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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cresent Hardy's freshman year in the Assembly

During Cresent Hardy's freshman term in the State Assembly he favored smokers, ignored the pleas of educators to stabilize funding, attempted to reduce wages for workers on rural public works projects, voted against prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing based upon gender, joined other Republicans in arguing that people enjoy too many entitlements, and blamed the press for making the community a joke.
Hardy (R., District 20) supported legislation (signed into law by Governor Brian Sandoval) to allow smokers to drink, eat a snack or a full meal at the same time in some restaurant areas. He took this view even though the Campaign for Smoke Free Kids reports that smoking costs Nevadans $565 million-a-year or about $554 per household and causes a loss of Nevada productivity of an estimated $903 million. These amounts do not include health costs from exposure to secondhand smoke, smoking-caused fires, smokeless tobacco use, or cigar and pipe smoking. Tobacco use also imposes additional costs such as workplace productivity losses and damage to property.
Hardy voted no on a bill to ensure sufficient funding for K-12 public education for the 2011-2013 biennium. He disagreed with the claim that Nevadans spends less per pupil than other states arguing that Nevada provides somewhere between $9,000 and $14,000 per student thus ranking education in Nevada at 26th in the nation. Hardy is reported to have said that he thinks the budget for education is fair.
However, the 2010 annual survey by Education Week magazine ranks Nevada 50th in the nation for the quality of its public K-12 education and gives Nevada an overall report card score of D. The nation, as a whole, earned a C. Nevada's overall score was dragged down in four main categories: 1) potential for success, 2) K-12 achievement, 3) ratio of teachers to students need and 4) school finance. Nevada ranks 48th in the nation in education spending. On average Nevada politicians spend 1/3rd the nations average and have a higher average teacher to student ratio (19.41 to 15.38). According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Nevada students in grades 4 and 8 are below average in math, reading, science and writing.
If one focuses on overall outcome instead of spending input it's clear to see why Nevada is ranked so low. To that end, Hardy joined in supporting a bill that required the Board of Regents to increase their focus on auditing. In another piece of legislation, ( Assembly Bill 222) he agreed to install a four-tier educator evaluation system. A four-tier system represents a shift from the current binary system that classifies teachers as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The new categories include highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective.
Unfortunately, he and his fellow supporters of these two pieces of legislation are simply attempting to shift the performance problem from a lack of funds to blaming administrators and teachers. Neither of the legislative initiatives have any merit, primarily because both audits and evaluations 1) occur after a performance has occurred, 2) are statistically unreliable and biased towards favoritism, 3) create fear and anxiety and 4) put up barriers to productivity.
In higher education, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno will pay 13 percent more in tuition this fall which will add about $400 a year for full-time students.
During a recent town town hall meeting, Hardy told the group that he introduced a bill (Assembly Bill 312) on prevailing wage in order to improve the benefits to contractors and reduce costs on public work projects. The bill died in committee.
Specifically, the bill attempted to reduce overtime expenses for contractors and eliminate collective bargaining on overtime for workers on public works projects. In addition, the bill attempted to modify the way the Labor Commissioner sets prevailing wages for public works projects performed in a county. The intent was to build into the Commissions survey the lower wages paid to workers in rural areas.
Hardy voted against a bill that prohibited discrimination in employment and housing based upon gender. The record doesn't show why a state legislator would vote against discrimination. Perhaps it's because discrimination is adequately covered by federal and constitutional law. Nonetheless, bills such as this are often introduced to tease out a legislators biases.
During the town hall meeting Hardy suggested that the state and nation are teetering on a slippery slop because of an attitude of entitlements. Entitlements are a hot topic between Republican and Democrats these days. Nationally Republicans seem to be after social security, medicare and medicaid. Nationally Democrats have put up cuts in defense and farm, livestock and dairy subsidies in addition to ending tax breaks for the oil and other industries.
Recipients of livestock subsidies (entitlements) from farms in Nevada totaled $12,848,000 from 1995-2010. Then there are subsidies in fishing, dairy, mining, oil and gas, public land development, water development and even the chemical industries. And there are set-asides for public works projects, and community development project block grants. In the very near future, Hardy must define which entitlements (subsidies) he prefers and those he wishes would go away or be diverted to the private sector.
Hardy, is and will remain under press scrutiny while he is a member of the Assembly. In his recent town hall meeting, Hardy said he was looking forward to having some youth in his life. He is tired, he said, of dealing with these hateful old people. He may get his wish, but the distribution of the population may be different than he desires.
The average Assembly district in Clark County has a population of 64,229 and the majority of Clark county is Democrat. Further, the population he serves is no longer all-white ranchers, farmers, contractors and allegedly corrupt water right buyers and sellers.
His region, like others in Clark County, has boomed, adding to its growth among minority residents; Hispanics grew 82% and Asians dwarfed even that at 116%. With the combined minority population now at 46%, whites may fast becoming the Nevada minority.
In addition to representing a minority population, Nevada's Hispanics tend to vote as a bloc, opening the possibility that they may also be treated as a community of interest in drawing boundaries.
Certainly, the Hispanic bloc will look unfavorably at wage limitations. Minorities, including those with a gender issue, will not look kindly on gender discrimination and younger people are less included to smoke than the old timers. And the old people he is tired of dealing with will certainly have something to say about cuts in social security, and trading off medicare, medicaid for private sector vouchers.
Hardy's choices during his freshman year reflect a narrow view of the health, educational and economic needs of his constituency. They deserve better.

Michael M. McGreer writes on public policy. His books: No Harm, No Foul, Bioterrorism in the 21st century, and All Rivers Flow West, are both available on Amazon. Click here to see his blog