On proposed $1.9 billion domed football stadium, a local critic remains on the sidelines

The cheering had barely subsided at the Clark County Government Center, but Don Murphy wasn’t among those joining in the political tailgate party that takes place whenever the proposed $1.9 billion domed football stadium project is on the commission agenda.

The commission voted Sept. 6 to continue to move forward with the stadium that will serve as a new home for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020 despite an obvious lack of sufficient parking and an analysis that reads like a sitcom script.  This time even Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, the project’s only consistent critic on the county board, joined the elected cheer squad led from the first day by gubernatorial aspirant and Chairman Steve Sisolak.

Most locals didn’t need further proof, but the vote was more evidence that the stadium project -- despite the challenges of the selected site -- is pressing forward at full throttle. Its use of $750 million in public financing via room-tax revenues makes it the most generous gift to an NFL franchise on record. And, I’ll speculate, the giving has only begun despite the provisions codified in the enabling funding legislation, Senate Bill 1.

Murphy, meanwhile, isn’t waving pennants and pompoms. He remains entrenched on the sidelines. Although he might not find many in the business community willing to speak up with him these days, he suspects he’s not alone. As a strategic advisor for charismatic philanthropist and real estate developer Fred Nassiri, Murphy has studied the winning stadium proposal with a critical eye and has concluded neither the financing nor the promised economic impact adds up. And its location creates almost as many problems as it solves.

Of course, he knows some will write off his skepticism as sour grapes. Nassiri in December saw his own stadium plan passed over. It was designed for his land near the Blue Diamond Road interchange south of the winning site, which enjoys superior road infrastructure, ample space for parking, and no flood channel running through it.

It also lacked the undying affection enjoyed by the winning site.

But that’s just one of the mysteries associated with the stadium obsession, which has continued to move forward despite the departure of its early promoters, real estate developer Ed Roski and casino king Sheldon Adelson. It’s hard to imagine either wily mogul missing any deal, much less this one. That is, if it’s actually a moneymaker.

Murphy has serious doubts the Raiders will be able to service their financial obligations after the team’s honeymoon ends.

“I seriously question their ability to service the debt with the facility structure and issues that they’re going to have,” Murphy says. “... I don’t think anyone is opposed to bringing the Raiders here. I just think that the autonomy that has been given without careful fiduciary oversight and due diligence has by the state should be more closely examined.”

That view sounds like a lot of armchair quarterbacking and needless fretting to the stadium’s elected and appointed promoters, who like to talk about all the public meetings that have taken place and all the professional analysis and due diligence that’s been conducted.

Perhaps it’s the thick air of inevitability that hovers over the project that has Murphy’s eyes watering. No issue seems too large to change the mind of anyone in authority. The deal is done.

Laughable lack of parking? No problem.

Millions in road and infrastructure improvements needed? Get the checkbook.

Flood channel apparently no expert saw before the site was selected? Hey, these things happen.

Questionable transparency in the Raiders’ financing of the deal? Nothing to see here. Let’s move along.

Murphy was raised in Las Vegas, where it’s always better to go with the flow of the political juice. Instead, he insists the numbers used in the financial analysis inflate the upside enough to float a halftime blimp. Once the enthusiasm subsides, the numbers are real and will be used to prop up a stadium in a community with myriad other needs.

“Economic and financial sustainability are the biggest qualifiers for an investment of this type and this magnitude,” he says. “... A  billion dollars-plus is a substantial amount of money, especially when you look at the impact one-tenth of that could have elsewhere.”

Then, in a moment of poetic understatement, he adds, “I just think there’s a discussion that’s not taking place.”

Or maybe it’s just being drowned out by all the cheerleading.

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

 

Recall campaign propaganda is false, hypocritical and dangerous

If a lawmaker promised not to raise taxes and then pushed through the largest one in history, that might be grounds for a recall.

If a lawmaker took a job with a lobbying firm that has three dozen clients covering a wide spectrum of interests he has to vote on, that might be grounds for a recall.

If a lawmaker held onto a six-figure, taxpayer-funded sinecure at an institution overseen by the Legislature, that might be grounds for a recall.

I say might be because those are all fairly egregious actions by elected officials, and many voters might well sign petitions to recall them. I happen to think recalls based on those facts would be an abuse of the recall process, which should be reserved for blatant malfeasance or unethical behavior.

But each of the legislators described above -- GOP state Sens. Michael Roberson, Ben Kieckhefer and Heidi Gansert -- are more worthy of recall petitions than the lawmakers that partisan trio and their supporters are going after in an attempt to overturn the results of past elections.

I was reminded of this ongoing travesty, concomitant cowardice and sad hypocrisy as a new mail piece surfaced in the effort overseen by one or more attorneys at GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison’s law firm. The mailer is not only redolent with distortions, but it also is synecdoche for Roberson & Co’s. overall 2018 plan to scare white voters with visions of marauding undocumented residents threatening their very lives -- and defeat the Democrats who would enable them.

If the recalls succeed, it will be a sad precedent that surely will cause Democrats to dismount their high horses and redirect their high dudgeon to employ the same noxious tactic. There but for the grace of timing goes your recall.

If the strategy prevails to drive up the white vote by using “sanctuary cities” and “criminal aliens” the same way Donald Trump did in 2016, to dog-whistle to racist ears with execrable tactics and thus elect The Three Amigos (Roberson for lieutenant governor, Adam Laxalt for governor and Dean Heller for Senate) in a GOP wave, Nevada will have sunk to a new nadir.

As I have pointed out, the only reason these recall petitions against state Sens. Joyce Woodhouse, Patty Farley and Nicole Cannizzaro have been filed is because the 2018 map is so unfavorable to the GOP Senate caucus. That is, they cannot take control of a house the Democrats hold, 12-9, without using this (or some other) outrageous ploy, so hypocritical mail pieces flood those three districts. They are but rhetorical masks designed to confuse, frighten or anger voters.

Let’s take the latest mailer against Cannizzaro.

First, Roberson & Co. telegraph their unseriousness by including a picture of the senator in a baseball cap. (Psst, she’s frivolous.) Really?

Second, they raise an issue about her husband being a lobbyist (for labor), which repeats a campaign attack from 2016 that did not work. This also is laughable because her husband is virtually unknown as an advocate while Kieckhefer works for one of the state’s most influential lobbying firms (McDonald Carano), Gansert is employed by UNR and Roberson’s Carson City office is a sanctuary for Las Vegas Sands lobbyists. Now those are some eyebrow-raising conflicts.

Third, the piece appeals to voters who Roberson & Co. evidently consider to be morons by telling them the Constitution “gives citizens the right to remove elected officials for any reason.” Indeed, recalls in Nevada do not have a malfeasance test (they should). But this argument that “just because it’s constitutional, it is right” is misleading and mendacious. It’s also perfectly legal for a lawmaker to be employed by a lobbying firm or a university (although this has yet to be adjudicated), but does that make it kosher?

Fourth, the piece cherry picks one bill to accuse Cannizzaro, known as a tough prosecutor, to be soft on crime, and then this: “When her liberal colleagues proposed legislation to create sanctuary cities for criminal aliens, Cannizzaro failed to join law enforcement in publicly opposing this dangerous legislation.”

There is so much wrong with that beyond the obvious attempt to sensationalize “sanctuary cities,” which the Department of Justice and Gov. Brian Sandoval have said is a non-issue in Nevada.

Roberson & Co. were hamstrung because Cannizzaro did not sign onto the measure, which never got a hearing after future attorney general hopeful Aaron Ford, the Senate Democratic leader, killed it, even though it did not do what the Republicans said it did. So the GOP Three can now only accuse her of not loudly bleating about it the way Roberson (no other lawmaker engaged in hysterics) on an almost daily basis as part of his session-long campaign to make people forget he acted like a tax-happy Democrat in 2015.

What’s more, the history cited in the mailer is false: Law enforcement repeatedly said officers routinely, as a matter of policy, were not used by ICE to find undocumented residents; they simply worried about the feds using the proposed law to cut off millions in funding. Period.

The description also is incendiary by using the term “criminal aliens,” which is not what the measure was about at all. But Roberson & Co. are counting on voters not doing what most lawmakers did not do: Read the bill.

The problem for Democrats here and elsewhere is their messaging on so-called sanctuary cities has been awful or inept. The term has become generally accepted and is code for the worst Trumpian portraits of undocumented residents, as if most are lawbreakers.

Even though their “Decline to Sign” campaign has mobilized local and national resources, the Democrats also have to be worried that they are only drawing more attention to a well-organized and well-funded trio of recall campaigns. They didn’t have much choice, but it still may not be a cure for what is happening.

Roberson & Co. know this, which is why as recently as Saturday the senator tweeted about a California bill limiting local police cooperation with federal officers and commented: “Will Nevada be next? Not if I have anything to say about it.” He then linked to the initiative that he announced during the session, which no one except political opportunists and ignorant voters believe is necessary. (The argument that it is needed because “the Democrats might try to pass a law again” is easily debunked by the reductio ad absurdum that such propositions are nearly infinite on both sides.)

Of course, if Roberson really cared about doing something about the clear and present danger of “sanctuary cities,” I doubt he would be running for the clear and useless job of lieutenant governor. But he and Laxalt and Heller (and, I fear, others) know it is a voter-mobilization issue, one that will potentially increase white voter turnout.

Roberson & Co. are being aided and abetted by the likes of Stephen Silberkraus, an ex-assemblyman who was like the high schooler ousted from the cool kids group in 2016 and who spent the 2017 session dolefully wandering the hallways looking for a way back into the club. His decision to front the Woodhouse recall, attack her on tax increases after he voted for the largest one in history and hide from the media shows just how desperate he is for the powers that be to let him play in the GOP sandbox again.

The other collaborator is Carrie Buck, a charter school principal who lost fair and square to Woodhouse and now is trying to use the recall to reverse that election. Setting a fine example for her students, she, too, is hiding from questions about her role in subverting this process.

Indeed this entire episode, whether or not the recalls work, will tarnish anyone involved and blackening will be indelible. This is not about “sanctuary cities” or tax increases; it is about setting a dangerous precedent and a permanent campaign.

We should learn before the end of the year who is funding these efforts. If they are honest on the disclosure forms -- and they are all honorable men and women -- it will be interesting to see who has donated.

I would be surprised if the usual GOP major donor suspects are directly involved because they must realize how quixotic these are and that hell hath no fury like a Democratic senator not recalled. (My guess is national groups that received contributions from GOP donors with Las Vegas Boulevard South addresses will show up on the donation forms.)

The real tell, to use poker argot, is that Roberson & Co. have lurked in the shadows and some GOP senators still haven’t talked about the recalls.  Ask yourself this: If the cause is so righteous, why are these paragons of virtue so reluctant to talk about it?

Cowardice is nothing new in politics, just as familiar as the dissembling in these campaigns. But there is a lot more at stake here than a few legislative seats or even control of Carson City.

This is about whether a group of ruthless hypocrites are going to be rewarded for perverting the recall process and employing racist and phony appeals to execute their plan. No matter what the outcome, they should be offered no sanctuary.

Jon Ralston is the editor of The Nevada Independent. He has been covering Nevada politics for more than 30 years. Contact him at ralston@thenvindy.com. On Twitter: @ralstonreports

Some questions about and for 2018 gubernatorial contenders

Nevada governors are rarely ideologues.

Take the last 35 years. Of the five chief executives, only one could claim to be a true conservative or true liberal. That was Republican Jim Gibbons, who ran against then-state Sen. Dina Titus. (He was also the only one-termer among them.)

