When I was Nevada controller, my deputy James Smack had an inspired idea.
On the Transparent Nevada web site of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, he searched pay levels of state employees with “controller” in their job titles. After eliminating air traffic controllers, he found he was ninth and I was tenth.
We knew his pay was higher than mine because our salaries were dictated by statute. What was surprising was that eight state employees with a controller job title made more than us. They were all employed in the colleges, universities and Desert Research Institute.
This illustrated that non-academic pay in Nevada higher education is above market levels, as we already knew. Full-time academic pay is also high because it competes with only the bloated levels at other colleges. Throughout academe, full-time faculty and administrative compensation is very high, while that for part-time (adjunct) faculty is very low.
I don’t raise this matter to complain that our pay was too low. Even if it should be higher, no one forced me to run or James to take his job.
However, Nevada local government pay, especially in the two large counties and in public safety, is unduly high due to very powerful unions. In higher education, the problem is the board of regents is as weak as local governments. Thus, costs – and taxes – continue to rise due to ever-increasing staffing, especially in administrative areas, and very high compensation.
Total compensation for Nevada state employees is closer to private market levels and in the mid-range for state employees around the country.
Now, however, state employees can bargain collectively for compensation. So, we can expect their compensation and staffing levels to soar too – unless governor Steve Sisolak and his successors make good use of their statutory power to restrain the results of collective bargaining. I commend my former regent colleague the Governor for insisting that a gubernatorial veto be included in the legislation allowing state employee collective bargaining.
I also commend his two other recent thoughtful actions on related fronts. First, reining in the excesses, overreach and illegal actions of state boards and commissions, especially those regulating occupations. Second, taking on the use by such agencies and others of outside lobbyists to get more funding from the legislature, often contrary to the governor’s proposed budget and usually at very high fees. (They also spend too much staff time lobbying an d on public relations.)
All these costs contribute to raising our taxes.
And to making state government ever more opaque and less accountable.
Government at state and local levels, just as much as the federal government, has shifted from limited and enumerated powers, spending restraint, and resulting accountability to unlimited powers, wanton spending and tax increases, and an uncontrollable administrative state.
While state and local governments may not yet have developed the really sinister Deep State “intelligence,” spying and police powers now being exposed in Washington, they are working on creating such a nationwide swamp with extensive police powers.
None of this should be surprising, because it’s all in the nature of government and public employee unions.
The people who run and staff public agencies, just like those in the private sector, want more pay, power, perks and prestige. And less work for each of them to do, less accountability and fewer restraints on their actions and prerogatives. They’re only human.
This leads them to seek ever higher pay rates and benefits, more people to work with and for them, and higher expenses and capital budgets. And especially less accountability to voters, taxpayers, governors and legislatures.
People in the private sector have the same instincts. This isn’t a matter of better or lesser folks in either sector.
The difference is that in the private sector there are inherent restraints, especially on spending, pay and staffing levels. Businesses can’t just raise their prices willy-nilly, as governments do taxes, because they’ll lose sales, customers and revenues. And their powers are restrained by law and government.
That’s why, in general, the private sector works better than government, which keeps metastasizing and burdening us further. Government and public employee unions are, by their very natures, predatory upon the public, interest and taxpayers. And little restrained.
As a new Minnesotan, I thought I should familiarize myself with the political process in my new state. I was politically active in Montana, but never attended a caucus or convention because they aren’t held in Montana. Back in 2010, the Republican Party scrapped its caucus after just two years, citing its unpopularity as the reason. The Republican Party and I finally found something upon which we agree completely.
Firstly, caucuses and conventions are never representative of an entire community. They are representative of the people in the community who don’t have to work when the caucuses and conventions are held. Those who work weekends aren’t even available to cast a vote at an organizing unit convention or city convention let alone drive three hours roundtrip on their own dime and pay for a hotel for three nights in order to attend a state party convention.
The lack of minority representation was blatant at my very first precinct caucus and even more so at the organizing unit convention and city convention. Despite my neighborhood being 41 percent black, the attendance at all the caucuses and conventions was probably three-fourths white or so. If that’s not reason enough to scrap party caucuses and conventions, here’s some more.
My first Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party precinct caucus gave me some hope for this thing we call democracy that isn’t actually democracy. I met people in my community who cared for my community as much as me, and while the turnout was a bit discouraging, I vowed to do something about it. I volunteered to call my DFL neighbors to remind them to attend the next precinct caucus so my community wasn’t underrepresented.
While caucus agenda items were accomplished slowly to start, the pace picked up as everyone got the hang of things. We conducted a relatively efficient meeting. I submitted two resolutions to be considered for adoption by the party: one to legalize cannabis, and another calling for an independent redistricting commission to draw district boundaries instead of allowing politicians to employ partisan gerrymandering to make district races less competitive. Both were accepted as written to be considered at the upcoming organizing unit convention, and both were voted to be included in the DFL platform at the state convention.
