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The Tiny State of Nevada

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Nevada isn’t really that big of a state. Oh, sure, it appears large on the map.

But 81 percent of that land mass isn’t Nevada. It’s federal government property, run by various branches of the nation’s central government in Washington, D.C.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Cliven Bundy ranch, and the rustled cattle, and the standoff with the federales, has to do with federal government land.

From my reading of the Bundy family ranch affair, it appears that the legal question is not one of taxes, but of usage fees; not of endangered tortoises, but cattle. But mostly about land. My sympathies are with the Bundies. They seem to have a very old adverse possession case against the government.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that federal judges didn’t look very kindly to the Bundies’ customary rights. Federal judges prefer legislated law to common law. We’re a long way from our roots, folks.

But the issue lurking behind all other issues is the over-dominance of the federal government in twelve western states. Five of them have over half of their land titled to and run by the federal government: Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Utah and Nevada. This imbalance gives just too much power and purview to federal agencies, who are then tempted to run roughshod over locals. That is, state citizens.

Cliven Bundy may be dead wrong legally, but politically, he has a point.

The federal government should privatize all or most of its grazing lands and desert lands. Its forest lands should at least be “state-ized” — given back to the states.

This is a federal republic, right? Not an empire?

The states are not supposed to be mere conquered provinces.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Water’s Value — in a Desert

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

It’s a dam shame.

There are plenty of private sector dams in the U.S., but the biggest are federal government projects, like those on the Columbia and Colorado rivers. These government-run outfits aren’t “free,” though. Indeed, they often prove to be good examples of typical government operations, providing special favors to some people at the expense of others.

Take the Hoover Dam, cherished as the nation’s highest symbol by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The dam supplies water and electricity to Las Vegas, Nevada — at cut rate prices. A typical family in Las Vegas pays half for water what the same family would pay in Atlanta, Georgia, despite the fact that Atlanta gets 13 times more precipitation. These cheap rates have predictable consequences — overuse, for one. Which then leads local water authorities to foist on consumers some heavily intrusive conservation rules.

Andrew Wilson, in a report for the Property & Environment Research Center, writes that “A market-ready solution for Las Vegas water,” though not often talked about, would have far fewer negative consequences. And it’s not a difficult idea as such: “discard the historic cost-based pricing model and move instead to a pricing system that recognizes the scarcity value of water.”

Raising the prices for water and electricity to Las Vegas (and, for that matter, electricity to favored Bonneville Power Administration customers in the Pacific Northwest — along with many other federal government “business” products) would not only help forestall shortages and draconian lawmaking, it would be equitable. There’s no reason for the rest of the country to be, in effect, subsidizing Sin City.

Or any other city.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Keeping Up with the Arabs

Friday, March 11th, 2011

It’s open season on Middle East dictators — but I’m a little jealous. Greater freedom and democracy may be coming to Tunisia and Egypt and Bahrain, but what about us?

The last two decades Americans have asserted themselves, changing control of Congress several times as well as passing term limits and other reforms directly through numerous statewide citizen initiatives.

Have our elected representatives responded by facilitating such democratic participation? Not on your life!

This year, many state legislators came into session hell-bent on blocking the citizen check of initiative and referendum.

In Colorado, legislators have proposed a constitutional amendment making it harder to place initiatives on the ballot. It would also mandate a 60 percent supermajority vote to pass a constitutional amendment, allowing deep pocket special interests the power to defeat reforms popular enough to win 59.9 percent of the vote.

Last November, Oklahoma voters passed a constitutional amendment to make it a little easier for citizens to petition an issue onto the ballot. Now, just months later, state senators narrowly passed an amendment that would make the same process much more difficult.

Currently, Nevada citizens must gather signatures in each of the state’s three congressional districts to qualify a statewide ballot issue. Legislation is pending to increase this requirement from three petition drives to 42 separate petition drives — one for each of the 42 state legislative districts.

Thus our “representatives” seek to stop the people from representing themselves.

This is Common sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The People Speak

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Mainstream media often become so fixed on the major players in Washington, DC, that journalists miss the most telling democratic action: At state and local levels, regarding initiatives.

Nicely, there are exceptions. An editorial, last week, in The Washington Times was subtitled “Ballot initiatives advance a limited government agenda in the heartland,” and explained how “voters showed their displeasure with the country’s direction with their votes” . . . on particular ballot measures.