Richard Bryan and Bob Miller were seen as moderate Democrats, and Kenny Guinn and Brian Sandoval as middle-of-the-road Republicans. It’s not hard to figure out why: campaigning is easy; governing is hard.

All except Gibbons, whose governorship was a disaster, probably would agree with what Sandoval recently told journalist Steve Sebelius about how he would describe how has governed: “….it’s someone who’s pragmatic, somebody who does their homework, somebody who is a solutions person, somebody who cares deeply about people.”

As the 2018 governor’s race already has begun, it’s worth noting this history, especially because none of the prospective candidates have comprehensive records on issues that have confronted and will confront them should they get the privilege of living in that big house on Mountain Street in Carson City.

We have a pure conservative, Attorney General Adam Laxalt, and a pure liberal, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, poised to enter the contest. And we have a moderate Democrat, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, and a maverick Republican, Treasurer Dan Schwartz, already having announced their candidacies. (Remember, no one is “in” the race until he or she files next March.)

History says Sisolak most fits the profile of a Nevada governor. But I give Laxalt a slight edge over the other three (for now) because of his superb political positioning skills and the money backing him, including Las Vegas Review-Journal owner Sheldon Adelson. Laxalt, should he defeat Schwartz, also will be facing a Clark County commissioner in the general election and, as Harry Reid once unsuccessfully argued to his son, Rory, (see 2010) that’s a boneyard for statewide ambitions because of the local government political cesspool and the ease of pay-to-play perceptions.

No pure progressive has been elected Nevada governor, but Giunchigliani signaled last week she will be running. And if she can raise enough money, she could well defeat Sisolak in that primary, just as Titus erased a Sisolakian figure, then-Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, in the 2006 gubernatorial primary.

I don’t know of too many people who give Schwartz much of a chance against Laxalt, whose conservative bonafides are unimpeachable. But the treasurer has personal wealth and doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks, which could be dangerous in a low-turnout primary in June.

Even Sandoval, whom historians likely will rate as one of Nevada’s greatest governors, campaigned in dark red to defeat Gibbons in 2010 but governed in purple (raising taxes but arguing for school choice and vetoing other Democratic priorities) after reality bit upon moving into the mansion.

Nevada has changed since Sandoval was elected and certainly since Bryan became governor nearly three and a half decades years ago. Laxalt won his race four years ago by minimizing losses in the two urban counties and dominating Ross Miller, Bob’s son, in rural Nevada. That’s an unprecedented feat, unlikely to be repeated next year.

What has not changed in Nevada, though, is that what happens in Elko is very different from what happens in Reno, which is very different from what happens in Vegas. Sandoval can talk about One Nevada, but there are still three Nevadas, and gubernatorial candidates will often tell different stories while campaigning in each.

That’s where we come in.

The quartet of candidates in the most important race next year will make all kinds of claims about what label they deserve and what they will do if elected. But there are ways of fleshing out just how conservative or liberal they are, just how captive they are to certain constituencies and just how pragmatic -- i.e. Sandovalian -- they will be.

Here are 10 questions (there are others, too) each candidate should have to answer, and sooner rather than later:

  1. Do you support the 2015 tax increase, the largest in state history, proposed by Sandoval and passed by large majorities in both houses of the Legislature?
  2. Do you support the state’s right-to-work law, or should it be repealed?
  3. Do you believe members of the public sector should be allowed to serve in the Legislature, or is this a violation of separation of powers? (The let-the-courts-decide dodge is not an option here.)
  4. Do you believe that providing tax incentives to companies to move to Nevada, as was done with Tesla and others, is good policy?
  5. Do you support the measure by which $750 million in public money was diverted to build a stadium for the Raiders?
  6. Do you support a ballot question to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in Nevada, and why or why not?
  7. Do you support reviving the Education Savings Account program, and with how much money and what revisions, if any?
  8. Do you believe in mandating that candidates disclose all of their contributions in real-time – or close to it – and would you propose a bill to do so?
  9. How do you feel about three prominent social issues of our day: gay marriage, abortion, transgender rights?
  10. Do you support the pharmaceutical transparency bill signed by Sandoval last session, and if it is struck down by the courts, will you propose another one in 2019?

It doesn’t matter what they call themselves as the race gets underway. Nevada’s gubernatorial contenders should have to answer questions about where they stand on pressing issues, without being permitted to dodge. They owe it to the voters.

Our reporters will ask difficult questions, and I assume other media outlets will, too. It’s the only way to let voters know where the candidates stand – or claim to stand – no matter what their campaign ads say.

 

Keep government’s hand light, and let Northern Nevada grow organically

So Amazon.com is looking for a second headquarters – and there is some buzz that Northern Nevada should try to be that “HQ2.”  As nice as it would be to become truly known as a tech-business hub instead of Fozzie Bear’s post-career hell, I wouldn’t want our government to give away the kinds of tax “incentives” (read: Other People’s Money Giveaways) that Amazon will probably try to wheedle out of whichever town winds up hosting them.

Plus, I’ve lived in Seattle, and moved away from there for a reason. I worry about absorbing the numbers of people who would work at such a major corporate headquarters, but I’m even more worried about absorbing too much of their culture. You think home prices and rents are out of control now…

~~~

Our housing market is going crazy here in Reno. We just sold our family home, and it was like feeding a legless pig to starving piranhas, but definitely paid more than we would have just a few years ago for new digs. Builders are continuing to build housing developments as fast as they can to keep up, local unemployment is low, and plenty of people are making lots of money.

Enter the government to “fix” things.

Reno City Councilman Paul McKenzie, in a meeting earlier this summer, demanded the city’s lawyers explore legal options for rent control. Some citizens are piling on, determine to stem the “greed” of landlords and housing developers.

Like all ideas of socialists, government price caps sound like a great idea as long as you don’t live in the real world. Rent control is great for renters, but terrible for people who are willing to buy, maintain, manage, and rent out properties to those renters. If owning apartments isn’t profitable, naturally people will neither build nor invest in them, which means fewer apartments to rent, which means fewer options for renters and less incentive to keep apartments that do exist kept up.

Indeed, McKenzie’s mere comments already have (according to McKenzie himself) caused rents to increase (while they still can, apparently), and poured some cold water into the veins of developers.

Oops.

Is there anything more destructive than ill-considered “compassion” from government officials?

