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2021 is finally — finally! — here

The Legislature on the eleventh day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Saturday, July 18, 2020. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

Like a fool, I made some predictions last year, as I did the previous New Year’s. Given how 2020 proved to be the ultimate black swan event, the end of history, the most unprecedented of unprecedented years, how accurate do you suppose my predictions proved to be? 

Modestly, remarkably accurate, it turns out. Let’s review them:

  • “I’m 99 percent certain Congressional District 2 will remain in Republican hands.”
  • “I say with at least 99 percent certainty that Sharron Angle will not be that Republican.”
  • “I’m about 75 percent certain that the remainder of Nevada’s congressional delegation will remain Democratic.”
  • “I’m about 75 percent certain that the Democratic Party could run a drought-starved ficus and it would beat Trump.”
  • “I’m 50 percent confident the Democratic Party will end up nominating Joe Biden, with Warren and Sanders splitting the not-Biden vote.”
  • “I’m 99 percent certain the Democratic Party will choose someone with even less personality, ideology, and name recognition than Tim Kaine to run for vice-president.”
  • “This, I’m 99 percent certain, will annoy the Democratic Party base greatly, but they’ll still show up to stop The Man in Orange.”
  • “I anticipate the Democratic Party will treat its base the way Republicans treated theirs until rather recently — as a hostage with no choice but to show up and reliably vote against their least favorite team.”

Congressional District 2 is still in Republican hands. Sharron Angle is not a congresswoman. The remainder of Nevada’s congressional delegation is still Democratic. The Democractic Party nominated Joe Biden (remember, I made this prediction in the beginning of January, before the Iowa caucus even took place) and defeated Trump. Joe Biden’s nomination did indeed annoy many in the Democratic Party’s base (log into Twitter sometime if you don’t believe me), but turnout was high. My final prediction — that elected Democrats would largely ignore the activist wing of the party — remains to be seen, though President-Elect Biden’s suggestion that it may take months to meaningfully change federal immigration policy tells me that I was probably right about that, too.

The only prediction I can confidently say I whiffed on was my 99 percent certainty (clearly far too high) that Joe Biden’s running mate would be an anonymous backbencher. Say what you may about Kamala Harris, but she’s definitely not that. My personal model for Democratic Party vice-presidential selection clearly needs to be overhauled. 

Given how my predictions for 2019 were considerably less remarkably accurate, however, I think we can all safely assume that any improvement upon my predictive accuracy in 2020 was more a product of the general weirdness of the year and less on any sort of self-improvement on my part. To help ensure things return to form, here are a few predictions for 2021:

Nevada won’t get another congressional seat.

I am 90 percent certain that, for the first time this century, Nevada will not pick up another congressional seat after reapportionment. 

According to recent Census Bureau population estimates, Nevada’s population grew from 2,700,551 residents in 2010 to 3,138,259 in 2020 — a respectable increase, especially after the economic devastation wrought by the Great Recession. While Nevada was adding more than 400,000 residents, however, Texas added over four million, more than 10 times Nevada’s population gain. Florida, meanwhile, added nearly three million residents.

Consequently, those two states are projected to be where most new congressional seats will be added, as well as a few states, like Montana, that were close to getting a new seat in the last census.

Incidentally, you can try to run your own projections from home if you’re looking for a new hobby to pursue in 2021. The Census Bureau provides a high-level how-to guide on the process, and this post on Medium describes how to implement the Census Bureau’s algorithm using Google Sheets. Summarizing briefly, the Census Bureau uses the Equal Proportions Method, which calculates the priority value for each state’s congressional seats, based on census population, then ranks all of the state’s priority values from first to 435ths. Priority values are calculated by multiplying state populations and a series of sequentially calculated multipliers

Based on my own calculations, Nevada’s fifth congressional seat was 472nd in line, behind California’s first lost congressional seat in history. 

Be advised, however, that you won’t get the same results the Census Bureau calculated in 2010 using the Medium article’s method. Dividing the Census Bureau’s first calculated priority value (26,404,774) by their first multiplier (0.70710678), which I did to reverse-engineer the Census Bureau’s numbers, gave a population of 37,341,990, which was significantly higher than California’s population in the 2010 census (37,253,956). Additionally, the priority value ranks are out of order starting with seat 125. 

There’s a reason I’m only 90 percent certain about this one, in other words. Either I’m doing something wrong or the Census Bureau did something wrong, or perhaps a bit of both. Besides, we still need to see what the 2020 census actually reveals.

Jon Ralston’s optimism will be wildly misplaced.