I wanted to see the ugly innards of Minnesota politics, so I volunteered to serve as a voting delegate at the organizing unit convention as well as the city convention. I got exactly what I wanted, but it I didn’t want it for very long.
The organizing unit convention, again, started slowly. Technical difficulties with audio and video equipment resulted in a late start. Once we were underway, however, I appreciated the speeches delivered by DFL candidates running for various offices, including governor and sheriff. I got a sense of who I liked and collected some reading materials on the candidates.
Then the agenda was slowed to a crawl as something called “sub-caucusing” took place. Sub-caucusing is like a first-grade, organization activity and musical chairs combined. Poster-sized sheets of paper were distributed to delegates looking to start a sub-caucus and recruit enough delegates to earn a vote or more at the DFL state convention. A sub-caucus is an organizing unit. Delegates starting a sub-caucus would write their candidate or cause of choice on the poster paper and announce it to the crowd, hoping to recruit enough delegates to earn a vote or more at the DFL state convention.
Of course, with so many people in one place, there were more than 20 sub-caucuses, each of which was directed to a certain area of the high school auditorium. Delegates then seek out the sub-caucus they prefer and take a seat with the rest of the delegates in their organizing unit. That’s not the end of the game, though. Sub-caucuses who fail to recruit enough delegates to earn a vote at the state convention can merge with other sub-caucuses. The more than 20 sub-caucuses were whittled down to about half that in a half hour or so, combining the names of sometimes three or four sub-caucuses.
I kept it simple and joined the Cannabis Caucus, and we attracted enough delegates to earn a vote at the DFL state convention, I think for the first time. Two members of our organizing unit had experience as either a state delegate or an alternate, and one of them was already planning to attend the convention in Rochester, so we elected them to vote on our behalf at the DFL state convention.
The DFL city convention was a mess from the start. We started almost two hours late because of technical difficulties when one loud voice could have kicked off the agenda. Instead we waited for someone to troubleshoot the audio system in the gym at North High School in Minneapolis.
Since we were seated by district and precinct, I struck up conversations with my neighbors, some of whom I remembered from the precinct caucus and organizing unit convention. I asked them for whom they intended to vote, and we were mostly in agreement. I familiarized myself with the candidates for school board and spoke to a few of them. Then I sat around for hours until the school board candidates gave their speeches, which actually influenced my vote.
The rest of the nearly eight-hour day was spent either arguing over the rules, procedure or order of the agenda items. Most people left immediately after the winners of the DFL endorsement for school board were announced. I stuck around after to elect people to city DFL positions to make sure a fiasco like that never happened again. Frankly, I could do without caucuses and conventions entirely if we just put everyone on the primary ballot. Most who don’t receive the endorsement end up running anyway.
In Minnesota, we have five pairs of DFL candidates running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. The DFL state convention is supposed to weed out the competition prior to the primary election. Party conventions are designed for political parties to unite behind specific candidates, and specifically, candidates the majority of party delegates like most. But when everyone runs anyway, there isn’t much unification occurring.
I knew who I liked for Governor the moment she opened her mouth. Erin Murphy was my candidate after delivering a two-minute speech at the organizing unit convention. She sounded most adamant and passionate about the changes she would attempt to make, and I agreed with those changes. But she wasn’t the candidate with the most progressive stance on cannabis, which is a big issue for me.
Of the three candidates most likely to win the primary, Tim Walz is most supportive of legal cannabis, going so far as to say all those incarcerated for cannabis should be released. Murphy isn’t willing to go that far, nor is she willing to allow home cultivation of cannabis. Walz is, but he doesn’t seem to me like a candidate with the enthusiasm to win a swing-state election for an office as high as Governor, and that seems to be a sentiment shared by DFL voters.
Murphy, with her support from the nurses union, secured the DFL endorsement at the state convention, but she was running third in the latest poll conducted. According to NBC News and Marist, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson had a four-point lead on Walz and led Murphy by 17 points as of July 19. The very next day her running mate, U.S. Representative Rick Nolan, was accused of allowing a top congressional aide resign quietly in 2015 after being alleged of harassing young, female staffers.
The Minnesota DFL primary election for Governor is effectively a three-way race, and since ranked-choice voting isn’t employed in Minnesota primaries (it was in Maine for the first time and Mainers voted to keep it that way), DFL voters won’t have the luxury of choosing the candidate they like best. They’ll have to choose the candidate they think has the best chance against a Republican challenger.
Luckily for the Democrats, the Republican Party is experiencing the same problem. The GOP endorsement went to Jeff Johnson and Donna Bergstrom, but former Governor Tim Pawlenty is still running and could very well win the primary despite losing his party’s endorsement. What was the point of these conventions again? I say forget caucuses and conventions and just put everyone on the primary ballot. Political parties would save some money, we’d all save some time, and the primary election is the best means we have to include as many people as possible in the democratic process, or whatever you want to call it.
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