~~~

I want affordable housing in my city, and while I hope we continue to grow, develop, and diversify our local economy. But too much government “help” will only make that growth destructive to itself. I don’t want bribes of tax credits to bring in companies our infrastructure can’t sustain, but just as foolish is disincentivizing businesses who (yes, to make money) are creating the goods and services people want and need more of.

To her great credit, Mayor Hillary Schieve seems to understand this, arguing that in a growing city, developers are critical partners to success, not villains to attack to curry favor with voters on the political left. In the long term, letting the free market work creates more wealth, prosperity, and opportunity for all of our citizens (even those struggling to pay rent) than all the price control or forced wealth redistribution in the world.

Let Reno and Northern Nevada grow organically. Government can and should create conditions that foster private development and wealth creation, tearing down unnecessary barriers to production. Let’s build more houses. Keep taxes – and more importantly, regulations – as low as possible (but not less!), so all companies large and small, not just the politically connected who can lobby for special legislation, feel welcomed.

Let’s build public schools faster, without letting union bosses artificially inflate construction costs. Let’s be more ready to approve site plans for schools of all kinds, public, private, and charter, so that these new neighborhoods have neighborhood schools kids can walk to.

Then the Amazons can come be profitable on their own, in a city where their employees – and all the rest of us – can thrive on our own terms.

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 deputy district attorney for Carson City. His opinions here are his own. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

With pending settlement, a proud military man could again serve his country, this time in spirit

Like so many members of his great generation, World War II veteran Charlie Demos Sr. served his country with enormous pride.

He was a member of the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps at the outset of a legal career that spanned six decades, much of that time in Florida, before his 2010 retirement. He resettled in Nevada, where he eventually took up residence at the State Veterans Home in bucolic Boulder City.

Even in retirement, Demos remained active as a bon vivant and two-term resident president at the veterans home, delivering a spirited keynote speech to the group in May 2013. A mind sharpened by so many years of practicing law remained bright. He loved playing chess and talking politics.

And, his family would tell you, he loved to be called Charlie. It suited his sunny, outgoing personality.

“When Charlie walked into the room, those in his company felt energy, an enthusiastic spontaneity,” a Demos family remember recalled. “... Charlie was a clever and gregarious person who always sought out the finest attributes in other people. It was as if Charlie wanted to share all of their experiences, revel in their lives and celebrate their discoveries."

Although it’s always jarring when a truly spirited person goes silent, his death in April 2015 wasn’t really a surprise. He was 88 and battled medical maladies. His family grieved but celebrated the remarkable life of the Greek kid from New Jersey who lived most of a century.

It was only after his death that the family discovered that legionella bacterium, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, was present in the veterans home’s water system and that Charlie had tested positive.

It was the first time the Boulder City home, which enjoys a top rating, had tested positive for legionella. Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, however, have plagued VA hospitals and facilities across the country. The disease, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms and is particularly harmful to the elderly and medically fragile, has killed veterans in Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Elected officials in nearly every jurisdiction afflicted have accused VA officials of being slow to act and even covering up the presence of the disease at hospitals and other care facilities.

There was no evidence of a widespread outbreak, and a top official at the home fiercely defended the facility. But the Demos family sued, and the lawsuit was important even if the Boulder City facility wasn’t yet considered an egregious offender.

With thousands of veterans moving to Nevada each year to work and retire, VA facilities at both ends of the state are only going to experience greater stress in the coming years. Given that reality, the Demos death provided an opportunity to improve the system. That’s how i perceived it early 2016 when I began asking questions about the Demos case.

Democratic Congresswoman Dina Titus, long a veterans advocate in the House, raised the issue publicly. The death of Charlie Demos would either provide a learning opportunity for Nevada’s VA system, or -- as one of former Rep. Joe Heck’s staffers perceived it -- be written off as politics. Of course, politics didn’t prevent Heck from posing for pictures with proud veteran Charlie Demos.

Thankfully, the state Board of Examiners also appears to be taking it seriously. According to its agenda, the board on Tuesday is scheduled to consider a $750,000 settlement with the Estate of Charles Demos, et al.

Given Demos’ advanced age, some may consider that figure excessive. Others will think of the aging veterans in their own families and want to double down on any lesson that improves the system and protects those who have served.

In that light, proud veteran Charlie Demos continues to serve his country in spirit. And that idea surely would have made him mighty proud.

 

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Slammed for using LVCVA personnel as drivers, Goodman strikes back at Adelson

The Las Vegas Legends breakfast is usually a lighthearted affair.

Held every few months at the Omelet House on West Charleston Boulevard, dozens of longtime locals gather to talk about the Las Vegas they knew, and normally the heaviest topics of discussion at the table are the enormous egg dishes served up by owner Kevin Mills and his staff.

Friday morning’s event was jammed and as usual began with a lot of handshakes and hugs. The politics were playful despite the presence of so many current and former elected officials and candidates for public office. The crowd was, to say the least, diverse with pig farmer Bob Combs and former Meyer Lansky associate Bernie Sindler entertaining old friends and a few newcomers.

Then it was former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s turn to speak. A longtime mob attorney who managed to transform himself into a popular local politician before again morphing into a martini-sipping mascot for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Goodman was recently shellacked in a front-page article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The story called him out for using security staff as designated drivers for many of his public appearances. (That ain’t Voss water in Goodman’s enormous martini glass, pal. It’s Bombay Sapphire.)

