by Nancy Dallas, Nevada News Bureau:
Assemblyman John Hambrick this week said he will vie for chairmanship of the Republican Assembly Caucus against sitting chairman Pete Goicoechea if he wins reelection in November. He also expressed concerns about what he characterized as an abuse of power by some in Democratic leadership in Carson City.
Hambrick pointed to Senate Majority Leader Steve Horsford’s recent solicitation of money from lobbyists in return for access as an example of the misuse of political position. He also alluded to whispers that some Democratic leaders have told organizations around the state they will be denied access in the next legislative session if they give money to Republicans during the current election cycle.
The assemblyman also said he believes more conservative leadership is needed in the Assembly, and that he is opposed to an expanded sales tax but may be open to broadening the tax base in Nevada.
Following is a transcript of the e-interview conducted with Assemblyman John Hambrick by the Nevada News Bureau (NNB) on September 16, 2010.
NNB: Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea’s proposal to create a sales tax on food is meeting some strong opposition, particularly from the Republican ‘no new taxes’ conservative bloc. What is your view of this proposal?
Hambrick: I am totally opposed to this idea. Raising taxes at this time is bad for Nevadans. This type of tax is especially bad, since it disproportionately affects those with lower incomes.
NNB: What proposals would you consider to enable the state to close the estimated $3 to $3.5 billion budget deficit? Does the Republican Assembly Caucus (RAC) support these proposals?
Hambrick: First, we haven’t even begun to discuss cuts, efficiencies that need to be explored and outsourcing possibilities throughout areas of the state budget. Second, there needs to be a discussion on how to deal with the ever-rising personnel costs. Third, we need to prioritize every aspect of the state’s budget and decide what is really necessary right now and what can be eliminated.
NNB: Aside from a tax on food, the Nevada Policy Research Institute has suggested drastically reducing the BCCRT and SCCRT rates. With promises from many legislators to not ‘rob them of current revenue this session’, how would this affect City and County government revenues?
Hambrick: From my understanding of the report, the reduction in the rate also includes broadening the base of the tax. The goal of their proposal is to make the tax base less volatile, therefore stabilizing revenues across the state. If it works as they propose, it could actually be beneficial for the cities and county governments.
NNB: Assemblyman Goicoechea is the Interim Chair of the RAC. There are rumors you would like to serve as the RAC leader. Will there be an ‘in-house’ battle for the position of Minority Assembly leader once the General election is over?
Hambrick: Right now, Pete is the RAC leader. I believe that the leadership needs to be more conservative. Should I be returned to the Legislature and the RAC numbers grow, I will seek the leadership position. I hope to avoid a battle. We need to show a unified group that will add strength to the Governor’s pending budget proposal. I am assuming that the next Governor will be Brian Sandoval.
NNB: Taxation issues will be the primary topic of debate in the upcoming legislative session. Considering the current Republican Assembly candidates and the chances of each to win, do you think the RAC will be a united or a split minority in regards to such issues?
Hambrick: Yes, the Democrats are planning to lead off with tax increases first without even a willingness to discuss significant cuts. We Republicans need to come up with ideas and plans that we can agree on, and then work with who we hope will be the new Republican governor to maintain a consolidated position on budgeting issues. We are almost all running on a pledge of not increasing taxes, and we plan to stand on that. The answer concerning a split Caucus has to depend on those members who did not support the current Governor’s vetoes and how they will vote at the beginning of the 2011 session.
NNB: Is the RAC submitting any bills as a group? If so, what issues will they address?
Hambrick: The current leadership has not provided any guidance in this matter. However, I believe that shortly after the General Election the RAC will come together and submit BDRs that will address several topics. Additionally, I believe we will also get behind the Governor’s budget proposals.
NNB: What do the bills you have submitted, or intend to submit, address?
Hambrick: My primary focus will be to continue the work I started last session with AB 380 that deals with human trafficking. I have submitted four (4) BDRs in this area, with one of them supporting the victims of this horrific crime. I will also submit a BDR that toughens punishments for home invasion crimes and one that will open school athletic fields to youth sports programs.
NNB: Senate Majority Leader Stephen Horsford’s attempt to raise money from lobbyists by offering favorable treatment in exchange for donations appears to many to have crossed ethical boundaries. Has this been a common and accepted behind-the-scenes practice in Carson City politics? What is your opinion of Senator Horsford’s efforts? Should punitive legal action be taken?
Hambrick: We’ve all heard the phrase “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This comes across as a blatant example of how they want to use, and abuse, their power. The Democrat Leaders from both houses of the Legislature have been quite brazen in their power plays. The word has gone out from the Democrat leadership in the Assembly that any organization that gives money to Republicans will not be granted access to the leaders next session and will have a difficult time getting anything through the Legislature. This abuse needs to end. Accepted? It is a fact that we all have to raise money to run our campaigns, but there is a way to go about it. Horsford’s “pay to play” plan is plainly an abuse of his position and shows the arrogance of the Democratic leadership.
NNB: What exactly will the recent Federal education ‘rescue’ stimulus money be used for in Nevada?
Hambrick: We’ve heard that Walt Rulffes will use it to rehire those employees he cut as a result of budget reductions. Unfortunately, a year from now when that money is gone, we’ll be right back in the same situation, so we may have to revisit that same issue.
NNB: Would you support increasing the number of seats in the Nevada Assembly? In the Senate? Explain this in regards to how you feel the reapportionment process will play out with/without expanding the legislature.
Hambrick: I think it’s worth looking at, but I don’t currently support it. The issue we will face is this: From the 2000 census and redistricting, each assemblyman represented roughly 47,000 Nevadans. Our population has increased such that if we keep the same number of assemblymen they will each represent roughly 62,000 people. This, to me, is a manageable number. The issue is that one or two more districts may shift from the North to Clark County. That will mean that the assemblymen up North will have a much greater geographic area to represent. We need to see the numbers after the census is done to be sure. The biggest issue with the census, though, is how the lines get drawn. In the 2000 census, for example, Clark County had 1.37 million people. Of those, 44% were registered Democrats and 38% Republican. However, when they drew the Assembly District lines, of the 27 Districts in Clark County 20 were drawn with Democrat majority and only 7 with Republican majority. That has meant unfair representation to the citizens of Clark County for the last eight years. I will be working for more equity this time.
NNB: What do you think the Republican-Democrat split will be in the Assembly following the November election – the best-case and the worst-case scenario — for Republicans?
Hambrick: The interesting thing about predictions is how often we are so wrong. Given that, in the best case, I think we can gain as many as six seats. In the worst case, we stay where we are or pick up just one. I am working hard to help make the best-case scenario happen. We have a lot of great candidates who are also working hard to make that best-case scenario happen.