The chaos enveloping the 25-person Nevada Republican Assembly Caucus (RAC) is beginning to resemble herpes in the same way that Whole Foods’ John Mackey once described labor unions: “It won’t kill you, but it’s very unpleasant and will make a lot of people not want to be your lover.”
With that in mind, handlers for Assembly Speaker-of-the-Weak John Hambrick published a response under Hambrick’s name yesterday to conservative Assembly Majority-Leader-in-Exile Michele Fiore’s open letter challenging Hambrick’s authority to unilaterally remove her as Majority Leader.
But before diving into that, it might be helpful to recap how we got to this point…
Just days after Republicans won majority control of the Assembly and conservatives won a majority of the majority – RAC members voted to oust Minority Leader Pat “The Appeaser” Hickey from his leadership position and conservative Assemblyman Ira Hansen was elected Speaker-designate.
Immediately after that vote, in the same meeting, Hambrick and liberal Republican Assemblyman Paul Anderson ran against each for the position of Majority Leader.
After Hambrick reportedly presented about as crappy a presentation as is humanly possible, caucus members elected Anderson even though many were diametrically opposed to his liberal-leaning political philosophy.
That’s how bad Hambrick’s performance was.
But the key point here is that there was an ELECTION for the Majority Leader’s position.
Anderson was ELECTED to be Majority Leader, not appointed by Hansen.
That’s what’s called a “precedent.”
HAMBRICK RISES FROM IRA’S ASHES
Fast-forward a couple weeks later. Hansen got hit with heavy criticism from liberals and the media for racially-tinged and homophobic opinions he had expressed in newspaper columns and as a conservative talk-show host dating back as far as two decades ago.
Under fire, Hansen quit as Speaker-designate.
That led to a second caucus meeting and second leadership election.
This time, Anderson opted to run to replace Hansen as Speaker-designate rather than Majority Leader.
Only this time, Fiore scrambled to obtain written “proxies” from 12 conservative members of the caucus to give to Hansen for the meeting. With the proxies in hand Hansen announced to Anderson before the meeting that he had the 13 votes necessary to elect Hambrick as Speaker-designate and Fiore as Majority Leader.
Hansen offered Anderson the option of going forward with a formal election, but seeing the writing on the wall, Anderson declined.
As such, Hambrick was elected Speaker-designate and Fiore was ELECTED Majority Leader. She was not appointed to the position by Hambrick. She was elected in the exact same manner as Hambrick was.
ANATOMY OF A SELL-OUT
A little inebriated with his new-found power, Hambrick appears to have then begun conspiring with Anderson and others to get rid of Fiore in return for getting rid of the “nuclear option” threat, whereby a rogue band of Assembly Republicans would collaborate with the 17 Democrats to elect a Speaker other than Hambrick.
Using some long-known IRS tax liens against Fiore’s business as a fig leaf, Hambrick announced he was removing her as Chairman of the Taxation Committee. But after receiving furious blowback from conservative activists, Hambrick reversed himself and put Fiore back on the committee as Chair the very next day.
Then on December 16, Fiore appeared on the Alan Stock radio talk-show to explain the IRS liens. In discussing why the liens had suddenly become such an issue, Fiore named names of individuals she believed were trying to undermine her positions as both Majority Leader and Chairman of the Taxation Committee.
One of those named was Nathan Emens, Hambrick’s personal valet and political strategist. This infuriated Li’l Nate, who immediately issued a fatwa…
“Fiore will be saying ouch soon!!!!” Emens threatened on Twitter even before Fiore’s interview was finished.
And sure enough, the very next day Hambrick announced, without citing any authority or consulting with other members of the caucus, that he was once again unilaterally removing Fiore as Taxation Committee chair…as well as from her ELECTED position as Majority Leader!
It’s been pure chaos ever since, leading to Fiore’s open letter a couple days ago.
HAMBRICK AND THE THREE PRECEDENTS
On Saturday, Hambrick – in a response clearly written by someone else (not enough typos to have been written by Emens) – fired back…
“The Speaker is the leader of the majority party. The majority FLOOR leader garners all of its responsibility at the will of the Speaker. As far as I can tell since about 1973 (Which is as far back as I have been able to research) until as recently as 2013 the only elected position in the majority party has been the Speaker.”
Au contraire, mon frere.
First of all, the Speaker is the leader of the full Assembly. Unlike the state Senate, where leadership is split between a majority leader and minority leader, the Speaker position in the Assembly is a bipartisan position with the respective caucuses run by a majority leader and minority leader.
But here, let me let Wikipedia explain it better…
“The Speaker of the Assembly presides over the Assembly in the chief leadership position, controlling the flow of legislation and committee assignments. The Speaker is elected by the majority party caucus, followed by confirmation of the full Assembly on passage of a floor vote. Other Assembly leaders, such as the majority and minority leaders, are elected by their respective party caucuses according to each party’s strength in the chamber.”
“Elected…by their respective party caucuses.”
And while Mr. Hambrick’s ghost-writer claims to have gone all the way back to 1973 to look for examples of positions other than Speaker being elected, he could have saved himself some time and trouble by going back just three years ago.
In a Las Vegas Sun story on January 11, 2012, reporter David McGrath Schwartz wrote…
“Ending an internal caucus rebellion that sought to upend how the caucus picked its leader and came to be evidence No. 1 of the turmoil caused by term limits, Assembly Democrats picked their majority leader to chair their caucus tonight. Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, was picked by his members in a contested vote.”
Key word search: “…picked their majority leader…in a contested vote.”
Sorry, Mr. Hambrick. On this particular point…game, set, match.
Fiore was elected to the position of Majority Leader; she was not appointed. And not only was there the precedent of electing the majority leader in two RAC votes since the November election, there’s the Democrat precedent in 2011.
YOU WILL SUBMIT, WOMAN!
In her open letter, Fiore asserted that there exists no rule in the Assembly Standing Rules “that allows you to arbitrarily remove me from an elected Caucus position.” To which Mr. Hambrick replied…
“Rule No. 1. Speaker of the Assembly. All officers of the Assembly are subordinate to the Speaker in all that relates to the prompt, efficient and correct discharge of their official duties under the Speaker’s supervision.”
Now I can certainly understand why Mr. Hambrick wants the little woman to subordinate herself to his authority, but the Assembly Standing Rules only apply to his official duties as Speaker of the Assembly, not as leader of the Republican Assembly Caucus.
As such, Mr. Hambrick not only does not have the authority to remove Fiore from here ELECTED position as majority leader, but Fiore is under no obligation to subordinate herself to Hambrick’s authority in any caucus matters unrelated to the majority leader’s “official duties” in the Assembly.
In her open letter, Fiore continued…
“Neither have the members of the Caucus been presented with any evidence from any source that allows you to overrule my election by a majority of the Assembly Republican Caucus.”
Now wait’ll you get this one…
Ignoring the precedents set by three majority leader elections in the last three years, Hambrick’s ghost-writer stretched all the way back to 1996 and cited, as an authoritative source, the author of a book…
“In the book ‘The Sagebrush State: Nevada’s History, Government, and Politics’ written by Michael Wayne Bowers (first edition 1996, the third edition printed by University of Nevada Press with updates 2006) | (Chapter 6 pg 72) In the assembly, the presiding officer is the speaker of the assembly. The speaker, who is selected by the majority party caucus, not only presides over the assembly but also serves as his party’s leader. In that capacity, he appoints his party’s members to the various committees and selects the majority leader, the speaker pro-tempore, and the committee chairs…”
That’s right. Mr. Hambrick has sunk to relying on the unsubstantiated OPINION of a political science professor expressed in a book written almost two decades ago!
I mean, who could argue with authority like THAT, right?
AND THEN THERE WERE THE STRAWBERRIES
Later in his response, Mr. Hambrick’s ghost-writer wrote…
“A few reasons I decided to removed (Typo. Maybe Emens wrote this after all!) you as Majority Floor Leader:
1 – Instead of explaining your IRS issues publicly like you had agreed to do you squandered the opportunity by maliciously attacking two respected consultants and a caucus donor.
2 – You attempted to undermine the Political Affairs department at the Sands by going directly to Mr. Adelson while also attacking the credibility of other caucus members. This puts at risk future support for all caucus members.
3 – You made threats to members of the caucus based solely on unsubstantiated rumors.
4 – Repeated insubordination. You continually tried to change room and committee assignments behind my back.”
Look, we all know the real reason Hambrick removed Fiore as Taxation Committee chair the first time was to remove a formidable obstacle to the coming Sandoval tax hike, and the reasons for removing her the second time were nothing more than a trumped-up smoke screen to cover his butt for the mighty flip-flop-flip-flop-flip.
But let’s take his written responses one at a time…
1.) In the radio interview, Fiore DID explain her IRS issues publicly like she agreed to do. She criticized the two “respected” (NOT!) consultants and donor in addition to her explanation, not instead of.
So scratch this excuse off the list.
Sidenote: In a Las Vegas Review-Journal story on Hambrick’s response, reporter Laure Myers identified Sheldon Adelson of the Las Vegas Sands as the “caucus donor” in question. That is incorrect. The donor Fiore referred to is mining tax-hike advocate Monte Miller, not Adelson.
2.) As the elected Majority Leader of the caucus, Fiore did, in fact, request and receive a meeting with Mr. Adelson. Why wouldn’t she? It’s HIS money. He’s the donor.
Meeting with a donor directly in NO WAY “undermines the Political Affairs department at the Sands.” Mr. Adelson IS the Political Affairs department at the Sands. Again, it’s HIS money. If he wants to meet with the Majority Leader, who’s to tell him he can’t?
So scratch excuse #2 off the list.
3.) Fiore did, in fact, threaten caucus colleagues with potential recall efforts if any of those colleagues went forward with the “nuclear option” of voting with the Democrats to elect a Speaker other than the RAC’s elected Speaker-designate.
The “nuclear option” talk was not “unsubstantiated rumors.” Caucus members have ADMITTED to having been approached about joining the “nuclear option” conspiracy.
So scratch excuse #3 off the list.
4.) “Repeated insubordination”? Does this guy think he’s Capt. Queeg now?
I don’t know if this “behind my back” accusation is true, but even if it is, trying to change room and committee assignments is “repeated insubordination” deserving of removal as majority leader? Seriously?
Scratch excuse #4 off the list.
Leaving Speaker-of-the-Weak Queeg-Hambrick without a paranoid leg to stand on.
EMENS DID IT
The following, I think, is the most interesting part of Hambrick’s response because he concedes that the accusation that Emens did, in fact, work to defeat conservative Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman in the general election while at the same time taking money from the RAC is true.
Let’s go to the tape…
“Nathan owns a mail company and who he chooses to do business with is not a discussion point for the caucus. Nathan is not an employee of the caucus and any members that disagree with his business decisions are free to not use his services.”
In other words, Li’l Nate did what Fiore accused him of doing. So much for the notion that she “maliciously attacked” him.
And that Emens is technically not an “employee” is absolutely meaningless.
As I reported in an earlier column, Emens was paid nearly $25,000 by the Republican Assembly Caucus to elect Republicans to the Assembly. For him to pocket that $25K and then simultaneously work to defeat one of the caucus’ general election candidates is about as unethical as it gets.
Now if Li’l Nate had just taken money from other GOP candidates rather than the caucus, it wouldn’t be a “discussion point for the caucus.” But since Li’l Nate DID take money from the caucus itself, his unethical business decisions absolutely ARE a valid discussion point for the caucus.
Nice try by Hambrick to cover up for his man-servant, but no dice.
Perhaps even more interesting, however, was Hambrick’s failure to even mention the other, more serious, accusation made against Emens; that he’s the political consultant who blackmailed Hambrick into canning Fiore by threatening to sue EVERY member of the caucus if he didn’t.
Is this “not a discussion point for the caucus,” too? And does Hambrick’s refusal to address the charge in his response equate to a de facto admission that Emens is, indeed, the guilty party? Inquiring minds wanna know.
RULES? WE DON’T NEED NOT STINKIN’ RULES
Hambrick then revisits the question of his questionable authority to remove Fiore as Majority Leader unilaterally without a vote of caucus members…
“Since we can all agree that the caucus does not have formal rules for this situation we need to look at other areas for guidance. Since there are not specific rules related to this question I have chosen to follow the order of dispute resolution per the Assembly Standing Rules from last legislative session. Although these are specific to committees there is wisdom in the steps.”
This would almost be hilarious if it weren’t so absurd.