The newspaper is, of course, owned by multibillionaire casino titan and political kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, who views the LVCVA as competition for his behemoth convention business. It’s a point noted at the bottom of each of the journalistic skewers the newspaper has run through the convention authority in recent months.

Goodman, 78, wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet during his long legal career in service of accused killers, hoodlums, and mugs known for their colorful nicknames. Nor was he the strong, silent type in three terms as mayor.

So it’s probably not surprising that he wouldn’t let the insult pass. I’ve followed his public life for decades, wrote a book about his career called “Of Rats and Men,” and in all that time I’ve never seen him let a fly go past his nose without swatting at it.

Friday morning found him swatting away at the newspaper, my former employer. (Adelson once sued me into bankruptcy before the lawsuit was dismissed.)

“Good morning, everybody, I’m Oscar Goodman,” he began, “and usually I’m the most optimistic, outgoing person you’d ever want to meet. But I hate the Review-Journal.”

More than a smattering of applause followed, enough to make someone suspect the newspaper still has room for improvement in the community outreach department.

“When you call somebody a liar, you better have your facts in line,” Goodman said, referring to what he considered a misleading headline on the story. “They say, ‘Free rides cost taxpayers.’ Well, I don’t know what taxpayers they’re talking about, probably the Californians, or some people from Arizona, but it doesn’t cost one person in this room one dollar for the monies that the convention authority spends which provides us with a quality of life second to none with the money that comes in we pay for parks, we pay for roads. We pay for schools. We pay for everything. And then comes a real bad fella, a fella with his own personal agenda, a competitor of the convention authority, who uses his newspaper that he bought for his own personal benefit.”

Although he took a swipe at the story’s reporters, he saved the most vitriol for the headline, which he said “stunk.” “The headline was a lie,” Goodman said. “Taxpayers did not pay for one ride that I beckoned since I’ve been working for $72,000 a year on behalf of the convention authority because I love the city.”

He didn’t say he planned to continue the love-fest but start calling Uber, and instead segued into familiar territory about his love of Las Vegas and his morning banter with his wife and sidekick, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. He added that a large percentage of the community benefits from the jobs and dollars generated by the conventions and meetings that meet here each year.

Then it was back to the business of blasting Adelson without exactly naming him.

“To have a person come along who’s a misanthrope. ... it means somebody’s who’s a hater,” Goodman continued. “This guy wakes up in the morning, I just hope his wife is a misanthrope too. ... He gets up in the morning with his agenda to try and hurt this city.”

So much for that lighthearted breakfast.

You don’t have to be a longtime local to recall Goodman has often taken issue with the newspaper. It goes back to his first run for mayor, when an RJ editorial was headlined, “Anybody but Oscar.” He recounted the slight and reminded his fellow breakfasters he rubbed the editors’ nose in it after being named “Most Popular Politician” in the newspaper’s readers’ poll.

From there, the politics gets thicker. Goodman has long suspected Adelson has carried a grudge since the former mayor declined to attend an event at the Adelson-owned Venetian during a Sands’ dispute with organized labor. And it’s not much of a stretch from there to late Sands board member Victor Chaltiel’s failed but well-funded entry into the 2011 mayoral primary won by Carolyn Goodman as a reminder Adelson was still thinking about Team Goodman.

None of that prevented current Mayor Goodman from cooing and fawning over the Adelson-backed, $1.9 billion Las Vegas Raiders stadium proposal, which -- irony alert -- takes advantage of the same gold mine of room-tax dollars that provides the LVCVA’s handsome budget.

You can argue whether Las Vegas needs a martini-swilling mascot dressed in a pinstriped suit and flanked by feathered showgirls. But the revelation that Oscar Goodman drinks gin on the job and then asks for a free ride home ain’t exactly Watergate.

If free rides home constitutes a waste of tax dollars, what’s a new stadium using $750 million of those same tax dollars rate?

As it turns out, mostly favorable coverage.

I suspect this isn’t the last you’ll hear of the Adelson-Goodman dustup.

Maybe they ought to hold those breakfast meetings more often.

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Take Bali Hai, and put up a parking lot: Could this be Billy Walters’ last great Vegas score?

Clark County Government Center

Consummate Las Vegas insider Billy Walters is down, but don’t count him out.

Even though Walters is scheduled to head to prison later this year after an insider trading conviction, he can still make a bundle.

This time, though, the controversial king of Las Vegas sports betting and prince of local political influence hasn’t calculated another clandestine stock hustle or multimillion-dollar plays on a few professional football games. He isn’t even lined up a 30-footer to win $1 million on a private golf match.

From the look of things, Walters’ last great score may come his way like a friendly  pooch begging for a scratch behind the ear. And if it does, he’ll have to thank the community’s obsession with attracting the Oakland Raiders to the Strip at any cost.

An essential strength of any one-in-a-million business wiseguy is an uncanny knack for smelling a score and being in the right place at the right time. This is one of Walters’ most dominant qualities.

That skill is fully illustrated by his long, long-term lease on the land beneath his paradise-like Bali Hai Golf Course and upscale Cili restaurant on Las Vegas Boulevard South next to the Mandalay Bay. The former Bureau of Land Management real estate was steered by Clark County officials to Walters in 2000 with that golf course and restaurant in mind.

Thanks to a laughably loose 99-year lease agreement, Walters paid no rent for a decade. In 2011, with government authorities and even the public beginning to notice the robbery in process, Walters began paying rent in exchange for approval to convert the property into a commercial development. The approval greatly increased the land value at a time golf course profits were flagging nationally.

Talk about impeccable timing. While the 70-year-old Walters is packing in preparation for his 60-month sentence after being convicted of making $42 million in profits and avoided losses by manipulating stock in Dallas-based Dean Foods, the Raiders’ community cheerleaders have begun searching for the 16,250 parking spaces required by county code to accommodate the stadium. And Bali Hai’s handsome 90-acre footprint rests just across Interstate 15 and within easy walking distance of the proposed site of the $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat palace.

