State Senator Maurice Washington, now a well-seasoned veteran legislator, is an example. By having his services capped at 12 years by law, Washington, who has been overwhelmingly re-elected by the people of Sparks every time, at the conclusion of this session will be forced from office.
“So what” you say? If that is your response, and I suspect many will feel this way, your ignorance of how seniority works in government is a disaster for northern Nevada.
To help protect smaller districts, rural areas, even small states from the tyranny of the majority, a seniority system of people with the greatest longevity in office getting the key leadership positions (speaker, committee chairmanships, memberships on powerful committees and so forth) allowed elected officials of smaller areas a share of power in shaping the laws of the entire state.
In a true pure democracy — the supposed ideal, but in practice one of the very worst forms of government — the majority always dominates. In Nevada, Clark County’s 2-plus million could, theoretically, put all the tax burden on the roughly 600,000 of us outside Clark County. Obviously, checks on such power are a prerequisite of republican government. “Checks and balances” offsetting powers is the answer we generally hear, but thanks to our miserably deficient “public” educations, we know almost nothing of the nuts and bolts, the practical applications. “Seniority” is a key check on the brutal possibilities of pure majority rule.
And, thanks to our short-sightedness and simplistic wish to “throw the bums out,” we have destroyed that protection for ourselves: that one possibility of keeping elected officials in place long enough to gain power. The too-often-bitter term limit supporters who have destroyed seniority possibilities have given all the power to the side with the simple majority in numbers, which, in Nevada, is Las Vegas.
Our only hope in the next session is some sort of groveling prostration, for after this session all the veteran lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, will be history, and never again will anyone from the north have greater seniority than the much more numerous legislators from the south. We will be entirely at their philanthropic mercies — a poor position from which to bargain.
Since the concept is a bit abstract, look at it from a national perspective. How is it that tiny Nevada, with about 1 percent of the U.S. population, has Sen. Harry Reid in charge of the most powerful legislative body, the United States Senate? While I deeply disagree with Reid’s overall political philosophy, the fact that Nevada holds such a powerful post over huge states such as California, New York or Pennsylvania, is precisely the role seniority provides. If there was some national time limit on how long an elected official could serve, small states would shrink into insignificance, and would be subject to abuse of all sorts by their more numerous, power-flexing bigger brothers.
Term limits could always be achieved in the past by the vote. If an elected official was repugnant to a majority of voters in his district, he was tossed out at the ballot box. Nationally, the very liberal Tom Daschle of North Dakota, who, like Reid, was the boss of the U.S. Senate, was too liberal for his base, and was tossed out without any mandatory term limits (a process I hope to see repeated with Reid). The point is, an educated or angry electorate always had term limitation rights. What we have done has instead capped off the possibility of keeping good people in if we so desire, a fatal mistake in a system designed to protect small areas from majority abuse through seniority.
Next week I will share a legislative history of Sparks’ Senator Maurice Washington. Whiny critics can single out certain votes, but a fair judge looks at his overall work. That is the process intelligent voters use. For the rest, term limits removes their sense of responsibility, their need, to do their homework. We will suffer in the future for our ignorance.
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks and owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing.