Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who I'm Voting For

Early voting begins this week in Clark County.
Since we don't have what seemed like a couple of thousand judgeships up for grabs like we did during the last election, voters will be able to get in and out and still have time for lunch.
I'm nobody special, but I thought a few people might be interested in my take on the upcoming elections.  (Okay, a VERY few.)  But I'm giving them anyway.  Below are my recommendations.
Justice of the Peace
Locally, the biggest race is for Mesquite's Justice of the Peace, a race between Karen Beausoleil and Ryan Toone.  It's likely that this will be a close call.
Beausoleil, a former Ms. Senior Mesquite, has strong support among a lot of the women's groups.  She'll also garner a big boost from the anti-LDS contingent.
Toone is currently the deputy city attorney.
Before I offer my opinion, I just want to say that Mesquite is losing one of the best judges I've ever witnessed.  Judge Ron Dodd is smart, gifted with an enormous pool of common sense, and has a humanity that is usually beaten out of most judges by the time they reach the bench.  He has served for years as both the Justice of the Peace, a county position, and the city's Municipal Judge.
I sincerely believe he has the wisdom of Solomon, and for the same reason: neither Solomon nor Dodd were previously lawyers.
In the upcoming election, only one of the two candidates is actually a practicing attorney.
As much as it pains me to annoint a Brother of the Bar, Toone is truly the best candidate.
All you have to do is listen to Beausoleil's inane babbling about the disadvantages of having one person serve as both JP and Municipal Judge to realize that "reality" wasn't one of the subjects she studied in school.  If she doesn't have enough common sense to figure out the savings to taxpayers derived from letting one person do both jobs, as well as the innate efficiencies, she doesn't have the sense needed to sort out situations involving peoples' lives.  My only regret in voting for Toone is that we're losing the most logical replacement who will be needed once the City Council wakes up and figures out just how bad our current City Attorney is.
Vote Ryan Toone for Justice of the Peace.
Virgin Valley Water District
This is a tough call between incumbent Ted Miller and current Mesquite Public Works Director Bill Tanner. 
Tanner is a soft-spoken can-do kind of guy, a true hero during the last two "hundred year floods" the city experienced over the last five years.  In a city administration filled at the upper level with bad eggs, he is truly one of the good guys. 
If he was no longer with the city and running as a private citizen, he would be a prize on the VVWD board.
Unfortunately, he DOES work for the city, which means he will vote whatever way his higher-ups at City Hall tell him.  Right now, the worst member of the VVWD board happens to be the one appointed by the city, Karl Gustaveson.  To give City hall a second vote, controlling 40% of the VVWD board, would be catastrophic for the rate payers and the valley.
On the other side is Miller, a straight-talking guy who can sometimes rub people the wrong way because he calls 'em like he sees 'em.
He is also the second-longest serving member of what has been a seriously dysfunctional board over the years.
But what most folks don't know is that Miller is a courageous man who has defended the people of this community.  He has been the driving force for change at the Virgin Valley Water District, beginning as a true outsider and refusing to roll over and be quiet in the face of corruption that has seen a General Manager and Staff Hydrologist indicted in the last four years.  He would not be silenced when it came to the VVWD's previous out of control spending, and never lets up when the district seems intent on making bad decisions.  He is hands down the best and most courageous member of the VVWD board.  He doesn't just deserve to be re-elected; the people of this valley NEED him to remain on that board to protect their interests and keep the "good old boys" at bay.
Vote for Ted Miller.
Clark County School District B Trustee
In the last election, I endorsed against Chris Garvey.  Since then, she has shown herself to be an extremely capable board member.  More importantly, I've seen her actually fight for schools in the Virgin Valley during her first term.  She's earned our vote.
Vote for Chris Garvey.
County Commission District B
I've always liked Tom Collins and his country-boy persona.  But after he admitted to being hired by one of the two combatants in last year's public transportation battle between two contractors, he shown he's nothing more than a corrupt big-city politician who knows how to use his elected position to pad his own pocket.  He also managed to offend more than a few people when he banged the Democratic gong during several non-partisan events in Mesquite a couple of years ago.  And then there's his "disturbing the peace" conviction over firing a gun into the air in an alcohol-fueled "celebration" earlier this year.