Unintentionally humorous news reports have depicted the officials and the Raiders searching near and far -- as much as three miles from the football field -- to come up with sufficient parking. One idea calls for shuttle buses from UNLV, already strapped with its own parking problems, to accommodate the game-day crush.

In a community well known for its behemoth parking structures, the stadium was approved despite just plans that provide for just 2,375 on-site spaces. You may ask yourself why a large parking structure wasn’t included in the plan when it was such an obvious necessity. But your expressed concerns would likely have been drowned out by the roar of the cheerleading emanating from government and business alike.

In an effort to explain the parking dilemma, LV Stadium, LLC hired Kimley Horn and Associates, Inc. to generate a parking justification report that was presented to county officials in July. It noted without a hint of irony that, under the current configuration, the stadium would need “an onsite parking waiver of 85.4 percent.”

The company’s analysts whittled the parking shortfall considerably by noting with some logic that many of those attending a Raiders game would likely be staying on the Strip and would be able to avail themselves of other methods of public and private transportation. Park and ride sites, the monorail, shuttle buses, taxis, limos, Uber and Lyft, many modes were listed. Surely some well-connected community entrepreneur is already linking up a lucrative game-day rickshaw concession.

After analyzing parking at other NFL stadiums, the hired experts surmised that nearly 20,000 football fans will walk to the stadium from their hotels. No, seriously. They think a couple divisions of Vegas visitors are going to use their legs. Let’s just say they may be aiming high.

Then there’s section 6 called the “Bali Hai Parking Option.” Of note: “Approximately 13,000 parking spaces could be provided at the existing Bali Hai Golf Course property.” While even with that parking windfall it wouldn’t meet county code, it would put the goal within striking distance of the acceptable standard.

Should the Bali Hai site make the cut and be chosen, it would mark yet another win for Walters at a property that paid no rent to the county in its first decade in existence thanks to its laughable lease agreement. The potential parking conversion comes at a time the Department of Justice Commercial Litigation Branch is demanding the county pay an estimated $12.4 million in underpaid rent on the property, a figure the county disputes.

Walters’ longtime commission ally Steve Sisolak left no doubt where he stands when he recently told the Review-Journal, “No matter what anyone wants to do with it — if you want to put a parking lot, shopping center, orange grove — you’ve got to buy Bill Walters’ interest in the lease.”

 And, remember, it’s a 99-year lease.

Despite his legal entanglements Walters obviously still has plenty of friends at the county. But I’m guessing Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani isn’t one of them. In 2011, she was one of two votes against allowing Walters to renegotiate his rent agreement.

“He seems to never go away,” Giunchigliani says. “He always gets the benefit of the deal. Never do the taxpayers get the benefit. I think personally we should explore all our options and do our due diligence.”

Does that mean the county should consider litigating Walters?

She says she’s uncertain, “But it sounds like we’re going to end up in a lawsuit with the feds while he potentially wins out again.” (On Friday, The Nevada Independent reported that the DOJ has indeed filed a lawsuit.)

Will they take Bali Hai and put up a parking lot?

If they do, consider it Billy Walters’ last big score.

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Voyager, and that other science project

By Dan Schinhofen

On September 5, 1977, the Voyager 1 space craft set off on a journey that would take it out of our solar system. Man’s first interstellar vehicle was on its way. The scientists and engineers who built Voyager weren’t just thinking about a few planets; rather, they put something out there to let the universe know we are here. They also included a recording of the history of Earth and man as it was known. These scientists didn’t just include American history but also made sure to include culture from the entire planet.

With the most advanced systems of that time, they had Voyager ready to launch in just five years.

During the same year that we, as a nation, reached beyond our solar system, talks were finally getting real about building a National Repository that would satisfy the Federal Government’s pledge to deal with spent nuclear fuel rods.

Congress began hearings and drafted legislation to get the job done. Five years after the talks began, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed by both Houses of Congress. Three sites were initially selected to be studied. Political machinations attempted to scuttle the repository program, and with Congress attempting to salvage the Nuclear Waste Policy Act program, Yucca Mountain in Nye County, Nevada, ended up as the only site to be studied.

For nearly thirty years, tests were conducted, a tunnel was built into the mountain, and a lot of wells were drilled to study the geology and hydrology of the site. Almost $11 billion was spent to follow the law passed in 1982, and amended in 1987, to bring the project into reality.

In 2002, Yucca Mountain was found by the Secretary of Energy to be suitable for the National Repository. Nevada objected, as allowed by law, and that objection was subsequently overturned by Congress.

That is when the real political games started.

From the start of this project, there have been games on both sides. Some believe the 1987 amendments were nothing more than a “Screw Nevada Bill.” And so, in typical political fashion, Nevada created Bullfrog County to ensure that any benefits accrued to the state and not the citizens affected by the repository. It roughly outlined the project site, and there were no people living within its boundaries. Three people who didn't even live in a neighboring county were appointed to the Board of the Bullfrog County Commission.

Fast forward to 2008. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a deal with newly elected President Barack Obama to defund the project entirely, even though the license application was already beginning to make its way through the process. The Department of Energy, under the direction of President Obama, attempted to withdraw the license application from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Their statement as to why was, “It is unworkable.” They didn’t say, even though pressured to do so, “It is not safe,” as none of their scientists would stand behind such a misstatement.

The state of Nevada has continued with its constant lawsuits and challenges -- and has been overruled at every point. Federal courts have ruled that the state’s rights issue is no issue at all, as the government has every right to do what it wants on federal lands, including storing commercial nuclear waste, and that as such, Yucca was in no way an infringement of the state’s rights. It has become clear, though, that current Attorney General Adam Laxalt will again try to bring the state's rights argument back to the forefront.

