Saturday, November 08, 2003

Strike a blow for freedom; drink zin

... or cab, or viognier, or ....

Had a splendid time at the Reason anniversary banquet and education conference, which was, as Virginia Postrel said, like old home week. I always enjoy catching up with old friends and associates and making new ones. Congrats again for 35 wonderful years.

I'm not a big advocate of "social investing," but I do like to support businesses that offer quality products and are at least slightly sympathetic to my philosophical leanings. That's why I was cheered to examine the list of the banquet's sponsors and find Cline Cellars and Babcock Winery included. As a cheap wino, I've enjoyed Cline's value-priced zins for years (they make excellent higher-end wines, too). I'm less familiar with Babcock's line, but we're big fans of Santa Ynez pinots and syrahs, and the red table wine that evening from Babcock was excellent. Support these fine folks who are willing to part with some of their hard-earned cash to aid the cause of freedom.

Juice joint

For the past couple of decades, Las Vegas has tried to shake its longstanding image as a juice town, a city of on-the-take politicians and corrupt political institutions. This week, that cause was again set back. Three current and former members of the Clark County Commission were indicted by federal prosecutors for their alleged role in "Operation G-Sting," the corruption probe involving strip club owner Mike Galardi and his attempts to manipulate zoning policies to give his businesses a competitive advantage. Current commission chairman Mary Kincaid-Chauncey and former commissioners Lance Malone and Dario Herrera were indicted on multiple conspiracy and wire fraud charges and each faces maximum sentences that could reach more than three centuries. (An expert contacted by the Review-Journal estimates it's more likely they'll spend 10-15 years in the hoosegow.)

Galardi has cooperated with prosecutors, as has former commissioner Erin Kenny, who's agreed to repay some $70 grand in bribes and will probably spend some time in Club Fed as well. (If Kenny as a cooperating witness is going behind bars, then the ones who haven't folded should face some serious time.)

Transcripts of the wiretapped conversations between the principals are plenty damning -- with Kenny (that's the same Erin Kenny who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor last year) saying "I'm on my knees begging" for cash; Kincaid soliciting $15 grand from Malone (who was then working as Galardi's bag man) to pay tuition for her grandson; and Herrera (that's the same Dario Herrera -- "fighting for Nevada's families -- who was the Democratic nominee for the 3rd Congressional District seat last year) having Galardi pay $400 for lap dances at a club within a few weeks of the birth of his son. Read the whole thing here. Additional comments from RJ columnists are here and here, and a collection of links to all the RJ's reporting is here.

The good news is, the feds have pursued this case aggressively, while local prosecutors could have been, shall we say, sidetracked. Malone is a former cop, after all. Voters did reject these young, onetime rising stars: Republican Malone when he ran for re-election in 2000, and Democrats Kenny and Herrera when they sought higher offices last year. Still, the stench of corruption hangs heavily over this, the fastest-growing cow town in America.

Speaking of small towns

State Sen. Ray Rawson has spent nearly two decades in the Legislature, and over time he's done quite well for himself at public expense. He draws the second-highest salary of any faculty member in the state university system, bringing in nearly $200,000 a year as a the head of dental clinics at the local community college. (I'm not making this up.) and head of the local dental college, which simply replicates a perfectly good school up north and would never exist without his patronage. And he voted for the largest tax increase in state history. He's the poster child for those who would insist that the state enforce the constitution's ban on public employees serving in the Legislature.

Rawson has drawn a challenger next year, Assemblyman Bob Beers, hero of the state's tax resistance movement. In this safely Republican district, on the issues that should matter most to Nevadans, Beers should win in a cakewalk. So in an act of sheer desperation, Rawson has played the Mormon card. Yes, for those of you who don't know it, Southern Nevada is home to the second-largest concentrations of LDSers outside Salt Lake City, with the local Mormon population approaching 100,000. And the tribe -- of whom Rawson is a member in good standing -- takes care of its own. Rawson has hired Steve Wark, a principal in the local Pat Robertson brigade back in the '80s, to aid his campaign. And this week, Wark had Rawson send a letter to voters in his district, calling Beers a godless communist.

Well, not exactly. But Rawson did cite his passionate activism against the godless homosexuals who would -- horrors -- insist on settling down in a stable, lifelong relationship with their lovers. Yes, Rawson was an vocal supporter of the popular state initiatives which banned same-sex marriage; and Beers, Rawson's flier alleged, was not. My buddy Steve Sebelius, always on the case, outed Rawson's cynicial little scheme in this column by calling Beers and discovering that the accountant, married 22 years with two children, supported the initiative as well. Indeed, he was platform chairman of the state Republican convention, and that platform included a plank supporting the initiative.

Wark brushes all this off by claiming that Republican voters will overlook Rawson's apostasy on taxes and public employment. Sebelius isn't so sure:

You can go with Beers, who Rawson claims is squishy on the gay-marriage question but who'll fight on the clear and present issue of taxes, or you can go with Rawson, who's definitely squishy on taxes, but who will support a constitutional amendment that's settled law.

There's also little doubt gaming will give Rawson unlimited amounts of money to stop Beers, but it may not matter. Beers is solid on taxes and can use the heavy-handed tactics of gaming to his advantage ("I'm just a simple accountant, hoping my constituents can keep more of their hard-earned dollars.") I'm betting (and hoping) Beers still wins in a blowout. Read the whole thing.

More juice

The back story here is the Mormon angle. (Beers is a Presbyterian, for what that's worth.) For decades, the LDS hierarchy has ensured that ambitious young members of the faith landed jobs in local government, particularly in public works, see here and here. And while perhaps the most competent and incorruptible person in local government, county commissioner Bruce Woodbury, is himself a Mormon, others of lower character have attempted to play the LDS card for their own advantage. Even Dario Herrera converted to Mormonism during his congressional campaign; see where it got him. Just another example of how a city with more than 1 million residents can seem stiflingly claustrophobic.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Happy 35th

I'll be in L.A. Wednesday to attend Reason magazine's 35th anniversary party. It's difficult for me to believe that I worked at Reason for more than one-fourth of its existence. It'll be a fine time.

Earlier that day, I'll be covering a Reason Public Policy Institute conference on education reform, organized by my friend Lisa Snell, who worked for me in Washington, D.C., as a summer intern a few years ago before getting hired full-time by Reason. Now she does a great job directing education studies for RPPI. Check out Lisa's blog.

No chance for abuse?

Debates have raged in blogdom and elsewhere over the USA Patriot Act -- whether it's a legitimate extension of federal power in the wake of the 9/11 attacks or an invitation to abuse our constitutional rights. Consider me clearly in the latter camp. Today's Review-Journal reported that the Las Vegas FBI used an obscure provision of the act to collect financial info on the targets of its political corruption probe. To be sure, some of the players here are bad guys. But nobody's claiming the Galardi strip club owners -- or the current and former elected officials under investigation -- are members of al-Qaida or any other terrorist group, for that matter. All of which makes the success of the broad coalition of lawmakers and activists set on rolling back some of the most egregious portions of the Patriot Act essential.