Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) had been scheduled to appear at the Nevada Legislature today for a joint money committee hearing. This was supposed to be a normal run-through of the Attorney General’s Office budget accounts. Laxalt himself failed to appear. And in light of the controversies swirling through his office, his no-show only raised more questions on what he’s doing with his power.
Again, it’s normal for Nevada’s Constitutional Officers to appear before the #NVLeg money committees to explain their respective offices’ budget requests. Treasurer Dan Schwartz (R) did this last month. Or at least, he could have been doing more of that and less fighting with legislators.
Is this why Laxalt was a no-show today? His office does have some curious budget requests. Perhaps chief among them is the Special Litigation Fund that had been used for participation in lawsuits against the Obama White House.
Standing in for Laxalt today were several staffers in Carson City and Las Vegas. Deputy Attorney General Wes Duncan and Chief of Staff Nick Trutanich began their office’s presentation with less controversial subjects. But when Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Spring Valley) asked about legal staff’s qualifications, the mood quickly changed.
Frierson’s questions led to the revelation that over half of the Solicitor General’s staff are not licensed to practice law in Nevada. That number includes Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke himself.
Laxalt tapped VanDyke to become Nevada’s Solicitor General after he lost his race for Montana Supreme Court in 2014. VanDyke also ran into controversy in Montana over his ties to extreme right-wing Christian reconstructionists and lack of legal qualifications.
When Wes Duncan moved to the Deputy Solicitor General position, Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Sunrise Manor) reminded him that the Legislature decides whether funds will be spent on new hires. “I believe the Legislature was quite clear, and I believe you found a workaround.” The Republican controlled Legislature declined to provide the Attorney General’s Office in 2015 with all the funding Laxalt requested for attorneys to sue the Obama Administration. Similar “rogue hires” got Schwartz into deep trouble with even Republican legislators at his Ways and Means hearing last month.
“We made a decision. That’s how we funded it.” – Assembly Member Maggie Carlton
Attorney General’s Office Chief of Staff Nick Trutanich proclaimed, “Our office is running in a healthy way.” That came after Assembly Member Heidi Swank (D-Las Vegas) asked why the Attorney General’s Office is using Excel spreadsheets instead of a secure database. That came after Swank asked why the Attorney General’s Office needs a “fiscal analyst” following the Legislature’s approval of a new administrative position in 2015.
This only led to legislators expressing further discomfort over how Laxalt is running his office.
“I think you just made me feel my concerns are legitimate, and maybe yours are too.” Assembly Member Mike Sprinkle (D-Sparks)
Senator David Parks (D-Paradise) sought answers to why Laxalt wants to demote or eliminate environmental law positions that were considered critical by his predecessor (now U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto [D]). After Trutanich tried to avoid answering most of Parks’ questions, he pointed to Project Neon to ask why attorneys handling the Las Vegas “Spaghetti Bowl” redesign are at a higher pay grade than Laxalt wants for the AG’s environmental lawyers.
After the hearing, Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi denounced Laxalt’s decision not to appear before the Legislature to explain the changes he’s made to the Attorney General’s Office. “We expect more transparency from Nevada’s top law enforcement officer, especially when his challenges to federal clean air, clean water, and public lands laws run counter to the conservation values shared by Nevadans across the state.”
I also reached out to a Las Vegas spokesperson for Attorney General Laxalt after the hearing for clarification on these matters. She declined to comment.
Ways and Means Chair Carlton, however, had a biting closing comment when announcing the rest of the Attorney General’s Office budget will be heard at the end of the month.
“We do appreciate his attendance. […] Please do remind him that he can testify from Las Vegas.” – Assembly Member Maggie Carlton
Laxalt had scheduled a press event today with Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson. The event was scheduled for 11:15 AM, after the budget hearing adjourned.