It’s rare for both parties to repeat mistakes of the recent past in Carson City so obviously.
But the Democrats are committing the same political malpractice and the Republicans are issuing the same mendacious demagoguery this session on an issue that isn’t even…an issue. The bill at the center of this is AB 281, which Republicans falsely are calling a “sanctuary state” measure — and Democrats let proceed through the process and then abruptly buried after the first sign of GOP criticism.
The Democratic circular firing squad, as leaders clash with a determined Hispanic lawmaker, likely will not have long-term significance outside the capital bubble. But the Republicans putting their dog-whistles in their mouths for the second consecutive election cycle, after being nearly swept in 2018, is the definition of insanity.
You would have thought the Republicans learned their lessons after the 2017 session during which then-state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson sent out releases about a barely similar measure and screamed “sanctuary state” on his way to a crushing loss in the lieutenant governor’s race. The hollow yet dangerous rhetoric was appropriated by then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who echoed his running mate’s despicable chorus on his way to a crushing loss in the governor’s race.
Laxalt is trying to use AB 281 as a way to resurrect his brief, unhappy career, erecting a website that is borderline racist and mostly false while the state GOP has piggybacked onto what the prospective congressional hopeful is doing with blast emails and social media drivel. And the Democrats have played right into their hands by dithering over the bill and then forcing sponsor and Assemblyman Edgar Flores to pull it while the furor dies down – as if it will.
If this sounds familiar, it is.
In 2017, then-Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford scuttled Sen. Yvanna Cancela’s attempt to codify certain law enforcement procedures after Metro expressed concerns that the bill could cost millions of dollars in federal funding, and Roberson was bleating almost daily about Nevada becoming a “sanctuary state.” (It would have done no such thing, especially because there is no such thing.)
Emboldened by the Democrats’ el foldo, Roberson and Laxalt pushed the issue in state Senate recall efforts, their own campaigns and even a ballot question that did not qualify. They went 0 for 3, but they apparently did not get the message.
The Democrats did, though, and this cycle Flores introduced a measure that was so drastically scaled back that even Metro testified in favor of it. Why? Because, as several key lawmakers said, it does “nothing.”
In this case, “nothing” means codifying in state law what Metro says it is already doing – not simply handing undocumented immigrants over to ICE if they have, for instance, a broken taillight. Flores, speaking for others, simply does not trust Metro to abide by a so-called 287g process with the feds, which is why he brought the bill.
The language is not ambiguous:
No state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department shall detain a person on the basis of a hold request except where there is an independent finding of probable cause.
This section must not be construed to prevent any state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department from participation in a delegated authority program.
No wonder the cops testified in favor.
So now the measure is in limbo and the Senate seems, ahem, less than eager to process it. But that has not stopped Laxalt, who is filling a vacuum because the GOP essentially is bereft of a statewide leader. (Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske really can’t spew partisan attacks.)
I don’t know whether Laxalt and the other partisans, including the state GOP, don’t understand the bill or don’t care. Based on history, it could be either or both. Laxalt’s latest breathless pitch makes that obvious:
Assembly Bill 281 would be a disaster. We've seen what happens when sanctuary policies take over—it puts the safety of our loved ones and our communities in jeopardy.
Sure, Laxalt can rev up the base again and maybe even help himself if he decides to run for Mark Amodei’s congressional seat. But this is a long-term loser for the GOP in Nevada, as 2018 showed. Donald Trump and his Nevada acolytes drove up midterm turnout, including among Latinos, to record highs and suffered because of it. In 2020, turnout will be even higher, which makes one wonder about their political IQs.
(Pew estimates that 28 percent of Nevada’s 3 million population is Hispanic (and that 210,000 undocumented immigrants lived here in 2016. In last year’s election, Latino turnout, which traditionally surges in presidential years, was higher than normal for a midterm.)
Maybe I underestimated the Democrats, whom I have accused of foolishly allowing this bill to proceed if they were just going to pull it. Maybe they were brilliantly, as a friend of mine likes to put it, breadcrumbing the GOP into a cage and then locking it.
I doubt that. But this is a short-term embarrassment for the Democrats and a long-term miscalculation for the GOP that could ensure Nevada is blue for some time to come.