I delivered this rant on "Ralston Reports" on Friday -- the video is elsewhere on the site, a couple of minutes into the program:
April Mastroluca’s resignation from the Assembly reinforces what I have long thought about our Carson City Gang of 63:
It’s time to end the citizen Legislature in Nevada. And it’s time to end the biennial Legislature in Nevada.
If my sources are right, Mastroluca is leaving because she couldn’t afford to feed her family by sojourning in Carson City four months every other year. A legislator’s salary is probably less than what it costs to fuel Sheldon Adelson’s plane to fly to Macau. Add in the few perks and it’s a ten thousand dollar proposition for two years.
Who would do that? Generally, two kinds of people: People rich enough to take that kind of time away from their jobs and/or families. And people who think ten grand a year is a good salary. That’s scary, right?
This is not about losing Mastroluca. Yes, she was slated to chair the powerful Ways and means Committee. But she was barely out of her rookie’s uniform – this would have been her third session. She had yet to prove just how effective she might have been.
But why in the world would we want people up there inevitably facing financial pressures and with lobbyists dangling promises in front of them? Loosening that money vise and having them meet every year would produce better legislators and better laws.
Oh, I know: Few people agree with me.
Imagine what Mark Twain, whose 177th birthday was Friday, would have said. Maybe what he said about a century and a half ago: “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."
Twain would be appalled at giving people he considered thieves more time to steal the public’s business. But these are territorial days no more – and Nevada is long overdue to modernize its legislative process.
It’s not just that we get what we pay for. It’s that the term limits gutting of experience and talent has exacerbated an endemic problem. Offer people a good salary. Give them well-paid staff. And have them meet every year so it’s not like throwing darts at a faraway dartboard to project what will happen in the state and what Nevada’s needs might be.
The state’s Economic Forum, charged with this impossible task, met Friday to give it a best guess. But that’s all it really is, educated though it might be, as even longtime fiscal maven Marvin Leavitt acknowledged. And they may be the only folks with a huge impact on the Legislature paid even less than the Gang of 63.
I don’t hold out much hope that Mastroluca's departure will get people thinking about how to dramatically change the process. Having a citizen Legislature is quaint. Meeting every other year is even more anachronistic.
This is not Mark Twain’s state anymore. It’s time in this, and in many things, for Nevada to grow up.