By Phillip Moyer, Nevada News Bureau
Republican Senator Stan Olsen cast his first vote since taking office as one of only five Nevada legislators to say “Nay” to the bill amending NRS 386.650 in a way that would allow Nevada to qualify for federal Race to the Top grants.
Olsen, who was chosen by the Clark County Commission to replace Senator Warren Hardy after he resigned in June 2009, says he’s not against the Race to the Top program and that “in many ways, not all, it’s much better than No Child Left Behind.”
However, Olsen said he voted against the measure because the amended language states that the bill applies to “an individual teacher, paraprofessional or other employee.” Olsen believes this language is vague enough that it may apply to employees who don’t have any direct relationship to the school’s curriculum, such as landscapers, nurses, cooks and custodians.
“I don’t have any problem with them having job protection, but they have no business being in that bill. And that’s the way I feel,” he said, adding that such vague language “creates a problem for someone who is trying to look at the law and see if they are following the law.”
When Olsen, a lobbyist and ex-police officer, was first approached with the proposition of filling the seat left vacant by the resignation of Hardy, his response was, “No. Are you out of your mind?”
But Olsen, who was raised in Nevada and whose children and grandchildren are all still in-state, eventually decided that he should take the position as a way of “paying back the state” that he grew up in.
“I just felt like, ‘yeah, I’m going to do it,’ even though it’s going to be the most difficult thing I’d ever put myself through. Voluntarily, too,” he said.
Laughing, he described how he made a Toastmasters speech about his appointment entitled “How to Get Job That Nobody Wants for No Pay and No Matter What You Do, Everybody’s Going to Be Mad at You.”
Based on Olsen’s conservative position on numerous issues facing legislators during this week’s special session, it looks like Nevada taxpayers can count on Olsen to vote “nay” at least a time or two more as new taxes and other revenue-enhancing measures come to the Senate floor.
Olsen says he believes the best way for the state government to deal with the budget gap is to “tighten the belt” and decrease spending, even though some of the results will be painful.
“We’re all in this together. All of us—everyone who lives in this state, no matter what we do,” he said. “As a result, we all have to do our part. And I am of the opinion that we have to do some belt-tightening.”
The governor’s plan to introduce a statewide voucher program bothers Olsen, and while he hesitated to say he was outright against the idea, he admitted that he had some “concerns.”
“Do I think that public education has some issues and problems? Absolutely. If somebody wants to go to a private school, they’re more than welcome to do it,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s fair. I don’t want to say that I don’t think it’s fair; I just don’t know that it’s fair that a taxpayer should fund somebody’s decision to go to a private school.”
Olsen says that depending on what they are, he may be willing to accept closing the budget gap via some fee increases that only apply to those who use specific government services. However, he’s against raising taxes, specifically those that would affect already struggling businesses.
“To put a tax on these businesses when they’re barely making it now is not wise,” he said.
Olsen also opposes the idea of taxing gaming, saying that the lower tax is what allowed Nevada to become the entertainment capital of the world, as opposed to places such as Atlantic City, which he says “is like the difference between New York City and a rural community. They have small pockets of gaming. We have a large, world-renowned system.”
He is also critical of the idea of dipping into city and county funds, saying, “It’s not just the state that’s in financial difficulty. The city of Reno is, Washoe County is, Carson City, Clark County, Henderson—they really are also. To me, it makes no sense to basically take their money, steal their money to offset the state’s issues when they’re in the same boat.”
Olsen’s term will end this coming November, and he has no plans to run for re-election. This was part of the reason he was considered for office in the first place, he says, since two Republicans were planning to run for the seat in November and the County Commission didn’t want to give anyone an incumbent edge.
Despite all the difficulties that Olsen has to face during the special session, he says that he’s honored to be able to put in his two cents’ worth as a state senator.
“Some people aren’t going to like what I do, and some people will,” he said. “But I’m going to do what my heart tells me to do.”