding some of their members should be lynched. Representing Nevada in Congress at this time was Delos Ashley, a Republican attorney that moved to Nevada from California. 

Like many of Nevada’s past and present political figures, Republican Rep. Ashley’s past was at least mildly checkered. 

After the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required the United States to honor land titles previously granted by Mexico; this, however, required landowners to reassert their titles to the new American authorities governing their lands. One of these landowners was the City of Monterey. According to Carmel-By-The-Sea, The Early Years (1903-1913), Delos Ashley successfully represented Monterey, California as it reasserted its Mexican title to roughly 46 square miles surrounding the city. In return, he billed $991.50, roughly equivalent to $33,000 today. 

Unfortunately, despite being the former territorial capital of Alta California and, briefly, the capital of the California Republic, Monterey in the 1850s was in steep decline. The Gold Rush encouraged most of Monterey’s residents to relocate to San Francisco or Sacramento, depending on whether their interests lay more in shipping or mining. As a result, Monterey became a largely abandoned backwater and was consequently never in a position to pay for Delos’ services. 

Demonstrating that there is no force on Earth as patient nor as vengeful as an attorney with an outstanding invoice, Delos Ashley proceeded to get himself elected first to the California Assembly and then to the California Senate. While serving in California’s legislature, he helped pass laws that allowed Monterey to sell its lands to settle its public debts (like the city’s debt to him) via public auction. The law required the city to post a notice in a newspaper; fortuitously, Delos Ashley co-founded the newspaper the city sent the notice to. Consequently, when Monterey submitted the auction announcement to Delos’ newspaper, it was printed as a minor column toward the back. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Delos Ashley and his friend, David Jacks, were the only people who attended the auction, and even less surprising that the two bought all 29,698 acres for the amount of Delos Ashley’s outstanding bill plus the $11 the city spent conducting the auction, a little more than $0.03 per acre. 

Seriously — pay your attorney.

After serving in California politics, Delos moved to Nevada in 1864. A year later, he was elected to succeed Henry G. Worthington, Nevada’s first congressman. During his second term in Congress, President Johnson’s articles of impeachment were put to vote. Rep. Ashley voted in favor, along with 125 other representatives. Only 47 representatives voted against impeachment, thus making President Johnson the first president to be successfully impeached. His removal was narrowly averted in the Senate by only one vote; none of those votes against removal, however, came from Nevada as Sens. William Stewart and James Nye both voted in favor.

It would take more than a century for another president to face impeachment. Yet again, and somewhat improbably, Nevada was represented in Congress by a Republican. David Towell was the first Republican congressman to represent Nevada in nearly two decades, succeeding longtime Democratic Congressman William Baring, who had lost his most recent primary to eventual state Sen. and, yes, Congressman James Bilbray. President Nixon never formally faced impeachment as he resigned before the House voted on his articles, but Rep. Towell did get to vote in favor of House Resolution 803, which authorized the House Judiciary Committee to investigate President Nixon for eventual impeachment. 

After voting to authorize the start of the impeachment process, Rep. Towell was handily defeated in his re-election campaign by Democrat Jim Santini, the last congressman to represent the entire state of Nevada. Two years later, he and the Libertarian Party of Nevada’s first Senate candidate, Dan Becan, lost handily to Howard Cannon (admittedly, Becan lost a bit more handily than Towell). Afterwards, David Towell went back to working in real estate in Douglas County. Near the end of his life, he wrote and published two books. His first, Conversations with the Captain in Washington, D.C., is about a talking cat (named after his actual cat) that wants to be a meteorologist badly enough to secure a grant from Congress. His second, From Jennys to Jets, was a fictionalized account of an aviator he interviewed, starting with the aviator’s service toward the end of World War 1 and continuing through the second World War. 

It wouldn’t take another century for another president to face impeachment. In fact, the next impeachment happened well within Rep. Towell’s lifetime. In 1998, President Bill Clinton earned the ire of Republicans, among others, due to his unwillingness to tell the truth under oath about his sex life. This time, Nevada had more than one congressman. Yet again, however, Nevada’s representation in Congress was uniformly Republican with Rep. John Ensign and Rep. Jim Gibbons representing our state. 