I hate being put in the position of endorsing Ruth Johnson, a former School Board trustee who made lots of broken promises about things like lights at the high school ballfield during her time in office.  However, when left with no real options, I'll take a liar over a crooked convict.
Vote for Ruth Johnson.
State Assembly District 19
Another tough contest.
As a Mesquite voter, you really want to elect someone from Mesquite to represent you in Carson City. 
If only it was someone other than Cresent Hardy.
While he wasn't charged, Hardy's name was prominent in the indictment of former VVWD general manager Mike Winters, who was indicted over a deal involving Hardy's land. 
Also, in his previous turn in the state legislature two years ago, it didn't seem like Hardy lifted a finger to help Mesquite.  Instead, based on his Mesquite Citizen Journal video inteview with Barbara Ellestad, his big soapbox is killing unions and eliminating "prevailing wage" laws in the state that negatively impact Nevada construction companies like the one he owns.
However, his opponent Felipe Rodriguez just doesn't impress.
Hardy is a local native, and his family has deep roots in this community.  Rodriguez was born in Cuba, and has lived in Las Vegas (not Mesquite) for only 14 years.  While he may be an honest man, he works for a time-share developer, an industry about a half-click above used car salesmen in the honesty department.
Rodriguez was also less than impressive in his recent Mesquite Citizen Journal video interview.  He didn't suggest any real concrete plans, and offered only vague political stances in his answers.  He'll be a non-factor in Carson City.
I don't want to endorse a Vegas resident over a local guy, but the people of Mesquite have worked too hard over the last two years trying to run good old boys like Hardy out of the political system.
Vote for Felipe Rodriguez.
U.S. Congress District 4
Danny Tarkanian can't seem to get elected as Hall Monitor.  If he loses this race, about the only political position remaining in his desperate quest to win an election, any election, might be Las Vegas dog catcher.
It would be rather embarrassing for the citizens of Nevada to send a guy to Washington on a "balance the budget" platform when he owes the FDIC $17 million over a failed land deal in California that ended up taking down a bank; someone who will likely declare personal bankruptcy if the court ruling sticks.
His opponent, Steven Horsford, has his own ethical issues after accepting campaign contributions and a free trip to the Bahamas from an internet poker company (he eventually gave back the contribution and trip money), and a campaign letter he sent out a couple of years ago offering private dinners with himself and a collection of other top NV legislators to contributors willing to pony up 25 grand, an obvious pay-for-access scam that you usually see only from scumbags like Newt Gingrich.
So neither guy has a good record on character, which means it comes down to issues.
I don't like Tarkanian's love affair with Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher plan, or his typical "let's help the rich get richer" ideas for fixing the economy.
But I applaud his hard stance on pulling all of our troops out of Afghanistan now, and his insistence on scrapping the current tax system and putting in something that might actually work.
Horsford has some good and specific ideas on getting people back to work, and is actually a lot more pro-business than many of his Democratic counterparts.
Vote for Steven Horsford.
U.S. Senate
The only time I would ever pick either candidate would be out of a police lineup. 
Shelley Berkley is a bit of a nut.  Basically, she's the Democratic version of Sharron Angle, the GOP's looniest tune.
On the other side is the GOP's slickest snake oil salesman, Dean Heller.  He is definitely the rich man's best friend.
I hated the way Heller was hand-picked to fill the Senate post after then-Senator John Ensign got caught with his pants down.
But mostly, I've despised his attack ads.  While Berkley has taken her time in the mud as well, Heller has been more egregious, especially going after Berkley's husband.  Even the mob refrains from going after someone's spouse.
I don't like either candidate, but Berkley seems to be the lesser of two evils.
Vote for Shelley Berkley.
This is the hardest vote of all.
I voted for Barack Obama last time.
I have always loved Mitt Romney, a hero who saved the 2002 Winter Olympics.  He was actually one of the better governors in Massachusetts history, a feat made even more extraordinary when you consider he did it as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
But Mitt is the quintessential rich man, and nearly every one of his economic policies will succeed only in making the wealthy even wealthier while making the middle-class American even more of an endangered species.
