Blue Wave, Meet Brick Wall

Blue Wave, Meet Brick Wall

Progressives elected them to government. Now it’s time for Nevada’s Democrats to dream and act on their promise for change.


November 2018’s blue wave handed Nevada Democrats full control over our state government for the first time in 27 years and prompted some observers to imagine that we’re now “the state that liberal dreams are made of.”

Democrats enjoy a trifecta in Nevada—control over both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion—but to Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) Action, November’s blue wave accomplished something bigger. Nevadans helped elect progressive champions to government in the hope our politicians would embrace “co-governing,” in which elected officials remain responsive to their communities throughout their terms.

At PLAN Action, we too had high hopes that our new politicians elected in the blue wave would advance the interests of working people during this first legislative session, which wrapped up in Carson City in June 2019.

Our legislators have passed a number of laws, including enacting paid sick leave, restoring funding for education, and automatically restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated.

But the blue wave in Nevada is running up against a brick wall—and the fight for true co-governance is going to require more work than just voting in newly elected officials. Why, now that Democratic lawmakers finally have the run of Carson City and are just one vote shy of a supermajority, are they so timid when it comes to fighting for and enacting change for the voters who elected them—especially when those voters were told changes for the underpaid and working families could only come with a Democratic governor?

Bills have been watered down or allowed to die on issues like the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and accountability for local law enforcement and ICE. The state’s new paid-leave law sounds good at first, but it applies only to companies with more than 50 employees—leaving 192,000 workers out in the cold. The legislature passed a bill this year that will raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next five years, but that’s still well below the $15 that SEIU Nevada, PLAN, and others know would barely make a living wage in Nevada. Meanwhile, companies like Tesla, Apple, and Amazon get millions in tax breaks—in some cases, more than a million per job—to keep facilities in the state.

Lawmakers—both Democrats and Republicans—killed a bill that would have required local law enforcement to be more transparent about the work they do for ICE and on what grounds. Even the editorial board of the newspaper owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the GOP’s largest donor, complains that detaining immigrants in local jails costs Nevadans way too much money.

Too many elected leaders are afraid to challenge the pro-business-at-any-cost consensus that has held sway in our state for more than a century and a half, which might kill the golden goose. Back in 1864, when Nevada first entered the Union, mining barons delayed our state’s Constitution until they could make sure it would protect their profits.

Progressives aren’t the only ones who dream of co-governing. The right, under the pretense of representing the business community, has been quietly co-governing around the country for years. Nevada requires a two-thirds vote to pass tax legislation, and with just one vote shy of the supermajority, the Democrats are still at the mercy of the minority. That’s why the Chamber of Commerce and realtors still feel entitled to closed-door appointments with lawmakers.

I still see the long line of bail-bond and payday-loan lobbyists in the halls of our Legislature—at times harassing working people. But this is starting to change. During the most recent session, PLAN Action and other progressive groups organized an unprecedented number of lobby days, bringing constituents from affected communities to speak directly with lawmakers. Getting lawmakers to meet with and listen to the formerly incarcerated and to working parents made a major difference in getting reenfranchisement and sick days passed this year.

It’s going to take a lot more than a Democratic majority with a handful of progressive champions to advance a people’s agenda in Nevada—and nationwide. For laws to change, lawmakers have to see the faces of the people they represent. Progressive organizations aren’t here to keep you in office: We’re here to transform our communities, liberate ourselves and our members from corporate greed and state violence. You think you have a tough reelection coming up? Think about how it would feel to lose your job, your house, or have no access to health care. That’s what we’re talking about.

“As you enter positions of trust and power,” Toni Morrison once said, “dream a little before you think.” As progressives, we would do well to hear Morrison’s words, and remember that if we want to win big, we have to dream first.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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