Unlike President Johnson’s 11 articles of impeachment, which were voted on as a whole, President Clinton’s articles of impeachment were considered article by article. Reps. Ensign and Gibbons voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment that ultimately made it to the Senate — Article 1, which charged President Clinton with lying to the grand jury, and Article 3, which charged President Clinton for obstructing justice. Both representatives, however voted against impeaching President Clinton for a second count of perjury, and only Rep. Gibbons voted in favor of impeaching President Clinton for abuse of power

Unlike President Johnson’s impeachment, Nevada was not represented by Republicans in the Senate during President Clinton’s impeachment. Instead Nevada was represented by two senators, at least one of whom you almost certainly remember: Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Richard Bryan. Additionally, unlike Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, President Clinton wasn’t particularly unpopular with the American public. When the Republican Party attempted to run explicitly on impeachment in 1998, instead of picking up 30 seats in the House as some anticipated, it lost five; this result ultimately convinced House Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign. Consequently, Nevada’s senatorial delegation, along with every other Democrat in the Senate, felt quite safe voting party line against removing their fellow Democrat from the White House, and did so

Today, for the first time in Nevada’s history, we won’t be represented exclusively by Republicans in Congress during a presidential impeachment. On the contrary, Republican representatives from Nevada are an endangered species. Unsurprisingly, Nevada’s Democratic congressional delegation has already spoken out in favor of impeachment — Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford announced their support for impeachment in late September, and Rep. Dina Titus has been calling for impeachment since at least July. Rep. Amodei, being a Republican, has been considerably more reticent about the subject. 

Even so, if Rep. Amodei votes against even beginning impeachment, he would become the first Nevadan congressman — the first Republican congressman from Nevada, no less — to vote against a presidential impeachment. 

At the risk of sounding almost conservative, perhaps some traditions are made to be kept. 

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

Amid Trumpworld chaos, forum a reminder of the importance of diplomacy and development

United States Capitol building

It was obvious from a glance around the bustling Hard Rock meeting hall that the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition foreign policy forum would be well attended and include some of Nevada’s most powerful business and political leaders.

With a current congresswoman here, a former governor there, and plenty of bosses from a broad sector of the corporate community, speakers discussed the essential role American diplomacy plays in protecting our national security and expanding U.S. business opportunities in a world marketplace. Those opportunities are made possible in part due to the efforts of State Department and USAID employees who spend their careers working to keep the lines of communication open in a complex political system.

Unfortunately, the forum was missing the one person who most needed to hear the discussion. That early October day, President Donald Trump was in Washington tweeting himself into a frothing frenzy, crowing about half-baked trade wars, setting back relations with allies and enemies alike, vilifying “foreign aid,” and being exposed in a failed attempt to hustle the president of Ukraine for political gain. The Ukraine scandal has splashed all the way from Kyiv to Carson City and has exposed four stooges associated with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in a failed attempt to fuel a conspiracy theory they thought would come in handy in the 2020 election. They also wanted to “donate” their way into Nevada’s booming recreational marijuana market.

In the light of current events, the forum couldn’t have been any more timely. (A video of the forum is available here.) Nevada Congressional District 1 Rep. Dina Titus, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a keynote stated something that would probably come as a shock to an administration that takes pride in hollowing out the State Department and crying out for cuts to foreign aid:

“Our nation’s diplomats and development workers play a vital role in promoting our country’s moral leadership around the world. Deploying our full set of diplomatic tools helps women lift themselves out of poverty in Nigeria and boosts jobs tied to tourism and trade right here in Nevada.”

With former Secretary of State Colin Powell as its honorary chairman, and 18 former cabinet secretaries signed on, the coalition includes a remarkable bipartisan network of 500 businesses and nongovernmental organizations, more than 200 retired generals and admirals, 3,000 state officials and another 30,000 “Veterans for Smart Power,” members of the military who realize the essential need to combine diplomacy and development with defense. In his opening remarks, former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller recalled the simple truth of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said, “Development is cheaper than war.”

Consuming 1 percent of the federal budget, the International Affairs Budget not only funds the dreaded foreign aid to key partners and strategic allies, but also pays for our embassies, diplomatic corps, and the Peace Corps. It helps battle viral outbreaks such as Ebola, terrorist propaganda programs, and humanitarian disasters.

Not to mention the fact that it assists U.S. businesses in opening new markets for products. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, some people think it makes good sense to invest in diplomacy and development. Contrary to the pabulum pouring out of the White House, diplomacy and development are smart business strategies.

As panelist Lionel Johnson, President of the Pacific Pension & Investment Institute, observed, “When we invest in U.S. diplomacy and development, we’re not only improving the lives of people worldwide, we’re helping American businesses reach new markets and creating jobs back here in the U.S— and in Nevada.”

Let’s consider Nevada’s own economic interests for a moment. The state exported $12.2 billion in goods in 2017, much of that in the form of metals, minerals, and computer electronics. But that also includes more than $120 million in agricultural products. In 2015, more than 3,000 Nevada-based companies, most of them small businesses, exported products and services.

Healthy employment in Nevada increasingly depends on the state’s relationship with bustling foreign markets. More than 308,000 jobs are supported by trade and nearly 50,000 are created by Nevada companies with least a 50-percent foreign-ownership.

One of the president’s most damaging conceits is the narrative that replaces consistent, respectful communication and negotiation with bellicose rhetoric, outright threats, and a retreat from the world stage. The proposition that we can turn back the clock and shirk our leadership responsibility is a folly that courts disaster.

