Democrats continue lack of leadership evident during legislative session

Unlike too many of my colleagues, I tend to give elected officials, especially Nevada legislators, the benefit of the doubt.

They get paid less than a Big Mac flipper. Most of them are hard-working. And the Southern Nevada ones have to be far from their families.

It’s not all dinners at Adele’s, frolicking at Tahoe and free tickets to Strip shows. Not for most.

But as hard as I try to be understanding  despite the serial failings of the Gang of 63 to deal thoughtfully with the state’s problems in a broken 120-day, claustrophobic system, my patience has finally, at long last, collapsed.

It began with the failure of leadership during Session ’13, when the Democratic doyens promised much and delivered nothing on the essential issue of updating the state’s anachronistic tax structure. The “this session will be different” promises dissolved into Groundhog Legislature.

The epitome of the Democratic disaster was the enforced muteness on the teachers union’s margin tax to fund education, which lawmakers refused to talk about before simply allowing it to go on the ballot. Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who indicated early on “Ralston Reports” that she preferred a sales tax on services, was the only Democrat to signal any real position. And after she became consumed with her ill-fated admissions tax, her ardor for change faded.

But now, months after the session ended and after months of trying, I have been stymied in my efforts to get Democratic lawmakers to take a position on The Education Initiative. It’s not just that they have avoided taking positions – they have refused to answer emails, phone calls and texts.

I would be furious if I weren’t so astounded by their childish game of hide and go seek. (Oh, and I will keep seeking.) I would be incensed if I weren’t so embarrassed for them. I would be apoplectic if I thought there was a reason to believe they had spinal implantation surgery after the session.

I’m not naïve: I realize they are caught between a potent Democratic special interest and campaign donors, nearly all of whom oppose the margin tax. But are these jobs so attractive, are these people so shallow that they will do anything to keep them, even if it means taking a powder on the single greatest change to Nevada’s tax structure in three decades?

Don’t answer that.

What’s unique here is this clearly is so obviously being directed from above, with caucus leaders telling their members to hush so they can be flush.  It is one step – maybe – away from having their principles purchased for 30 pieces of silver – or a $5,000 donation from the Metro Chamber, the Retail Association of Nevada or MGM Resorts International.

I’m also stunned that none of them are even trying the lame, “It’s for the people to decide.” Maybe it’s because they know if they say that, the answer is simple: “The people shouldn’t be deciding. You should be. You should have.”

But these folks are not even capable of silly spin. They are afraid – fearful of not being re-elected, petrified of taking a stand, shivering at the notion someone might be angry at them.

This is the degradation of politics at its nadir: Elected officials who won’t do their jobs on a major policy issues (maybe THE policy issue), allow a controversial but state-changing proposal to go on the ballot without comment and then duct-tape their own mouths so they can return to Carson City to abdicate their responsibility again.

It’s really worth it, folks?

A brief word about the Republicans: Yes, it’s in their wheelhouse to say no and they all do to the margin tax. It’s robotic and worthless. I don’t get the sense that any of them have taken a real look at it. Big Business hates it; enough said.

But during the session, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson was willing to make a deal with the Democrats. And he at least had an idea – taxing mining. The Democrats rejected that, too, and refused to deal with him in good faith out of paranoia and distrust.

If they had brought Roberson in instead of shunning him, we wouldn’t be where we are now, with an imperfect tax on the ballot but one that does what no Democrat was willing to propose during the session: Pour serious money into education.

And how do they feel about that?

I hear nothing.