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The outside of the Nevada Legislature, seen on March 18, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

In any good movie, the best character is almost always the villain. They have more personality, and the actors playing them almost always look like they’re having the most fun. It’s even better when they have a compelling backstory, or some nominally noble reasons for unleashing their unspeakable evil (Thanos is the ultimate Malthusian environmentalist!). And the more clever they are, the more thrilling their ultimate defeat.

But even the smartest of those Hollywood bad guys always seems to do the same thing at the end. In their moment of mustache-twirling triumph, they take the time to tell the protagonist exactly what their plans are, ironically giving that hero both the time and the knowledge to defeat the bad guy and save the world.

It’s the kind of thing that almost takes you out of the movie. No one would be that stupid, right?

Senate Democrats must have watched too many Bond films, and then said, “hold our beers.”  And that’s how SB551, which tries to “trap” Senate Republicans into voting for tax increases, came to be.

Democrats previously gutted funds dedicated to school safety in an effort to keep promises that couldn’t realistically be kept because of pesky old math. It was a lame attempt to “subtly” get at least one Republican to vote for a tax increase, an increase which wouldn’t even raise all that much money, relatively speaking.

But Republicans called the bluff, noting (as I did last week) that there were plenty of other ways to get that same amount of money (and much more!) by doing basic things like not meekly tolerating the obvious graft behind mysterious and sudden near-doubling of public education building costs.

The smart response to a called bluff is to fold, but Democrats are trying the same thing again. This time, though, there is no broader budget balancing bill to make the brinksmanship less obvious. It’s just a straight up, “raise taxes or the kids get hurt” extortion attempt. And at least as of this writing, the Republicans are continuing to stand firm against it. Good.

It’s also silly to keep bluffing when you’ve already shown your hand, as Democrats have done by supporting budget-busting measures such as greatly expanding prevailing wage mandates (inflating construction costs for schools and other public works), signing off on collective bargaining for state employees and requiring local districts to raise their teacher salaries, among other things. Not all of this spending is necessarily bad, but wouldn’t even the most hardened union boss chose the lives of schoolchildren over a few extra bucks in dues, or extra vacation days?  I would certainly hope so, and I think most voters will feel the same way. It’s sad that school safety wasn’t a higher priority for the party in power.

And if Democrats are right and the tax increase isn’t really an increase because it extends existing tax rates which were supposed to sunset, why would they resort to such desperate tactics in order to flip enough Republicans (one is all they need) to get a two-thirds vote to legally approve those taxes per our Constitution?  Talk about squandering credibility with a silly legal argument.

And so Senate Democrats are announcing their plan to “trap” Republicans while at the same time demonstrating how flimsy that trap really is, and all but telling their opponents how to defeat them.

I don’t mean to imply that Democrats are actual villains with my movie metaphors. I think they’re wrong, not evil. But I wish they would step back and see how ridiculous and dishonest they look and sound with lame political stunts like this. A little self-reflection might earn them a little well-needed humility, which in turn, will make them better policy makers.

In the meantime, Republicans seem – at least as of this writing – to have finally learned the power of calling out garbage like this. After decades of being slanderously accused of hating children every time they push back against a tax increase of questionable necessity, it’s about time such tactics stop working. Sticking together and calling bluffs is how one increases respect, power, and re-election chances, even in the minority. It's also how one becomes a better steward of our taxpayer dollars. Democrats this session have done more to unite Republicans and hone their political instincts than anything I’ve seen in the last decade.

***

By the time this column is actually published, plenty may have changed. Republicans might have lost their nerve and their unity. The Democrats’ bluff might work. They only need to flip one, after all, and the skeezy depths of the last-minute horse-trading have not yet begun to be plumbed.

But I hope not. This session has shown us that an unfettered majority can get awfully carried away and do some stupid, self-destructive things. (Hello, national popular vote, which would make Nevada irrelevant in presidential elections!) A well-organized opposition not only ensures that a broader array of stakeholders are having their voices heard, but tempers the worst impulses of the majority party. If the Republicans can keep their heads and their caucus together, everyday Nevadans will be better off for it by this time next week.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at [email protected]

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