After spending more than $50 million on lawsuits since 2002, maybe it is time for the state of Nevada to finally let the law play out, and most importantly, hear what the science says about Yucca Mountain. The national labs, scientists of the same caliber as the guys that built an interstellar space craft in five years, all agreed that the science is sound. The staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also believe the science is sound, so now all we have left is for the Commission to conduct the meetings and hear all of the evidence that has been collected over 30 years, for which taxpayers have paid nearly $11 billion.

Many times during the flight of the Voyager missions, critics thought catastrophe was going to strike. But the NASA scientists believed in their mission and stayed with it all these years. In August of 2012, they got to see their creation pass out of our solar system and into the vast reaches of interstellar space.

All of those teams that worked on the Yucca Mountain project and gave their careers to it, for the most part, are still around answering the same questions they answered 25 years ago.

While I am enjoying the historic 40th anniversary of the Voyager mission, I am also considering the national security mission to store and possibly reprocess spent fuel rods as our legal and moral duty. Five years to launch an interstellar spacecraft. Thirty-five years... and still just talking about building a nuclear waste repository.

To all those brave men and women who undertook both of these engineering tasks, I, along with millions of Americans, thank you.

To the political leaders who have done nothing but stand in the way instead of dealing with this important national security issue, it is past time to do your job. Allow the law you passed to be followed so that we, as a nation, can once again believe that when the government makes a promise and passes a law, they do mean to follow it. 

Dan Schinhofen is the Chairman of the Board of Nye County Commissioners.

Diversity and options in education = net gains for kids on every rung of the ladder

A magnetic white board with the letters a, b, and c being moved slightly by a hand

In one of my early columns for this publication, I wrote about a Reno City Council meeting’s hearing on whether to approve a site plan for a proposed charter school in my neighborhood. While all politicians claim to be pro-education, the reality of their votes is that we still suffer from a cultural inertia that gives too little thought to the importance of a well-schooled populace. The Council capriciously declined to approve the application, unnecessarily condemning hundreds of kids in South Reno to overcrowded classrooms and overwhelmed teachers for years to come.

Fortunately, the school in question, Doral Academy of Northern Nevada, persisted. They found another site plan just outside the city limits, where ground will be broken in November. And in the meantime, they partnered with a nearby church to get started. Looking for an alternate to the ever-growing cattle-call that was our neighborhood elementary, we decided to give this new school a try.

The last couple of years, my daughter, old for her class due to her birthday being just on the wrong side of an inflexible legal bright line, had been bored to tears. Rather than help jumpstart a lifetime love of education and learning, the one-size-fits-all traditional system was souring her on the very idea of school.

This year, my kids are already thriving far beyond our previous experiences. This week (you’ll forgive me if I brag just a little), my daughter skipped up from second to third grade. Really, though, They were able to do this because the principle had the autonomy and freedom to make a decision with parents about a student, without fighting against a massive bureaucracy that (as massive bureaucracies do) reflexively resists such an individualized approach. In other words, Doral corrected an error made by the traditional school district and overly-rigid state law.

Doral is doing exactly what charter schools and other school choice options should do – providing an option for those that traditional public schools are under-serving. And by opening an escape valve for our overcrowded schools on a much faster (and affordable) schedule than union-beholden lawmakers allow traditional schools to be built, the kids who remain in those traditional schools also stand to benefit.

***

My experience with a charter school is new and positive, and so I read with interest the dueling opinion pieces this past week regarding a different type of charter school altogether – Nevada Connections Academy, an on-line school with dismal graduation rates. Dr. Richard Vineyard defended the school, complaining that graduation rates are an imperfect measure of its worth.

I think he’s right.

My friend Jason Guinasso, the chair of the State Public Charter School Authority, disagreed, noting that any public schools – charter schools included – must be held accountable for their end-product, pointing out that graduation rates isn’t just a metric, but pretty much the metric.

I think he’s right, too.

How do we reconcile these two views?

***

Since I was a high school student myself, one often frustrated with troublemakers who wasted time and resources, I have believed that failure in education should actually be an option. If a high school diploma is to have any value, it must carry the risk of not being obtained if you don’t put the effort in to earn it. Taken alone, I don’t want to give up on any student (or kid who ought to be a student). But when a punk takes time and resources away from a more dedicated pupil, or worse, a student who may be struggling but nonetheless still wants to be there, I want him gone. He’s not being “left behind” at that point, he’s choosing to stay behind, and too often we let this disruptor stay too long, dragging other kids down with him.

But when a kid like that leaves his traditional school, what then? He’s still around. All too often, he will become a functional ward of the state – at best confined to welfare and public housing, and at worst doing life on the installment plan as drug use and habitual petty criminality starts to define his lifestyle.

Say my case-in-point troublemaker is expelled for fighting and selling drugs behind the gym. I’m fine with that, but what if he gets religion a year later, or even two? He’s too late to graduate on time, and so he won’t help anyone’s graduation stats even if he comes back as a model student. So now what?

***

A common argument against school choice is that charter schools in particular “steal” all of the high performing kids, and have more ability to reject those who can’t or won’t perform at that level. Those kids, it is argued, would do just as well in any other school, and so charter schools can’t claim some sort of superiority over the traditional public schools, and therefore, we should just embrace the lowest common denominator as the standard for all our kids.

But this argument relies on an “us vs. them” view of school choice that doesn’t – or shouldn’t – reflect reality. The truth is that diversity and options in various educational approaches benefit everyone, which is why support for charter schools ought not be synonymous with opposition to traditional public schools.

While my kids and thousands like them will graduate from high school with their classmates, regardless of where they go to school or when they start, they will nonetheless be better off having gone to a school that recognizes their individual learning needs – in my daughter’s case, for example, the need to have academic challenges that keep pace with (or just ahead of) her abilities and talents. This is the sort of success charter schools usually – and with reason – tout. It’s why I like our charter school so much. Meanwhile, kids thriving in traditional schools have even more space and individualized attention, lifting them higher as well.

