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Only real conservatives make the grade in this report card

How many true conservatives would you say there are in the Nevada Legislature? According to conservative activist group Citizen Outreach, it’s fewer than you think.

A report card to be released to the public today rates Nevada lawmakers based upon how they voted on 62 specific bills debated during the 2011 Legislature. And even using the standard once attributed to then-Gov. Ronald Reagan — somebody who’s with you 80 percent of the time is an ally, not a 20 percent traitor — there are slim pickings.

In the 42-member Assembly, only Ed Goedhart (93.5 percent), Richard McArthur (82 percent) and John Ellison (78 percent) make the grade.

(It should be noted that Citizen Outreach President Chuck Muth has done consulting work for Goedhart, and report-card researcher Dan Burdish worked out of Goedhart’s office during the 2011 session, but was paid by Citizen Outreach.)

In the 21-member Senate, Don Gustavson (95 percent), Elizabeth Halseth (95 percent), Michael Roberson (93.3 percent), Greg Brower (90 percent), Barbara Cegavske (90 percent) and James Settelmeyer (80 percent) are in the club.

Even the lowest-ranking Republicans — Assemblyman Lynn Stewart (30 percent) and Sen. Joe Hardy (48.3 percent) — rate higher than every single Democrat, however. Eight Democrats in the Assembly, including 2011 Speaker John Oceguera and would-be 2013 Speaker William Horne, got zeros, which means Citizen Outreach thinks they voted the wrong way on every bill! Two senators, Shirley Breeden and Valerie Wiener, got close to zero with scores of 1.7 percent.

That probably isn’t surprising, because the group says it based its ratings on criteria developed by the conservative House Republican Study Committee, including opposition to new taxes and fees, government regulations and restrictions on “individual freedoms” and personal responsibility.

That’s why lawmakers got points for favoring smoking in adult-only bars, but not if they favored a ban on handheld cellphones while driving.

Opposition to taxes and fees earned lawmakers points. In fact, they got one point of extra credit if they signed the Americans for Tax Reform anti-tax pledge. Chief among the bills ranked was a vote on an extension of $600 million in taxes that were supposed to expire. (Citizen Outreach insists on erroneously calling this a tax “increase,” although nobody actually paid any more in taxes.)

But the list of bills wasn’t just about taxes. Lawmakers got credit for voting against regulations (and, sometimes, fees) on industries as varied as dietitians, fire performers, moped drivers, music therapists, hair braiders and hair stylists, and auto shops (which could have been required to check your tire pressure under a bill that died in the Assembly).

Showing its libertarian streak, the group gave lawmakers points for voting against a bill that would have allowed governments to collect DNA samples from people merely arrested for crimes, not just those convicted of them.

And while Citizen Outreach opposed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education budget, Burdish says Sandoval vetoed about half the bills the group opposed. Perhaps they should sign Sandoval up for a half-price membership?

To some extent, all report cards are subjective, depending on which bills are selected and why. And their ultimate use is generally rhetorical, for fundraising or to bash someone seen as insufficiently conservative or perhaps too much so.

Citizen Outreach says its goal was to measure rhetoric and reality: “Our ratings help conservatives differentiate between what a candidate says on the campaign trail and how they actually vote once in office.”

So a candidate who made no promise to vote against taxes and then did has as much integrity as a candidate who promised to oppose them and did? That’s how it should work.


Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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