So first Hambrick admits there are no caucus rules granting him the authority to unilaterally undo Fiore’s election as majority leader. Then he, himself, “chooses,” Humpty-Dumpty-like (a word means “just what I choose it to mean”) to follow whatever non-related rules he wants to get the result he desires.
Then secondly he chooses to follow the Assembly Standing Rules – “All officers of the Assembly are subordinate to the Speaker” – from the last legislative session even though, as we’ve already determined, those rules pertain only to the conduct of the full Assembly itself and the various committees, not the respective party caucuses.
In addition to the fact that Hambrick isn’t even the Speaker yet.
Which means Fiore need not submit to or subserviate herself to Hambrick when it comes to caucus affairs unrelated to the Assembly itself.
TOMORROW’S ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN CAUCUS MEETING
In her open letter, Fiore invoked her authority as the duly elected Majority Leader to call a caucus meeting for tomorrow afternoon – the same day Hambrick had previously called for a caucus meeting, before changing his mind (surprise!) and cancelling it.
In his response, Hambrick said he refused to acknowledge her standing as Majority Leader and offered that even if she was the Majority Leader, none of the decisions made at such a caucus meeting would have any effect “without the authority of the Speaker.”
This guy really has a bad case of “it’s good ta be da king,” doesn’t he?
That said, whether or not Fiore has the authority to call for a meeting of the caucus is now moot. Indeed, a majority of the caucus members themselves have called for the same meeting Fiore called for, as explained by Assemblyman Jim Wheeler in an email to me Saturday night…
“Mr. Muth, I have received numerous calls and emails concerning the caucus meeting that is being called for on 1-5-15. It seems to those who are calling that I am the one who is calling this meeting. I would like to set the record straight.
“As Majority Whip, I was asked by 4-5 members of the caucus if a meeting can be held without the Speaker calling it. I did the research and found that a majority of the members can call for a meeting.
“I then sent an email to all the members asking if they wanted this meeting. I received 13 positive replies, by both email and phone and proceeded to call the meeting on behalf of the 13 members. Not of my own volition. I believe this is my job as Majority Whip.”
Which leads to the obvious question…
If King John doesn’t think a meeting called by Majority Leader Fiore has any force without his “authority,” does he similarly believe a meeting called by a majority of the caucus members themselves have the force of authority without his permission?
WRITING’S ON THE WALL
In a story today on the Fiore-Hambrick he said/she said, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Laura Myers opened with this…
“Moving to quash a conservative GOP insurrection, Nevada Assembly Speaker John Hambrick on Saturday harshly rebuked Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, telling her to stop playing ‘childish games’ and undermining him by insisting she’s still Republican majority leader.”
This is the sort of reporting that fuels conservative criticism about liberal media bias.
The fact is, the conservatives won both of the caucus elections and were in control. It’s been a MODERATE “insurrection” that has been relentless in its effort to wrest power and control from the hands of conservative caucus members.
And it hasn’t been Fiore playing “childish games” undermining Hambrick; it’s been Hambrick who has been dishonestly undermining Fiore and the very conservatives who got him elected Speaker-designate in the first place.
Alas, he’s almost surely succeeded.
The fact is Hambrick was the 13th vote that both made him Speaker-designate and Fiore Majority Leader. Clearly, he’d now be the 13th vote to kick Fiore to the curb.
So even in a legitimately-called meeting with a new election, Fiore likely wouldn’t have the votes to remain as Majority Leader, especially as some of the conservative members of the caucus have now tired of the fight and are willing to surrender in return for peace.
Then again, Anderson might not have the votes to be elected Majority Leader either. It also doesn’t mean conservatives aren’t willing to pay Hambrick back for selling them out with a nuclear option of their own.
Indeed, in the middle of the Cincinnati-Indianapolis playoff game this morning, Assemblyman Pat “The Appeaser” Hickey emailed to inform me that Assemblyman Ira Hansen was negotiating with thin-skinned Assemblyman Randy “Kirner Tax” Kirner (RINO-Kirner Tax) to bump Hambrick out as Speaker-designate.
Could the enemy of the conservatives’ enemy end up being the conservatives’ friend?
Could what went around go around?
Payback’s a bee-ahtch.
Stay tuned for our next exciting episode of As the Caucus Turns.