The damage is being done on a daily basis, Titus said.

“We see it every day as Russia continues to push to influence those around its borders politically and militarily, and China extends its economic influence through the Belt and Road Initiative that reaches all around the world,” she said. “When we pull out, we are leaving the world open to undemocratic forces, and that threatens our national security.”

Real stability is possible through development and diplomacy, the Democrat added, “not through surrogate wars and the tweetosphere.”

It’s an important message – even if it’s falling on deaf ears these days in D.C.

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

To reduce corruption, first reduce the opportunity

Cannabis strains on display

A few weeks ago, as revelations that two political candidates in 2018 were given large donations by foreign nationals in an amateurish attempt to secure lucrative marijuana sales licenses came to light, Gov. Sisolak expressed his outrage. He’s not wrong to be mad, although it’s a little surprising to hear a prominent member of the party of open borders grinding his teeth about “foreigners” participating in our economy.

But then the governor did an odd thing. He proposed creating more opportunity for graft and corruption in the marijuana industry. 

Obviously, he did not actually say this, nor, I am certain, does he intend it. But his proposal is to bring an even heavier government hand down on marijuana sellers, creating a pot regulatory committee modeled after Nevada’s Gaming Control Board. This, in turn means more involvement by politicians who rely on campaign contributions to keep their jobs, and more mid-level bureaucrats who might feel like they really need to buy a hot tub this year.

Until this new Pot Pentaverate is exercising what I assume will be “absolute power and authority” over all things cannabis (which seems to be a little less… free spirited than the pro-legalization hippies probably had in mind), state officials are scrambling to rework theregulatory framework. Attorney General Aaron Ford spelled it out for us all when he said:

“Cannabis is a new industry that will be regulated by a new state agency. The courts and regulatory bodies are still sorting through how it should be regulated. The consequences of its failure are — and I don’t have to say this to you — too dire for us to run the risk of us not being able to properly represent it.”

Ford certainly has a flair for the apocalyptic. But he, too, is working hard to create the consequence he fears. 

***

In voting to legalize marijuana, the people of Nevada declared that “its cultivation and sale should be regulated similar to other legal businesses.”  (Of course, the people of Nevada also declared that pot should be regulated in a confusing and economically stupid way like we do with alcohol – people really ought to read the entirety of the law they’re voting for in an initiative petition.)

Regulating marijuana cultivation and sales like any other business makes sense. Human civilization is effectively defined by when we first started growing things and either using them personally or taking our crops to market. We already know how regulate businesses for purposes of confirming qualifications, collecting taxes, etc. Why is it that it has been such a challenge?  What are courts and regulatory bodies “still sorting out,” as Ford has said? Why is this so hard?

Yes, marijuana is an intoxicant and can therefore be dangerous in a variety of ways, and reasonable regulation to mitigate those dangers are warranted. But we regulate all sorts of products that could be dangerous. For example, if you want to sell propane, you must get approval from and be regularly inspected by employees of the state LP Gas Board, and as a result, we don’t hear regular explosions from gas stations or hardware stores. 

So why is it that no Ukranians are setting up shell bank accounts to pay off voting members of the LP Gas Board?  (Disclaimer: I served as a voting member of that board from 2010-2014. As far as I can remember, no former Eastern Bloc national ever offered to bribe me. I wouldn’t have accepted such a bribe, but as I type this must admit feeling a little unloved that no one ever tried.)

The answer is that it would have been a waste of money. There is no limit on the number of propane sellers any given municipality can have, at least not one set by the government. Anyone who has properly set up their sales area in accordance with pre-published safety standards and passed an appropriate test can get their requisite license. There are fees, but they, too, are pre-published and way less pricey than a bribe.

In other words, it is keeping the regulatory hand as light and as limited as possible while still serving to protect the safety of the public that keeps it so corruption-proof.

There is no public safety reason to limit the number of marijuana dispensary licenses, and indeed, no legitimate reason at all. Beyond some sort of quality control inspection to ensure consumers aren’t being poisoned, why in the world would we need anything else?  

The only reason huge political donations come from the marijuana industry is because of the artificial scarcity the foolishly-drafted legalization initiative foisted upon us. If anyone with the capital to set up shop or a thumb green enough to start growing product could do so as long as they meet minimum public safety standards, there would be no graft or corruption because there would be no reason for graft or corruption.

The more you regulate an industry, the more the participants of that industry will feel compelled to involve themselves – and their money – in the political process. Such involvement is – and should be – protected by the First Amendment. You cannot make laws that affect someone’s livelihood and then tell them they aren’t allowed to lobby the lawmakers or financially support candidates they think may be better for their business. If you’re interested in keeping businesses out of politics, you have to start by keeping politics out businesses as much as possible.

A lot of people are clutching their pearls because two indicted Ukranian fellows donated $10,000 to then-gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt and then-Attorney General candidate Wes Duncan in the hopes that it would give them an “in” for pot licensing (even though the idea that this would buy much in the way of influence is frankly a bit silly). But the existing domestic marijuana industry didn’t give Gov. Sisolak nearly three-quarters of a million dollars last year just because they were charmed by his penchant for not wearing ties with his suits. Those donations would never have been made if we truly regulated marijuana like any other legal business, and the public would be no worse off safety-wise.

***

I’m glad the governor wants to root out and prevent corruption, and I’m glad the attorney general wants to get regulation right. But their so-called solutions, born of their instinct to solve all of the world’s problems with more layers of government intervention, will only invite more problems.

If marijuana is to be legal, let’s treat it like any other legal business. Let the market – not bribable bureaucrats – decide how many dispensaries a community can support. Regulation for its own sake isn’t helpful. Identify the problems first, then determine what regulatory solution will actually solve it, if such a solution exists at all, and if the cost of the “fix” is less than the problem. Industry-specific regulation must be limited to articulable public safety concerns.

Do all that, and weed regulators and the politicians who hire and oversee them will feel ignored and unloved by grifters both foreign and domestic. And as a bonus, the marijuana industry will be healthier to boot.

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.

In favor of merit selection of judges

Lady Justice perched atop the Nevada Supreme Court building

By Marshal Willick

“The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to have an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing.” 

— Caroline Kennedy

“What is it that makes us trust our judges? Their independence in office and manner of appointment.” 

— John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

The impetus for a push to change from elections to a merit selection system for judges stems from a speech by a justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. It has since been a topic of discussion in various bar section meetings, ultimately resulting in the formation of a small committee of members of the Appellate Section to study the issue and propose legislation. The committee reviewed extensive materials — including the full history of judicial selection here in Nevada, as well as all available model provisions, reports, and studies of judicial retention and evaluation programs throughout the country — and concluded that there are compelling reasons for preferring judicial appointment rather than election. 

Among the materials reviewed was the Brennan Center for Justice report “Choosing State Judges: A Plan for Reform,” which provided a detailed and well-supported study of the inevitable conflicts and corrupting influences on judicial elections created whenever judges are required to raise money and seek favorable publicity. The report noted that “electoral pressures create a morass of conflicts of interest that threaten the appearance, and reality, of fair decision-making.” Other studies have shown that elected judges take into account voter and donor preferences when deciding cases even if they try not to do so. As one retired Alabama Supreme Court justice said, “Judges would have to be saints to ignore the political reality. And judges aren’t saints.”

 The conclusion of the Brennan report urged the states to “take the politics out” of the judicial selection and reselection process either by having justices serve a single, very long term, or “vesting an independent commission with the power to make reappointments.” The Nevada committee chose the latter approach, further detailed below.

The Legislature missed an opportunity to put beneficial reforms into motion in 2019. There are parts of the committee’s proposal that can and should be implemented immediately, and the remainder of the merit selection system should be passed in 2021, leading to a public vote.

Recent history

Despite the advantages of an appointment/retention system, Nevada has repeatedly failed to adopt such a system, rejecting various proposals in the Legislature or popular vote in 1972, 1988, 1995, 2010, and 2015. The 1995 and 2010 proposals would have created a hybrid system of merit selection appointments plus retention elections, sometimes called the “Missouri Plan.” The latter proposal included a term calling for 55 percent voter approval required in the retention elections, and added a provision for periodic judicial performance evaluations.

The 55 percent margin requirement was criticized by several sitting judges, in part because of Nevada’s statutorily-required “None of the Above” ballot option, plus the fact that judges are usually unknown to the electorate, meant that many qualified judges would probably be removed by default, essentially without cause. (Our None of the Above option in statewide elections would only affect Supreme Court races.)

The 2015 measure, which died in the Legislature, would have expanded judicial terms to eight years, eliminated both elections and any participation by the governor, and required both appointments and re-appointments to be made by the Assembly.

Given the inherent corrupting effect of judicial elections, it is somewhat ironic that judicial elections were originally implemented in the 19th century as a reform to address corruption. In the earliest days of the United States, judges were often picked by those in power as a matter of patronage and political spoils, and elections were seen as a way of removing the judiciary from the political branches of government.

But the effects have been awful, and are getting worse. As of 2017, 20 states had at least one justice on their Supreme Court who had been involved in an election campaign costing more than a million dollars, and during the 2015-2016 election cycle, more justices were elected in $1 million-plus elections than ever before. Outside spending by special interest groups – most of which do not disclose their donors – also shattered previous records during that cycle.

Virtually everyone involved in the system reports, unsurprisingly, that campaign cash affects judicial decisions. A 2001 survey of state court judges revealed that about half were sure that campaign contributions had at least some impact on court rulings. One judge remarked: “It’s pretty hard in big-money races not to take care of your friends. It’s very hard not to dance with the one who brung you.” Studies show that the influence of campaign money disappears from the statistics when judges are no longer eligible for re-election.

It is certainly an issue in Nevada appellate litigation. A 2010 American Judicature Society study found that in 60 percent of the 2008-2009 Nevada civil cases, at least one of the litigants, attorneys, or firms involved in the case had contributed to the campaign of at least one justice. And it’s not just civil cases. A study by The American Constitution Society found a direct correlation between an increase in television ads and a reluctance by appellate judges to vote in favor of criminal defendants. Judges facing election challenges wish to avoid appearing to be “soft on crime” and subject to attack in the media.

A judge’s job is to apply the law fairly and protect all people’s rights, even when doing so is unpopular or angers the wealthy and powerful. But the reality of competing in costly, and highly politicized elections are directly at odds with that role. If a judge rules against a major donor, that donor may not contribute to the next campaign. If a decision angers a powerful political interest, the next cycle may involve an avalanche of attack ads. These electoral pressures are inherently corrupting. Left unchecked, they undermine the integrity of state supreme courts and the public trust that undergirds their legitimacy, with acute implications for American justice.

And the corrupting influences are evident quite close to home. One particularly vile Nevada organization funds the lifestyle of its leader by soliciting “donations” and “advertising” from judicial incumbents and candidates – to the tune of over $100,000 over the past few years – by implicitly threatening to launch internet smear and defamation campaigns against those who do not “contribute.”

The Nevada committee’s goal was and is to design a system where judges never have to ask lawyers or anyone else for money, do not have to campaign or be concerned about political or other pressure, and can concentrate on doing their jobs without concern for anything but how well they do those jobs.

 Retention elections are not a solution

Adopting a system of initial appointment followed by retention elections has appeal on its face, but has proven to be problematic in all respects. Multiple studies in the literature studied by the committee detailed how facing retention elections leads to exactly the same kind of pressures as initial elections.

The Brennan report catalogued many cases in which special interests upset with particular opinions mounted campaigns targeting judges who had decided controversial issues, leading to precisely the sort of “conflicts and corrupting influence” that the appointment process is meant to prevent. One California justice said that deciding controversial cases under the shadow of a future election is like “finding a crocodile in your bathtub when you go in to shave in the morning: you know it’s there, and you try not to think about it, but it’s hard to think about much else while you’re shaving.”

Probably the best evidence of the superiority of a merit selection system without elections, as opposed to such electoral systems, can be seen in the criticism of those who try to undermine merit selection systems, usually under the rubric of “addressing activist judges” and trying to “bring the judiciary under political control.” In other words, those who oppose merit selection usually have something to gain from the political pressures endemic to the election system.

The 2019 proposal

The committee’s proposal took to heart the research indicating that appointment systems can be effective in “insulating judges from political and special-interest” pressure and influence. Many studies stress that for an appointment process to work both practically and ethically, it must have meaningful public oversight with diverse appointing authorities, a clear and open application process, and checks and balances. For such a process to succeed, it must minimize opportunities for political self-dealing and special interest influence in order to promote fair, independent, and diverse courts, and public confidence in those courts. The 2019 proposal addresses all those goals.

Nevada already has two important judicial commissions: one for judicial appointments when there is a vacancy (more on that below), and the other for judicial discipline (handling complaints about judicial officers). The proposal is to make the judicial appointment commission a standing 17-member body, and create a new 17-member Commission for judicial performance evaluations. 

With an eye to history nationally, the proposal consciously avoids the dangers of concentrating the power over judicial reappointments in any single body in which favoritism could then be created by diffusing the power of appointments to the two commissions among both houses of the Legislature, the Supreme Court, and the State Bar, in addition to the governor. It should be effectively impossible for any person or group to exercise undue influence over all those bodies.

Initially, all judges would be selected essentially the way vacancies are now filled (commission selection of three finalists and appointment by the governor). Judges would be periodically evaluated on the basis of multiple factors, including their knowledge, communication skills, temperament, and work ethic – but explicitly not on the popularity of their decisions or any political considerations.

Those judges who obtain a 75 percent “super-majority” approval by the performance evaluation commission are automatically reappointed (to a maximum of four 6-year terms); those who fail to achieve at least a 50 percent approval are not eligible for re-appointment at all; and those who fall between those approval ratings can choose to apply for reappointment.

The final 2019 draft of the recommendation can be viewed here and was labeled Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 9. The proposal was heard in the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee during the 2019 legislative session, but never proceeded to the floor. (Some think the 2019 proposal should be refined slightly by moving the governor’s two appointments to the initial screening commission and allocating one more to each house of the Legislature. The governor would retain the ultimate choice-of-three, a better allocation of responsibility.)

Judging is a job that should be obtained by meritocracy, not popularity. A standing Judicial Performance Commission, tasked with ongoing monitoring of judicial performance, should conduct a much more thorough – and inherently “fairer” – review than uninformed elections or a bi-annual voluntary survey of lawyers. A great deal of attention was given to creating as corruption-resistant a system as can be devised.

Merit selection is what we already do (half the time)

The reality is that merit selection is already in common, but not universal, practice in Nevada, and it works well. In Clark County – the most populous county – there are currently 52 district court judges (32 civil/criminal division, and 20 family division). Of those, 23 were originally appointed.

The main difference between the two selection processes is that those seeking appointment must complete a thorough application and undergo a rigorous background check and intense interviews by the judiciary, lawyers, and lay members, while those seeking election hand over a filing fee and put up posters.

The appointment process filters out those who are more likely to be problematic in terms of ability or temperament. A brief review of recent scandals leading to the removal or resignation of District Court judges indicate that all of the disgraced judges were elected, rather than appointed. 

This is not “news,” but a longstanding reality. Back in 2010, a Las Vegas Review-Journal article said that surveyed lawyers reported that about 10 percent of the sitting judges were so deficient that they should not remain on the bench. The best way to lower that number would be to make sure dysfunctional judges are not seated to begin with.

Knee-jerk opposition and why it’s hogwash

Every time merit selection is proposed, and even at the one legislative hearing where the 2019 proposal was made, there was the immediate reactionary reflex that “the elites” are trying to “take away the people’s right to vote.” Most of those so claiming have no clue who any judicial candidates are — nor what their qualifications for the job might be. 

In reality, the current system repeatedly leaves judges running unopposed – giving the people no vote or input, and with no significant ongoing review of judicial performance; the newspapers regularly report that few sitting judges face challengers.

Some of those opposing merit selection have their own agendas and interests having nothing to do with the quality of the judiciary. Those that profit off of running (or threatening) campaigns for or against judges are mainly interested in money.

What should be done right now

Nevada blew the opportunity to start making judicial selection smarter as of 2019. Those in the Legislature, or who know a legislator, should do what they can to make sure a proposal to implement merit selection is ready to introduce at the very start of the session of 2021. Meantime, there are steps that can and should be taken to demonstrate why this is a good plan.

The best single move that could be made in the absence of legislation is to set up a Judicial Evaluation Commission. Ideally, this is something that could be created (and funded) out of existing judicial structures (and budgets).

Yes, it will have a bark, but no bite – set up as an administrative function of the judiciary, it will be able to announce its findings, but that information will simply be given to the voting public. That situation, however, would still be a huge improvement over the current near-lack of meaningful information in judicial races. If it works as intended, it will address the kind of complaints relating to the alleged lack of review of judicial action and behavior, and displace the need for the sometimes-maligned “Judging the Judges” surveys.

Developing appropriate metrics and formats for meaningfully reviewing judicial “performance” is likely to take time, and there will be two further sets of judicial elections before a merit selection system can get through two sessions of the Legislature and a vote by the public, as is necessary for enactment. (Constitutional amendments may be proposed in either house of the Legislature. Amendments proposed by the Legislature must be approved by a majority of the members of both houses in two consecutive regular sessions. The amendment must then be ratified by a majority of voters.)

The time to start that work is now – we might end up electing judges a bit more intelligently in the meantime, and if the information is useful, it will demonstrate the utility of the performance evaluations.

During this interim period, consideration should be given to whether the role of such a commission could or should be expanded, while elections remain in place, and to do what the American Bar Association does at the federal level – issue a “Well Qualified,” “Qualified,” or “Not Qualified” review of candidates for judicial office as part of service to the public. The process would be much like that now conducted by the Judicial Selection Commission, and might displace some of the “pay-to-play” endorsement organizations now in place that inherently corrupt the process.

If, as is likely, the public follows the recommendations given in the elections between now and the vote on enacting a full merit selection system, the ongoing existence of the Performance Commission could be used as an argument for the conversion to the merit/appointment system.

In conclusion

Eliminating judicial elections would remove money and campaigning from the job of being a judge, go a long way toward minimizing certain corrupting influences, and greatly improve the quality of time spent by those on the bench as well. Those appointed could simply “be” judges, rather than “running for judge.”

Merit selection will probably involve lawyers being more directly involved in examining, vetting, and nominating judges. This is not a bad thing. As put with far more eloquence than I have exhibited here quite a long time ago: 

“I cannot believe that a republic could subsist at the present time if the influence of lawyers in public business did not increase in proportion to the power of the people.” 

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835-1840.

Those fixated on ensuring that “the people” select judges at the first instance – no matter how uninformed that selection – unwisely elevate process over product. Most people tend to be concerned with judicial ability and integrity only when their fortune, their freedom, or their family rests in the discretion of a judge, at which time it is much too late. 

Justice is too important to be left to the largely random selection of the current election process. It can and should be made much smarter, and that is best achieved by creating a system of judicial selection by merit.

Marshal S. Willick, Esq. is the principal of the Willick Law Group, a Las Vegas family law firm.  He can be reached at Marshal@WillickLawGroup.com

The harsh reality of living on the streets

The Courtyard shelter building

By Diana Diaz 

After hearing the proposed new homeless ordinance, I was feeling every emotion in the book. Happy that I’m off the streets; sad for the friends I know are still homeless; upset at the City of Las Vegas for proposing a measure that will not fix the homelessness problem. 

I spent most of the last two years homeless, bouncing from shelter to shelter, in the streets and in extended stay suites. I was evicted in September 2017, after losing my job at McDonalds where I was making $8.25 an hour despite having a college degree. It wasn’t until August of this year that my situation changed. 

The city claims they are only trying to help the homeless find resources, but making sleeping on the streets illegal if beds are not available is proof that the city doesn’t understand what happens at shelters. The shelters just give you the runaround, and one can never get the help one really needs. The beds available to single women are very few, and even if they are available, it is for a very short term. 

At the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, there are fewer beds for women than there are for men, and if you’re not addicted to drugs then they only let you stay for seven days. At Catholic Charities, only men receive housing and have access to showers. At The Shade Tree, I had to wait 90 days to get a bed, as they focus on families and domestic abuse victims. The time limit at various shelters is different, but resources for single women are limited; it is another problem that no one talks about. 

Ultimately, I chose to go my own way by sleeping outside of a church and only resorting to going to the shelters for food when my food stamps ran out. Eating at the shelters creates its own issues, though. The conditions are so un-hygenic that people get sick with bad infections. (I once saw someone drop food on the floor and then pick it up and serve it.) The Courtyard was the other place I would go to try to get a shaded place to rest, but that was still difficult because you would only stay cool in the shade and vegetate in the heat. There was no way to get clean at the Courtyard; the bathrooms were not clean, and you can even find needles in them. Often times, if I didn’t have to go to the “Homeless Campus”, I would completely avoid it and just go to the park and read. 

The city needs to provide better solutions to the homeless population in the city, many of whom are people who don’t actively try to get beds at a shelter because they have been given the runaround by every shelter in Las Vegas and at some point sleeping on the streets becomes easier. The solutions include giving people vouchers for housing and utilities and also providing more affordable housing. 

The city also needs to help prevent homelessness by having fair eviction laws. In the past when facing eviction, I tried reaching out to Clark County Social Services but they couldn’t help me without proof of income — and when the 90-day wait period passed to receive the help, I had been evicted by then. There are too many hoops people need to go through to receive basic help. We need to vote in people who actually care about people and about providing real solutions for real change.

It ain’t right: Truckee River’s vagrant camps

Truckee River at sunset

By Bruce Parks

I’ve spent many wonderful hours fly-fishing our beautiful Truckee River. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time volunteering on Truckee River clean-ups: removing drug syringes, human feces, and ridiculously large piles of toxic trash. 

These items were not left by other fly fishermen or family picnics. They were put there by illegal, homeless-by-choice squatters, criminals, and drug addicts. This dangerous group has LESS than no interest in “homeless services” because they have no interest in changing their lifestyles. A toothbrush and a pair of socks from self-congratulatory, uninformed do-gooders is not what they want. They just want to be left alone to hide behind the “homeless” label and pursue self-destructive, parasitic lifestyles with no interference from the Reno Police. Sadly, our cops are giving them exactly what they’re asking for. The illegal, riverfront squatters care nothing about this community. They care nothing about the river they’re polluting — the river that supplies 85 percent of the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of us.

For some reason, the Reno Police and City Council allow this riverfront situation to continue and worsen. For some reason, the Sparks Police and City Council do NOT allow this situation on their part of the river. I spent some time thinking about this discrepancy, and came to two conclusions:

• It ain’t right.

• I don’t get it.

It Ain’t Right

It ain’t right how the neighboring cities of Reno and Sparks receive such different results from their two police departments. Both departments are tasked with enforcing the same laws on the same part of the Truckee River. Both police departments are dealing with the same criminal/vagrant population. The taxpayers of both cities pay their police force the same amount to keep their citizens and water source safe. But the results are NOT the same.

Reno’s riverfront areas are fouled with filth and crime and are unusable. Sparks’ riverfront area is much cleaner, safer and more usable. One city is getting its money’s worth from its police force. One city is not.

I Don’t Get It

I don’t understand why the Reno Police and City Council have let the illegal river camps get so out of control that I need to carry a .45 when I go fly-fishing. I don’t understand why, year after year, the Reno City Council and police leadership let this problem worsen and STILL get re-elected and maintain their jobs.

