LAS VEGAS -- The governor, who cannot be blamed for not relishing his office just now, also can't be blamed for not wanting orange juice at breakfast. With his penchant for unminced words, he tells the coffee shop waiter that he saw enough oranges when picking them as a California boy. That was before he went to college, studied demographics and wound up here, presiding over a collision between demography and democracy.
Kenny Guinn, a blunt-speaking gray-haired 67-year-old, is everything Las Vegas isn't: stolid, understated. In his blue suit and white shirt, he is as glitzy as Newark in February. After much business experience, and a year as president of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, tidying up a -- no surprise here -- basketball scandal, he was first elected Nevada's governor in 1998.
Since then, his state's population has grown by 400,000, including 70,000 school-age children. Yet on his watch the prison population is down, and more than 800 jobs have been trimmed from a state payroll of 15,000 by completely privatizing the workers' compensation system, which no other state has done. If he had not reduced the ratio of public employees to population, the state payroll would be 3,000 persons larger.
So why are some conservatives around the country so cross with him? Because he, with judicial help, forced a tax increase. Nevada illustrates this paradox: Some of the conditions conducive to a state's rapid growth -- minimal government, negligible taxes -- can be casualties of growth.
Shortly after Guinn was re-elected 11 months ago with 68 percent of the vote, Nevada became paralyzed by its populist constitution. With a robust frontier faith that government is best that rarely convenes, in 1998 Nevadans--Guinn included--voted to amend the constitution to forbid the Legislature to meet more than 120 days every two years. The constitution also says that funding education is a priority. And that the budget must be balanced. And, for good measure, Nevadans have decreed, by initiative, that there must be a two-thirds legislative majority for a tax increase.
So earlier this year, with the Legislature sitting more days than is permitted, and the budget not balanced, and education not funded, and there being no two-thirds majority for the governor's proposed tax increase, the governor asked Nevada's Supreme Court to order the Legislature to finish its work. The court, as contemporary courts are wont to do, went further.