Nevada NewsMakers

News - April 23, 2018 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

It's easy to start a recall process to remove Nevada legislators from office -- you don't even need a good reason, said Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who argued in court for the recently failed Republican-based recall of two Democratic state senators.

However, it is very hard for a recall to succeed, Hutchison added Monday on Nevada Newsmakers.

"So it is not like a ballot initiative or ballot petition where you can just go out and collect signatures of registered voters," Hutchison said. "You have to get voters in the district who vote in the election that the official was elected in. Very, very difficult process.

"You have to collect 25 percent of signatures of voters who voted in the election of which the elected official was elected (and) who still live within the district where the official was elected," Hutchison said.

Last week, a Las Vegas judged threw out petitions to recall Sens. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, and Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, saying petitions against them were invalid because they lacked signatures. Republicans had worked on the recall for eight months.

Hutchison doubted the recall drives against the Democratic senators would open "a Pandora's box" of political operatives trying to recall members of the opposing party in the Legislature.

That "Pandora's box" analogy was feared by some, including GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

"It just kind of escalates the politics, mean-spiritedness politics," Sandoval told the Nevada Independent. "I think both parties will now use it on a regular basis, and that’s not what Nevada politics has ever been and that’s not what it should be.”

Yet the failure of the recall drives drives home Hutchison's point about the difficulty taking a recall against a Nevada legislator to the finish line.

"It is not something where you can open the floodgates and anybody can do this," Hutchison said. "It is so expensive and so difficult."

History backs up Hutchison's assertion. Nevada has seen 150 recall efforts to remove elected officials from office since 2005. But in that 14-year span, no recall efforts targeting state legislators have succeeded, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Starting a recall petition drive, however, is very easy. Lawmakers don't have to do anything wrong to get a recall drive stated against them, Hutchison said.

"The Nevada Constitution does not have a malfeasance or misfeasance requirement (to start a recall)," Hutchison said. "Any elected official can be recalled for any reason. And in fact, there is no requirement in terms of why they are being recalled or justification to be recalled."

Recall backers need only to file a statement with the Secretary of State to get the recall ball rolling," Hutrchison said. The big issue here is only that the filed statement not exceed 200 words.

"There is no requirement that somebody be involved in some outrageous conduct," Hutchison said.

Nevada citizens don't even have to wait to see if the lawmaker is doing a good job before starting a recall, Hutchison said.

"The Constitution specially provides that the recall can be started for an assemblyman or a state senator within 10 days after their first legislative session begins," he said. "All other elected officials, it is six months."

The original reasons for recalling the two Democratic senators remain vague. Backers of the petition were not readily available to media during the last eight months, according to various newspaper articles about the recalls.

Hutchison did not shed any new light on the reasons for recall.

"That is something you see by looking at the statements filed by the committees to recall," Hutchison said. "Under the Nevada Constitution, the only thing that Nevada voters need to recall their elected officials is to file a statement."

The language of the petition against Woodhouse stated she supported policies to raise taxes, cut jobs, expand the size of government -- plus raise sales taxes and car registration fees. She was also accused of making it easier for felons to vote, hiding information about her government pension and blocking education reforms.

The Cannizzaro petition stated her husband is a paid lobbyist and during the 2017 session, she voted multiple times for bills that would help her husband's clients.

The petition also mentioned Cannizzaro's advocacy for sanctuary cities, allowing criminals to sue the state when force is used against them and making it easier for felons to hide criminal records. Like Woodhouse, she was also accused of blocking education reforms.

Hutchison also defended himself when asked about representing the recall backers in court when serving as Nevada's lieutenant governor.

"You've got to start with the fact that the executive director of the Nevada Commission on Ethics was already asked this and she said she didn't see any conflict at all," he said.

Hutchison also cited Nevada's system of a "citizens' legislature" where lawmakers also have outside jobs.

"You also have to remember this: "The citizens of this state can decide if they want to have a full-time legislature and say that you can't have an outside job," he said. "That is not what we have now or have had. State senators, assembly members and the lieutenant governor are free to pursue their professional pursuits. And that is expected and that is anticipated by the law."

Hutchison evoked the name of the late former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, to drive home his point.

"As you remember, Sen. Raggio was a lawyer," he said. "Sen. Raggio was the majority leader of the state senate and was the chairman of the finance committee. Yet he regularly appeared before various Nevada agencies, (including) the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

"He controlled their budgets but there was never an issue because he was viewed as a private lawyer, practicing in his realm of the practice of law. And it was different and apart from his public responsibilities. So this is something that has been recognized for decades and is not ever been viewed as a problem in the past."