A couple of weeks ago, our benevolent editor-in-chief wrote an inspiring column about the challenges facing Nevada and how our elected officials in Carson City should, could, and might even actually work together for the common good of Nevadans. He finished his column with a bold claim — that lawmakers and the governor are up for the challenges facing us in 2021. It’s a well written article and I strongly encourage you to read it right now if you haven’t already. 

It’s also wrong. This, I think with 75 percent certainty, will shape up to be the most fractious and ridiculously partisan session in at least a generation.

A key issue Nevada’s lawmakers face right now is that nearly every single piece of the state government is currently controlled by one party. The governor is a Democrat. The Democratic Party enjoys large majorities in both houses of the Legislature, albeit not large enough ones to pass tax increases on party lines (more on that in my next prediction). Our lieutenant governor, attorney general, controller, and treasurer are all Democrats. The lone piece of the state government controlled by a Republican is led by a woman who’s been fighting her own party against unfounded charges of voter fraud for nearly a year now. 

Consequently, the Republican Party has absolutely no stake in Nevada’s state government, nor in the outcomes produced by it, and they know and act like it. 

To understand what I mean, White Pine’s all-Republican county commission recently passed a measure threatening to prosecute state officials and promising to pay state-issued COVID-19 enforcement fines, which earned a pat on the back from the usual corners. Additionally, as I pointed out a couple weeks ago, Lincoln County’s all-Republican county commission wanted to do something similar but stymied their own efforts on procedural grounds. Looking back to our distant, murky pre-COVID past, let’s also not forget the time the Nye County sheriff compared Gov. Sisolak to Adolf Hitler because of his support for gun purchase background checks (a measure, for the record, which I somehow was able to oppose not once but twice in this publication without comparing Nevada to the Third Reich).

These are not constituents, in other words, who are particularly interested in electing politicians who might cooperate with anything that comes out of Carson City, nor are they particularly interested in rewarding politicians who do so. 

This attitude hasn’t developed in a vacuum. It’s easy enough to imagine Republicans peeling a few Democrats off of a bill in order to kill it, but the idea that Gov. Sisolak would reach out to Republicans to pass a preferred policy the way his predecessor reached out to Democrats in 2015 to pass the Commerce Tax defies imagination. Even without that, however, both 2020 and Donald Trump happened, and both have conspired to create additional pressures among Republicans. Adam Laxalt, for example, is still raising money off the wallets of incredulous donors by promising to fight “election fraud”. Oh, and is that Michael McDonald, chairman of the state Republican Party, behind Laxalt’s right shoulder in the header picture? I do believe it is. 

At the same time, there are more than a few Democrats who have observed more than once that, whenever there’s been an economic downturn in the past 20 years, it’s urban Nevada, not rural Nevada, that takes it on the chin. Take, for example, April 2020, when Clark County experienced Great Depression-like 34 percent unemployment, Washoe County experienced 20 percent unemployment, and both White Pine and Lincoln counties had comfortably sub-10 percent unemployment rates. Even now, Clark County has a higher unemployment rate (13.8 percent) than many rural counties experienced during the worst of the pandemic. 

Mining and ranching, it turns out, can be done more socially distantly than tourism. Who knew.

That’s not to say rural Nevada hasn’t experienced some challenges. In Clark and Washoe counties, high-speed internet access — a necessity for remote learning — is limited by poverty. In much of rural Nevada, meanwhile, it’s limited by geography, which makes school shutdowns especially problematic where such infrastructure doesn’t exist. Brothels, a source of high paying jobs and licensing revenue for rural counties, remain closed for both in-person and remote work, even though Gov. Sisolak noted how pandemic restrictions must maintain a “balancing act” between pandemic control and economic need. Tourism, meanwhile, has taken just as much of a nosedive in rural Nevada as it has everywhere else in the country. 

Even so, this is the second economic downturn in as many decades in which rural Nevada, and the Republicans representing them, have squealed like stuck pigs while the rest of the state bled out in a coma. Additionally, several Republicans in this state, encouraged by an increasingly rabid base, have openly adopted a scorched earth policy to electoral politics — if Democrats are for something, they’ll be against it, and they’ll take it to court, too. 

That’s regrettable but strategically plausible when you’re the majority party. When you’re the minority party and wield few levers of power, however, it’s a recipe for irritation and irrelevance.

On the irritation side, sooner or later Nevada’s majority party will remember that constitutional amendments (to, say, amend the mining tax cap) and tax increases can pass in this state with simple legislative majorities — those measures then just need to be approved by voters. If you’re a Republican and you think that’s apocalyptic, I’ll further observe there’s also very little preventing the Legislature from passing a measure (also via simple majority vote) which outsources the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to, say, the Center for Biological Diversity, nor is there anything prohibiting the Legislature from requiring Patrick Donnelly to hand count every plant and pupfish on a mining claim before another mining permit is issued in this state. There’s also nothing governing water rights in the state Constitution, nor does it require the Legislature to spend more per student on students in rural school districts.

As I keep telling my fellow Libertarians, governments do far worse things than tax increases. After a year of watching some of their Republican colleagues behave unconscionably — seriously, who told Assemblywoman Titus that putting this in writing was a good idea? — there are going to be some Democrats who would love to show rural Nevada what real government-induced economic immiseration looks like, especially if it strikes their opponents’ donors in their pocketbooks.

I also think they might succeed ­— at least in the short term. Thanks to the magic of term limits, that’s as far as anyone in the Legislature needs to think anyway. Even if they don’t, there will be several Democratic-aligned interest groups who will be happy to reward the effort. 

While I’m here, as someone who enjoys our editor-in-chief’s acerbic style when he’s frustrated beyond measure by the nonsense which percolates from Carson City at its worst, I also think I’ll enjoy his column at the end of this session, though I’ll be as morose as anyone about the events which led to it. 

This brings me to my next prediction.

There will be civil unrest in Carson City during the next session.

For this prediction, it’s important to define my terms. When I talk about “civil unrest,” I’m not talking about the almost routine protests in downtown Carson City that have been happening for the past couple of months. I’m talking about something like what happened in Oregon a couple of weeks ago. I’m talking about armed protesters facing very well-armed and armored police officers, shattered doors, and reports of assault. 

I feel 80 percent confident something very similar will happen in Carson City — and the only reason that number isn’t higher is I’m not sure when or if the Legislature is going to meet in person instead of remotely. This prediction doesn’t preclude the possibility that protesters choose to storm the Governor’s Mansion instead — it’s certainly been tried, if half-heartedly, at least once.

If or when this happens, it will do absolutely nothing to improve the collegiality between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.

No taxes will be approved with a two-thirds majority during the 2021 session.

I’m 99 percent certain of this, though there will be some Republicans sniffing around for concessions to encourage Democrats to waste time trying to court their votes. It won’t work — blocking tax increases is the one thing Republicans in the Legislature can actually, materially accomplish, and believe me, neither their base nor their donors will let them forget that.

Frankly, neither will I. I still haven’t forgiven them for 2015.

Some other, less certain conclusions — and a conclusion.

Here are some more predictions, though I don’t have enough information to determine how likely they are to happen:

I think the Legislature is going to let the Clark County Education Association’s ballot initiatives to increase sales and gaming taxes go straight to the voters without a floor vote. That’s where the tax measures would end up anyway if the Legislature passed them with only majority support, and as Democratic jurisdictions actually pay sales and gaming taxes, there’s political cost to even symbolically supporting those measures. The several mining tax amendments from the last special session, however, are likely to be consolidated into one mining tax amendment, which will be passed on party lines, in no small part because there isn’t a single Democrat in this state representing significant mining interests. All three taxes will ultimately be decided by the voters in 2022, though I have no firm sense of how any of them will end up.

I also think the Legislature is going to meet for a full session out of the gate in February instead of a perfunctory session in February followed by a series of special sessions after the Legislature is fully vaccinated. Special sessions are considerably more limited in scope than the regular session, so, from a procedural standpoint, trying to wait for members of the Legislature and its lobbyists and staff to get vaccinated before conducting significant business would be a logistical nightmare, one which Republican lawmakers would happily exploit (Republicans can’t pass anything this session, but they can certainly gum up the works if given an opportunity). 

Consequently, at least at first, I expect the 2021 session to start a lot like last summer’s special sessions — remotely, with the vote in favor of remote participation held on party lines. I further expect a few Republican lawmakers to then loudly attend the Legislature in person and conduct their business maskless, much to the visible consternation of everyone around them.

If this bill even gets heard in committee, I’d be moderately stunned. 

More broadly, I think the national economy will come back sooner than people think — but I also think it’ll be a while longer before tourism returns to its pre-COVID levels. As I pointed out a while back, things just haven’t been quite the same since the Great Recession, and corporate customers — the sort who bring conventions to the area — are far less blasé about public health than individuals. The Las Vegas municipal government has been in the national news for all of the wrong reasons over the past year, which means the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority might have to embark on a Paradise Awareness Project (The Strip isn’t in Las Vegas, actually, so it’s safe to come here!) to bring business back. 

Finally, since I want to end on a positive note, as bad as things might get in 2021, I’m certain we’ll all remain thankful it’s not 2020. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected]

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