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The Question 3 Deck is Stacked Against Open Competition and Energy Choice

(Chuck Muth) – On Tuesday, the anti-business Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce came out opposed to Question 3 – the Energy Choice Initiative that would eliminate Nevada’s current electricity monopoly and open the market to competition from a wide variety of other businesses.

“Our decision about Question 3 is based on changing the constitution,” declared Hugh Anderson, chairman of the government affairs committee for the Chamber.  “We leave the door open to explore opportunities to open up the Nevada energy market to more competition during the normal legislative process.”

But, um, THAT’S the problem.

As Scott Rutledge of the “Yes on 3” team pointed out in a Twitter response to the Chamber’s announcement, NV Energy’s “army of lobbyists make that nearly impossible.”

Indeed, efforts to open up the energy market in the 2015 Nevada Legislature – when Republicans controlled both the Senate and the Assembly – and in the 2017 Nevada Legislature – when Democrats controlled both the Senate and the Assembly – went nowhere.

Left on its own, the Nevada Legislature will never act on this issue regardless of which political party is in charge.  Period.

And while I’ve disagreed with Scott on a number of other issues in the past, he’s on to something here about NV Energy’s “army of lobbyists.”

Let’s start with Pete Ernaut, perhaps the most powerful lobbyist in Carson City extant (I learned that word from watching John Wayne’s “The Shootist” – means “still existing” – and always wanted to use it).

Among Ernaut’s other deep-pocketed clients: AT&T, Barrick Gold, Coeur D’Alene Mining, the Carpenters Union, the Cleveland Clinic, Expedia, General Motors, Las Vegas Monorail, the Nevada Resort Association (Big Gaming), U-Haul, University Medical Center, Progressive Insurance, and USAA Insurance.

Then there’s Greg Ferraro, probably one of the Top 10 most powerful lobbyists in Carson City whose other clients include Apple, Cox Communications, the Nevada Resort Association (Big Gaming), the Independent Automobile Dealers Association, 3M Company, and Waste Management Inc (another ginormous monopoly for trash collection).

The army also includes Morgan Baumgartner, Joe Brown, Pat Egan, Jack McGinley, Paul Smith, Nick & William Vassiliadis, Nicole Willis-Grimes and Paul Young.

And as a kicker to round out the team: Lorne Malkiewich, the former longtime director the Legislative Counsel Bureau.  (Think he doesn’t know where some bodies are buried?!!)

Just try going up against THAT roster, Mr. Average Voter.

Especially when so many legislators’ doors are wide open thanks to NV Energy’s very generous campaign contributions.  Here’s a partial list of donations to legislative candidates from just this year’s primary election season…

  • $1,000.00          Olivia Diaz
  • $1,000.00          John Ellison
  • $1,000.00          Valerie Weber
  • $1,000.00          Jim Wheeler
  • $1,000.00          Lesley Cohen
  • $1,000.00          Susan Martinez
  • $1,000.00          Tiffany Jones
  • $1,000.00          Melanie Scheible
  • $1,000.00          Jill Tolles
  • $1,000.00          Teresa Benitez-Thompson
  • $1,000.00          Howard Watts III
  • $1,000.00          Michelle Gorelow
  • $1,000.00          Nelson Araujo
  • $1,000.00          Melissa Hardy
  • $1,000.00          Glen Leavitt
  • $1,000.00          David Schoen
  • $1,000.00          William McCurdy II
  • $1,000.00          Ellen Spiegel
  • $1,000.00          Mike Sprinkle
  • $1,000.00          Tom Roberts
  • $2,000.00          James Settelmeyer
  • $2,000.00          John C Hambrick
  • $1,000.00          Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod
  • $1,000.00          Mathew McCarthy
  • $1,000.00          Mo Denis
  • $1,000.00          Ira Hansen
  • $1,000.00          Tyrone Thompson
  • $1,000.00          Joyce Woodhouse
  • $1,000.00          Heidi Swank
  • $1,000.00          Nelson Araujo

And that doesn’t even count the money NV Energy donated to the Democrat caucuses ($10,000) or money it’s donated in previous elections.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have no beef with NV Energy and no problem with corporations making campaign donations.  It’s a cost of doing business.  And NV Energy does give money to both sides.  However…

I did an interview a few years back with Jack Abramoff – “America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist” – who spent a few years in the slammer for bribing elected officials.  So if anyone knows how this “insiders” game is played and often abused – it’s Jack.

So I asked him what needed to be done to fix the problem.

Among the reforms he strongly recommended is that “anybody who’s getting a government grant or contract… should be forbidden from giving any money politically, not one dollar in contribution.”

Of course, no such prohibition exists in Nevada.

And NV Energy has the exclusive contract to provide electricity in Nevada.

Which is why no legislative effort to break up the monopoly will ever go anywhere.

Which is why a constitutional amendment FORCING the Legislature to do so is necessary.

(Mr. Muth is president of and publisher of  He blogs at  His views are his own.)


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