The editorial lists numerous important initiatives around the country:

  • Oklahoma’s and Arizona’s nullification of Obamacare provisions (and Colorado’s failure to do so);
  • Nevada citizens killing “a sneaky amendment designed to undermine protections from eminent-domain seizures for private gain”;
  • Several states blocking our president’s union-vote rule revisions, known as card-check;
  • Louisiana “stopped public officials from voting themselves a salary boost until after they stand for re-election”;
  • Washington citizens overturned sales taxes on foodstuffs that left-leaning folk regard as sinful, such as soda pop and candy and the like.

Washington State sported an even weightier initiative, one famously sponsored by Bill Gates’s dad. TV ads featured Bill Sr. getting dunked. It wasn’t a baptism. He was pitching for a “soak the rich” income tax in the state. The ad didn’t make a great deal of sense, and Evergreen State voters nixed the income tax once again.

The Times editorial ends advising Democrats that they need “to listen to what the public has to say.” But, obviously, Republicans need to listen, too.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Vote Absurdly If You Wish

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Today is Election Day, with primaries or runoffs in 12 states. Let’s hope at least a few incumbents fall, from both parties.

Most Americans would cheer that. But we’ll then hear TV talking heads and pundits in the press tell us how crazily we’ve voted.

In 1994, ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings condescendingly reported that “The voters had a temper tantrum last week. . . . Parenting and governing don’t have to be dirty words: the nation can’t be run by an angry two-year-old.”

Were our choice so limited, I’d say give the two-year olds a shot.

Jennings’s snooty attitude has been echoed again and again this year. Mike Allen, Politico’s chief political writer, said after Utah’s Senator Bennett flamed out in a GOP convention, “There was no reason for his state to turn on him. Nobody delivers for Utah the way he does.”

Allen went on to rant about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s unpopularity in his home state: “Voters are not thinking . . . the idea of Nevada kicking out Harry Reid is absurd! He’s the #1 senator: #1 out of 100. Nobody delivers for Nevada like Harry Reid.”

Apparently, Mr. Allen knows best. Utah and Nevada voters? Fools, the lot of them — for not liking all the presents their big-shot politicians delivered for them.

Common sense, on the other hand, has it that anyone who votes to please the Washington press corps is truly crazy.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Carson City Cakewalk?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

It’s a heady time in Nevada. Next year’s election will be the first in which sitting legislators will be ousted under the state’s legislative term limits.

Politicians have begun to think hard about this. Quite a few lower-house reps have set their sights on the state Senate. Well, by “quite a few” I mean “nearly a dozen,” which is how David McGrath Schwartz of the Las Vegas Sun puts it. He also reports that “at least one senator forced out by term limits is seriously considering running for a seat in the Assembly.”

Is this news? Well, it was printed in a newspaper. But it’s hardly earth-shattering.

Yet, in that paper, it was made to seem earth-shattering. Schwartz led with this: “Nevada voters who passed term limits in the 1990s might have imagined it would bring a clean sweep of veteran politicians from office. What they’re likely to get will instead look more like musical chairs.”

Really? Musical chairs?

As analogies for elections in term-limited legislatures go, this falls a bit short. It implies that nearly all legislators will scramble for nearby seats. So far we have less than 13 out of 63.

And it forgets the voters. Who decide. When politicians “hear the music,” the music is played by voters.

Oh, and by the way: Switching chairs — competing for a new position — is one of the reasons for term limits.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Law to Be Named Later

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Nevada’s legislators have long desired to do something that they haven’t been able to do.

I understand. It happens in baseball. Two teams want to trade a player, but can’t decide who to trade for that player. So, one team hands over, say, their left-fielder for “a player to be named later” from the other team.

These deals require tremendous trust.

I wonder how much the people of Nevada trust their state legislature.

I wonder because what their legislators want is to make the ballot initiative process much, much harder to use.

Years ago, the federal courts struck down a requirement that petition signatures be gathered in three-fourths of Nevada’s counties. So the state legislature passed a new law requiring signatures from every county.

Yes, the court struck that law down, too.

Nevada solons came back with legislation mandating that petitions be gathered in each of 42 legislative districts. This makes a petition drive actually 42 drives — greatly increasing costs and the opportunity for error.

Worried that scheme wouldn’t pass court review, legislators amended the bill to require petitions to come from every U.S. congressional district. But only for this election cycle. There’s a kicker: By 2011, legislators will create “petition districts.” How many districts? They’ll decide later . . . as many as they determine can get away with.

The bill passed in the last days of the just-completed session. It’s sort of a policy to be named later.

Unlike that bill, this is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.