I don't like a lot of Obama's ideas, but that's okay.  As he showed in his first term, he's not really going to do any of it anyway.  We're still in Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay is still open for business.  I'm still driving over dilapidated bridges and worn out roads.  Gas prices are nearing $4 a gallon.  Even his health care reform wasn't what he promised after caving on the public option clause, which was the only part that almost made sense.
Worst of all, Obama blocked the Keystone Pipeline over environmental issues.  There is no clearer indication of what's wrong with this president or his party than letting struggling Americans suffer even more under confiscatory fuel prices just because some "sensitive lands" MIGHT be disturbed.  He chose ideology over reality.
On the positive side, at least Romney made a good choice for vice president while sustaining the GOP tradition of nominating lunatics for the second chair.  Paul Ryan isn't much of a human being, and is a terrifying legislator given to some of the most heartless of schemes.  But by making him just another innocuous vice president and getting him out of Congress, he'll be a lot less dangerous to the nation so long as Romney remains healthy (and since Mitt won't be participating in Ryan's Medicare plan or the health care system the rest of us are forced to live with, that's pretty likely).
I'm sure I'll regret it 12 months after making the choice, but neither the Party of the Rich nor the Party of the Poor has left us with any decent option.  What this country really needs is a Party of the Middle Class.  Unfortunately until the Libertarians quit recruiting candidates from the nearest funny farm, that won't happen, so I'm left with a reluctant endorsement.
I voted for Obama in 2008 because I thought we needed a breath of fresh air and a new approach.  What we got was the same old same old. 
We gave him a chance.  He blew it.  Now it's time to give someone else a shot at it.
Vote Mitt Romney for president.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Welcome To The City Of Lies

Every year or two, the City of Mesquite or the Chamber of Commerce kicks around a few ideas for their new city slogan, like "Come for a day, stay for a lifetime" or "Diamond in the desert."
The next time this topic comes up, I've got a few suggestions.
"Mesquite: The city where truth goes to die."
"Virginia is for lovers; Maryland is for crabs; Mesquite is for liars."
"In Mesquite, don't believe it until you see it; then STILL don't believe it."
"You conceive, we'll deceive."
"Land of 10,000 Lakes."
"Land of 10,001 Lies (see above)."
"Virgin Valley: Um, yeah, we've got those."
We can put one of these slogans at the top of the sign on the west end of Mesquite Blvd. near exit 120, right below the boldface lie that currently greets newcomers:
"Welcome to Mesquite -- Population 19,754."
If you believe that number, I've got some oceanfront property in Sunset Greens you can buy.
Our city government has been lying to visitors and potential business investors for years, claiming projections of more than 21,000 people.
Then in 2010, a little federal group called the U.S. Census showed up and pulled open the curtain on the "Great and Powerful Loz."
According to the 2010 census, the official population of Mesquite, Nevada is 15,276.
Even using 2011 estimates, the Census Bureau says our maximum population is 15,423.
But that doesn't stop the city of Mesquite from claiming we have an extra 4,500 people here.
Lying about our city's population has become a nasty habit, like smoking or picking your nose.
And it doesn't look like the city government will be entering a 12-step program or Liars Anonymous anytime soon.
They just got busted on another big lie a few weeks ago.  For more than a year, a couple of the same city staffers who claimed that the Desert Falls fiasco was a sound project insisted that a soccer tent built in a remote part of Mesquite would only cost about $5 million (don't you love it when an entity funded by your tax dollars says things like "only" in conjunction with a figure like "$5 million"?).  It turns out that the real cost will be between $8 million and $10 million. 
Then there was that lie about an expensive sidewalk project on Pioneer Blvd., where a city official claimed the state would never allow it, only to find out later that the state doesn't care either way.
Then you have the normal, run-of-the-mill municipal lies like "Mesquite is business friendly" while business fees remain astronomically high and paperwork requirements continue to escalate; and "we've got to tighten our fiscal belts" claimed just before giving away $50,000 for the construction firms that told us the truth about the soccer tent costs.  (Maybe that was a bigger bargain than most people thought...it might be worth $50,000 to have some truth told for a change.)
Of course, what can you expect from an organization that used to regularly lie about a mythical state law that allegedly prohibited council members from answering questions from the public during city council meetings.
