Legislative Petting Zoo:
Some animals are more equal than others


Expanded from the 5-4-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

Only one thing is clear as the Nevada Legislature stumbles toward another mediocre conclusion: Nevada consumers — that means you — will pay and pay big.

This comes in large part because of a myth perpetuated by every political candidate: "I will represent only the people."

The biennial petting zoo we lovingly call our legislature doesn't work that way. The average Jack and Jill just don't count for much. The rare lone wolves who howl for justice usually see their offspring shot and eaten.

Many years ago, an assemblymember told me that legislators make judgments based on what they've heard. An enlightened few read and research the legislation before them. The late Senate Majority Leader James Gibson, D-Henderson, was legendary for taking reams or reading home each night.

Most other lawmakers are "acoustic," to use commentator Ellen Goodman's term about Ronald Reagan's presidential style. King Ronald the Vague was a passive personality, much like Nevada Gov. Dudley Do-Right. Reagan read nothing and watched old movies in the evening until it was time to go out in public the next day playing the role of his idol, the very active Franklin Roosevelt. The voters bought the act and awarded Reagan four consecutive best political actor Oscars. Gov Kenny Guinn waits for others to build and launch the boat and only comes aboard after he sees it will float. What the news media now label "the governor's tax plan" is no more than the gambling industry's test-marketed dictate.

Jack and Jill can fall down the hill and no one will notice. When they hit bottom, they will be handed a sheaf of invoices foisted on them by legislative bills about which they have probably never heard a thing — all voted into law by a majority of the "I represent the people" chorus.

No matter their campaign pledges, lawmakers simply react to the latest pressure brought to bear by dreaded (cover your eyes) special interest groups (SIGs). The label matters. Unless speaking for a high profile SIG, the average citizen's testimony has little chance of being quoted in the mainstream media. The watchdogs of democracy themselves thus bear silent witness to the fact that the individual, no matter how well informed, will be left high and dry.

Sharks extend professional courtesy only to other predators. Legislative zookeepers know to feed them or risk getting eaten alive. Major consumer bills are dying like flies while slop for the hogs is sloshed out wholesale. Charter Cable helped kill a bill (SB 278) providing more local government control over the predatory deregulated cable TV monopoly. An industry-friendly countermeasure (SB 429) survives while ratepayers continue to pay exorbitant prices. You will continue to pay more for less, as with Sierra Pacific Power.

Two years ago, just weeks after heeding Gov. Guinn's call to end utility deregulation, the legislature re-deregulated. The bill was gladly signed by the ex-utility CEO sitting in the governor's mansion. Now, major users like casinos can drop out of the system leaving small consumers to pick up the tab for the production and distribution system.

Consumers can carp all they want about high gasoline prices, just don't look for help from your government. Recently, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval meekly accepted BigOil's standard rationale that market forces rule and nothing can be done. Sandoval pulled legislation which would have empowered his office to act on price gouging. This brought fire from state consumer advocate Timothy Hay who had the guts to criticize his own boss. Another bill (SB 422) allowing BigOil to open more stations is on its way to passage. (Read how the game is played at the Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive at

Are Nevada consumers willing to defend themselves? Will they fund a consumer lobby? This is standard political science 101. A look at just about any other state will find many such groups. But not here on the Sagebrush Plantation with the most disconnected electorate in the country.

Any volunteers?

You pay either way. Your lawmakers will soon send you the bill for the bitter fruits of their labors.

CABLE CAPERS. The City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which I chair, will hold two workshops at Reno City Hall this month to sort out various issues. They are scheduled for conference room 211 from 12 noon to 2:00 p.m. on consecutive Fridays, May 9 and May 16. The workshops will not be televised. The committee's regular monthly meeting in the council chambers will be cablecast on SNCAT (Charter Cable Channel 13) beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 22.

CLINGING TO THE LEDGE. Starting tomorrow, the Sam Shad soiree slides south to the capital city for the duration of the excruciation. In order to continue filling his lineup with first string players, the multi-media maven now finds it necessary to originate his highly-rated Nevada Newsmakers program from the belly of the beast.

Gov. Dudley Do-Right hisself is the Tuesday headliner. Thursday features a clash of the titans, gambling industry uberlobbyist Harvey Lord Vader Whittemore vs. Sam McMullen, who represents non-casino big businesses. Whittemore is behind the gambling industry's Grotesque Proceeds Tax while McMullen favors a targeted sales tax on services. (Have you noticed how nobody but Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, is talking about a major hike in the gross gaming tax?)

The Shad Show airs Monday through Thursday at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4 (NBC) and repeats at 9:30 p.m. on Charter Cable Channel 12 in Sparks-Reno-Carson and Channel 19 in Douglas County. Audio rebroadcasts air from 9:00-11:00 a.m. Sundays on KKKOH 780-am. (For the rest of this week's lineup, click here.)

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors

Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive


Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.



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