Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Bad for Krolicki, bad for the state

Indictment of lieutenant governor comes at a time when we need more confidence in government officials, not less

Democrats may be snickering at the indictment of Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, but doing so is shortsighted.

Here’s why: Right about now Nevada could use some trust in its elected officials and public institutions, and Krolicki’s foibles will make it harder for Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, to govern.

Even as the Legislature and Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons meet Monday for a special session to decide on budget cuts, policymakers are formulating plans for next year, which figures to be bleak.

A consensus seems to be emerging that cutting roughly one-third of the budget to bring it to balance would be catastrophic to important services such as child welfare, education and health care.

So some tax increase seems likely.

The best program would be one with broad public support, backed by a citizenry dedicated to coming together, confident they’re being led out of the mess. Otherwise, expect more population decline and punishment for elected officials who make tough choices.

The problem is that Nevada’s elected officials and public institutions haven’t exactly shined, and have frittered away the trust of a public already skeptical of government.

The most recent example, of course: Krolicki’s indictment charging him with misusing public funds when he was state treasurer. The indictment is vague. But according to an earlier audit, no money was missing. Instead, he was accused of using the money to burnish his own public image, and of steering business to the company of his mentor and former state Treasurer Bob Seale. In any case, the headline is terrible: State treasurer allegedly misuses state funds.

Here’s another: the Southern Nevada Water Authority buys meals, liquor for lobbyists. As KLAS-TV investigative reporter George Knapp revealed in a series of reports recently, the water authority has spent all kinds of money on lobbyists and public relations firms, which of course means expensive hotels, meals and Scotch, all to glam up its image as it moves to begin taking water from the ranches it bought up north.

Why again do we pay so much for water? an angry public asks.

Moving on ... “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” Executive Producer Dana Gentry found Metro police running background checks and placing surveillance on an apparently innocent man. It was done on behalf of the city’s robust private detective industry and to settle a score for the son of former Gov. Kenny Guinn.

That’s reassuring.

But at least those local employees work for cheap.

Well, not really. A Sun analysis in 2007 found that one of every six county, city, police and fire employees (teachers excluded from this crowd, of course) earns a six-figure income, mostly from exorbitant overtime, which will in turn lead to exorbitant pensions. The public loves to see that.

And let’s not forget the Los Angeles Times series on our judges, or all those former county commissioners in jail or under indictment.

Although Gibbons was recently cleared in an investigation of his relationship with a defense contractor, his performance has hardly been stellar, and there’s little else to say about that.

A key problem: Our public institutions are so outgunned and outmanned, that private failure sullies our public bodies. So, as construction workers died on the Strip, people reasonably asked, “Where was Nevada OSHA?” Or, when the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada spread Hepatitis C, the public wanted to know, “Where were the state inspectors?”

During the boom years, all of this petty corruption and incompetence was more entertainment than anything else. Who cared if some county commissioner took a bribe in a Crown Royal bag when the value of my home was doubling every four years?

The boom times covered up the festering sores of Nevada governance. But those sores were there, growing worse as the public’s faith in government declined.

The sickness is now plain to see, right when Nevadans need to become invested in solutions.

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