Our only saving grace is "The Mythbusters" -- our new mayor and city council.  This group of smart and honorable men has managed to poke holes in most of the malarky. 
Eventually, they'll get around to fixing the "Welcome To Lie Land" sign at Exit 120.
Until then...if you've ever thought about owning your own bridge, the city has this nice structure spanning the interstate in the middle of town that I'm sure they'd be willing to sell you.  Oh, and I'm sure they'll throw in the mountain-munching PacMan for free.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Brave Council Should Never 'Retreat'

The new Mesquite City Manager has proposed a "retreat" for the council in the near future, led by our Carson City lobbyist Randy Robison.
Retreats are popular in corporate settings because they get managers away from the distractions and commonality of the workplace and put them in a fresh environment to brainstorm and plan.  It's a tool to foster thinking "outside the box," and is extraordinarily effective.
The problem is that this is another private sector concept that just doesn't translate well into the public sector.  The first problem is that those hawking the "retreat" idea completely forget who is "the boss" in the public sector.  It's not a CEO or board chairman: it's you and me, the average citizen.
While there are genuine benefits to a retreat, the downsides are far too steep to legitimately entertain for any government agency.
For those "retreats" that feature travel to another city, the opportunity for graft and ripping off the taxpayers with expensive stays at pricey resorts is often too tempting to resist.  Then you have the additional unnecessary gas and mileage expenses.  Factor that across the inclusion of numerous staff members who all have to trundle to the retreat site, and it's easy to see how a good idea can become a boondoggle involving thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars.
At a time when a city government is looking to tighten belts even further, including layoffs, this is an insulting option.
Then you have "local retreats," where the officials wander off to another site within the same city.  For the last few years, the City of Mesquite has held these gatherings at the new fire station on the other side of the city, near the Do It Best distribution center.  It's cost effective, considering the property is owned by the city. 
Unfortunately, this highlights the even bigger drawback to government retreats.  Believe it or not, there are some things that are even more important than squandering public funds, and this is probably the biggest:
Technically, the events are open to the public.
However, I can attest after attending several of these over the years that the only "public" that shows up are people with vested interests like developers, consultants, and others who have a financial stake in what gets discussed at these meetings.
It's not just that the gatherings are conducted in a part of town that most people have never traveled, or that the meetings are held during the middle of the day.
Holding these meetings "off-site" also means "off-camera."  Unlike the City Council meetings and other important sessions held in the City Hall Council Chambers, these "retreats" are not televised.
The question you need to ask is: Why?
Certainly there are technical issues involving cameras and communications with the local cable stations.  But those are surmountable.
Also, cameras themselves don't impact or impede the actual proceedings, aside from the grandstanding that such exposure can elicit.
The truth is that such "retreats" offer a little bit of shade from the Sunshine laws.
We should oppose and protest ANY significant sessions that are not held with the video cameras rolling.  To do otherwise is to invite more secrecy, more opportunities for the public to be excluded from the fact-finding and decision-making process. 
It has long been an irony of our times that governments have repeatedly authorized laws that allow video cameras to film people in stores and businesses, and even authorize the use of government-owned video cameras to record private citizens walking on public sidewalks and driving on public streets, but run away from the idea of videotaping the actions of public servants.
Also, there is the issue of perception.  If it looks like our electeds are doing things in private, it gives credence to cries of "back-room good-ole-boy politics."
We are currently blessed with one of the best councils we've had in years.  One of their first acts was to start opening their "technical sessions" to the public, after being held in secret by the previous regime.  They have also been extraordinarily transparent in their actions and decision-making, despite the best efforts of a city attorney who thrives on secretive "attorney-client sessions" behind closed doors (like the one she called right in the middle of last week's council meeting).  This has led to a lot of public discourse, and it appears as if this council is actually listening to all of the people, not just their hand-picked henchmen. 
It would be a travesty for this collection of well-liked elected officials to opt for off-site sessions where the public would be effectively excluded.  They should decline the City Manager's suggestion to hold such a meeting anywhere other than City Hall, unless it's a site where the meetings could be broadcast on cable TV.
This group has worked too hard, and been far too courageous, to succumb to a "retreat" now.