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July 22, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

Has think tank removed nonpartisan pretense?

Unlike some of my media colleagues, I have given the Nevada Policy Research Institute the benefit of the doubt.

That is, I have been willing to believe that despite its openly conservative bent, it would produce solid numbers and thoughtfully analyze situations. Although I have found NPRI to occasionally slant data to its political perspective, I have also found the group to often be a reliable resource for numbers and analysis.

I have much respect for Geoff Lawrence, a thinker who has appeared on “Face to Face” many times. And I have lamented many times that there is no analogue on the left, a liberal think tank that would provide a counterpoint.

But — and you knew a “but” was coming — I sense a shift in NPRI, a disturbing one toward acting as a partisan hit squad, not coincidentally against ambitious Democrats looking to move up to Congress. Instead of producing provocative pieces on school choice or tax reform — as NPRI has done — we have been treated lately to overblown vituperations against Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford.

Both of the screeds ignore obvious philosophical points — the public employees in the Legislature, the legitimacy of the Interim Finance Committee — to focus attention on Oceguera and Horsford, both of whom are, coincidentally, Democrats running for Congress. (Indeed, the attack on Horsford originally was slated to be on Treasurer Kate Marshall — it mentions her, too — and, coincidentally, she, too, is running for Congress.)

Is NPRI really the Nevada Promote Republicans Institute? I hope not. But my doubts are intensifying. Here’s why:

First, NPRI has been crusading against Oceguera, accusing him of lying about how much he made as an assistant fire chief during the 2011 legislative session. Oceguera has not helped himself with his muddled responses, and the reflexive defense by his boss seemed as protesting too much. But I am not sure why NPRI thinks its job is to play “gotcha” with elected officials. The facts are these, according to check deposit information I have obtained:

Oceguera grossed just under $60,000 during the 2011 Legislature and netted about $34,500. That compares with about $70,000 he grossed during the session in 2009 — a net of just under $43,000.

It appears that because he is management and doesn’t fill out his own time cards that errors were made — now being corrected — about vacation pay vs. annual leave, etc. But he made the same amount every pay period, records show.

But who cares, really, besides political opponents and Republican attack dogs? The damage is done and will be exploited.

The substantive questions — and a think tank should care about those — are twofold:

1. Should a public employee such as Oceguera even be allowed to serve in Carson City?

2. If he is going to serve, shouldn’t he take an unpaid leave, as others do?

The answer to the second question is easy: Of course he should. To argue that he is indispensable to the North Las Vegas fire department is ludicrous.

Oceguera claims — and I have no reason to disbelieve him — that he participated in regular conference calls and returned hundreds of emails. But this is politically tone-deaf at the very least, especially during an economy in which people might not be too thrilled to learn that a guy running one house of the Legislature also is making $60,000 from his other job.

Beyond that, the issue of whether public employees are violating the constitutional separation of powers is an issue that is legitimate and should be resolved once and for all. Aren’t they hopelessly conflicted and serving two masters — and getting paid a lot more by one than the other?

That’s something to think about.

If NPRI couldn’t keep its eye on the ball in the Oceguera case, the group simply spewed partisan nonsense against Horsford. Once again Miller penned a diatribe, with this headline: “Horsford-led IFC may have illegally plundered millions from College Savings Plan.”

May have? Illegally plundered? Really? Is this NPRI or the New York Post?

The issue has to do with IFC transferring $4.2 million from a college savings plan to help shore up the Millennium Scholarship. The IFC amended a $200,000 request after a lot of discussion.

The vote was … unanimous. So why single out Horsford in that headline? And, why isn’t NPRI focusing on the real issue here instead of trying to hurt Democratic congressional hopefuls with accusations they acknowledge they can’t prove — that is, whether a lawmaker should be allowed to meet outside of the constitutionally mandated 120 days and move money around?

Hmm. Thought-provoking, that is.

If NPRI wants to be an extension of the GOP attack machine, fine. But if it wants to be taken seriously as a cauldron of provocative ideas, then it should stay away from obvious partisan headhunting.

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  1. This is very valid. In fact, when someone forwarded me the article on the IFC, I first requested that I be removed from their mailing list and second said, in reality the constitutionality of the IFC should be questioned - but it's the question that dare not get asked, along with public employees serving in the Legislature.

    Thanks for calling this out Jon.

  2. The substantive questions WE ALL SHOULD care about is:

    Should a public employee such as Oceguera even be allowed to serve in Carson City?

  3. If you google "NPRI & nonpartisan...

    you get definitions of the word OXYMORON.