But giving the quitters and failures a chance to return as prodigal sons, even if it’s not “on time,” is also worthy. Better yet is providing alternatives for kids falling behind in the traditional system before they quit or fail. Usually, those kids won’t fit in a traditional school framework for a number of reasons.

Guinasso is right, in that our primary goal should always be graduation, and no other single metric comes close to the importance of sending young adults out into the world with a base level of education we define by a high school diploma. But public school options where we recognize late is better than never, and where success is judged accordingly (and yes, held accountable even so) are also worth supporting. Once again, diversity and options in education – something Nevada should be expanding, not contracting as we did earlier this year – will be a net gain in the longer fight to build a culture in Nevada that more thoroughly values an educated populace.

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 deputy district attorney for Carson City.  His opinions here are his own.  Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

Recalls aren’t an abuse of process – they’re just stupid

American politics have never been serene, nor without sharp elbows, hyperbole, and even plenty of literal bloodshed. If anything, it’s relatively calm these days. Say what you want about the Obama-Trump Era, but Joe Biden never assassinated a political rival in a duel.

Yes, it does get worse than Trump tweets.

Nevada politics is no different, nor would I want it to be. I don’t like it when politicians are jerks to each other, but I really start to get suspicious when there’s a little too much kumbaya. “Bipartisanship” is too often code for, “I won’t complain about your excesses if you don’t complain about mine.” My objection comes when the tribalism and combat serve to cover up incompetence in the policy part of our politics, and infect our broader culture with a need to hate a political “enemy.”

Which brings me to the series of GOP backed recalls against three state senators.

I disagree wholeheartedly with my boss* and editor (and others) that recall efforts are “subversion of democracy,” or an “abuse” of process. Recalls are part of the process, and are, if anything, too democratic (in the classical sense of that word). Most western democracies in parliamentary systems regularly see “snap elections” whenever political winds may be shifting. Our recall process is the faintest shadow of that sort of chaos, and has the further legitimacy that comes of being initiated by a popular petition drive and a vote of the people, rather than by a Prime Minister hoping to consolidate his or her power.

It’s hard to argue “the will of the voters” and then say those same voters shouldn’t be given an opportunity to change their mind if they don’t like what they see in Carson City. Where is it written that recalls “should” only be for some “special” malfeasance? If they don’t think the current officeholder is delivering the desired results, why stick with them if there’s potentially a better alternative?

But just because there is nothing particularly amoral or insidious about recalls in general doesn’t mean they’re a good idea tactically.

First, it intrudes upon regular people’s lives in an unpleasant way. Show of hands – who loves seeing gardens of campaign signs sprout in every vacant lot, and can’t wait for the next stack of vapid campaign mailers to be stuffed in their mailbox? Who wants more dinners or toddler naps interrupted by paid political solicitors? Who wants to pay more tax dollars for special elections?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad we live in a country where we settle our political differences this way instead of with machetes. But if we have to do it more often than every two years, you’d better have some real, across-the-board public support for an immediate change.

Second, if you’re going to shoot a king, you’d better kill him, or you’ll only make him stronger. Successful recall efforts are vanishingly rare, and there’s no particular reason to think this one will break the streak. If your reason for a recall drive is that “The People” are aghast at the incumbent’s agenda, but “The People” effectively ratify that same agenda by declining to vote for a recall… Well.

Third, it just looks pointless and vindictive. Take the attempt to recall nonpartisan Sen. Patricia Farley, who isn’t even running again. Unless a special session is called, she will never cast another vote in Carson City. She left the Republican Party, but while she caucused with Democrats (because you have to caucus with somebody if you want a voice in policy-making), she pointedly never became a Democrat, either - echoing the dissatisfaction more and more Nevadans have with both major parties. By “punishing” her for not staying the tribe, Republicans are signaling just how out of touch they are with a population souring on the entire partisan process. Ditto for Dems, who declined to support her without the right party label. (A loss of Farley’s and other independent voices will prove, I think, a loss for both the state in general and for both parties in desperate need of humility and moderation.)

Finally, it looks like what it is – a deliberate distraction from governing failures. Senator Farley dismissed the Republicans leading the recall as having no “substantive policy agenda,” but I disagree with that. They had a substantive agenda in 2015, and one that they had every right to be proud of: more money for education via a broader tax base while also addressing structural problems (undue union interference, lack of choice, etc.) that no tax increase could otherwise fix.

The problem is that they didn’t know how to effectively tout or defend that agenda going forward. If Governor Sandoval had been truly committed to keeping ESAs in the budget, they would have stayed in the budget in 2017 (or better yet, he would have called a special session to address the funding mechanism the Supreme Court had said didn’t pass constitutional muster, back when Republicans still enjoyed electoral majorities). Even while still in the majority, they backslid on important measures such as prevailing wage reform which makes schools significantly more expensive to build. And then they lost all credibility as wise or independent fiscal stewards in the high-profile special session vote for the Raiders stadium.

Had they kept up their policy fight two years ago, they wouldn’t have to attempt this Hail Mary political fight now.

The only thing the GOP has going for it in this recall effort is the hyperbolic and dishonest Democratic response to it, which frankly reveals that Democrats are just as happy with tribal partisan combat and distractions from their own policy failures. If they were smart (or felt secure in their standing with a righteously cynical voting public), instead of a panicked “Decline to Sign” campaign, they’d steer into the skid, welcoming the debate about what their incumbents had accomplished. Instead, their breathless pearl-clutching will give life to the GOP operatives otherwise foolish enough to think this is a good use of the time or money of political donors.

Oh, well. That’s unsubverted democracy for you. And hey – it still beats dueling.

* For the record, anyone who says Jon Ralston is attempting to “slant” coverage of these or other topics via the Independent staff like some sort of Machiavellian puppet-master is either stupid or a liar.

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 deputy district attorney for Carson City. His opinions here are his own. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.