My career in the military, especially my years in combat zones, taught me that there’s a difference between “right” and “wrong.”  It taught me that any problem can be fixed, but it requires personal accountability. By ANY way of figuring, Reno’s riverfront squatters’ camps are “wrong.”  Many people are being well-paid to fix this problem and are not getting the job done. Their ineffectiveness is seriously endangering the community’s future. The people responsible need to be held accountable for resolving this problem immediately, or they need to be replaced. 

Bruce Parks, is a Sparks resident and avid fly fisherman. He retired from the U.S. Army after 20+ years as an aircraft mechanic, nuclear/biological /chemical operations specialist, and combat veteran. He is a member of American Patriots of Sparks, Nevada. 

Are microschools the future of schooling?

A pre-k student writing sample

By Don Soifer

Forward-thinking education leaders have for years been heralding disruptive innovations that hold promise to lead us beyond the same “factory school” classroom models that have been prevalent and largely unchanged across America for over a century.

Frustration with the slow rate of progress in improving student outcomes in America’s public education system is not new: The landmark “A Nation at Risk” report that documented large-scale gaps in student proficiency in core subjects was published more than 35 years ago. In Nevada, slow-crawling gains in student proficiency and various pressures from constant population growth cause many families to search for different answers.

Will a proliferation of new microschools offer a better solution for a new generation of students? A growing community within education believes they just might.

What is a microschool?  While strict definitions are not common, microschools are typically described with these characteristics:

·      A microschool generally serves fewer than 25 students and has only a minimal administrative staff, holding down costs.

·      A microschool can convene in a home or alternate setting and can be organized as a public charter school, a private school, or a homeschooling co-op. 

Microschool models vary, and their particular appeal depends on the diverse needs of different learners. Small, intimate learning environments are a strong attractor for some children who struggle in large schools and crowded classrooms. Some learners and their families prefer greater opportunities for outside-the-classroom learning experiences, combined with increased scheduling flexibility. Other families see benefits in a temporary alternative when learning circumstances elsewhere feel less-than-optimal, perhaps as the result of a bullying problem or a teacher who is sub-par or just not the best match.

Once they get used to a microschool setting, many students come to relish being able to learn at their own pace rather than sitting in a bigger classroom where teachers “teach to the middle” of a classroom of students with different learning trajectories. In what has become a golden age of education technology and software offerings, where vast choices of online instructional tools – programs that constantly adapt to students’ answers to meet students “where they are” in their learning – are available while affordable, new possibilities emerge constantly. Big, textbook-publishing monopolies have given way to seemingly infinite choices that can be aligned to state content standards.

Leveraging technology for classroom content is often a central component to microschools, but not always. It is understandable that reasonable parents sometimes raise questions about whether potential negatives of increased screen time will outweigh educational benefits for their children. Montessori and Waldorf education are two popular examples of ways microschooling can support teaching and learning in vibrant fashion without technology in the classroom.

“Blended learning” in classrooms that involve computers in providing instruction has been a popular trend in public and private education for many years now — the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 even included definitions for blended learning in education law for the first time.

To realize the potential of blended classrooms, supporting our teachers with tools, strategies and timely, actionable information on student progress is crucial to success. 

Proponents and practitioners emphasize that positioning students to “own their learning” is the essential difference between the passive classroom learning of the last century and the active learning required of the next one. 

Will microschools be our next emerging school model?

To be certain, microschools are still in the “early adopters” phase. The most well-known examples, including Acton Academies and Wildflower Schools in several states along with promising schools in New York City, Washington, DC, Providence, St. Louis and elsewhere, still comprise the smallest of market shares.

In Arizona, more than 40 Prenda microschools serving some 550 students present a fast-growing model which may be well on its way to establishing itself as a national leader. Most of these microschools exist though partnership agreements with public charter schools and with the Mesa Public School district; families can opt for their children to participate in established public school models but also in small groups in supervised home settings. Prenda’s organization utilizes learning coaches who are trained and supported through their company network along with customized curricular and instructional approaches.

In Nevada, the Ruby Mountain Acton Academy in Elko, a private school which may be more accurately described as a cooperative homeschooling arrangement, is the first established microschool. Rural families in other states also have an interest in microschool models.

Microschools can be organized as public charter schools, private schools, or homeschooling arrangements. Whether they emerge as viable schooling solutions will likely have a lot to do with the constraints and challenges within each governance model. For charter schools, a combination of economics and regulatory requirements present substantial hurdles for microschools’ small size. Nevada’s stringent regulatory requirements for private schools also pose compliance challenges. Cooperative homeschool arrangements have fewer such obstacles.

As Nevada’s K-12 education sector works to overcome its present challenges, microschooling may be a solution that makes sense.

Don Soifer is president of Nevada Action for School Options, a nonprofit organization based in Las Vegas.