School board Twitter fight infringes on free speech

Clark County School Board President Irene Cepeda answers questions during a news conference at ...

Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan started his career in the Nevada Assembly. Speaking at a forum once, he marveled at the idea of a “caucus vote,” in which the party’s Carson City leaders would tell members how to vote on a given bill.

In his day, the idea of a leader dictating a vote would have been completely alien to the process. If someone had dared suggest it, Bryan said, he would have replied that he was elected in the same way as the leader, and he’d vote in the interests of his district, regardless of the party’s position.

Things have obviously changed since then, growing more partisan every session. Party leaders are able to impose more discipline by controlling the campaign purse strings, and the threat of primaries looms larger than it did in Bryan’s day. Today, caucus votes are common, and breaking ranks is the exception rather than the rule.

This week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Irene Cepeda, president of the Clark County School Board, was trying to “discipline” certain members, not for their votes, but for their tweets, which allegedly ran afoul of district policies.

“When we break our policies, we erode the work of the board, we erode public trust,” she said, according to a story by the Review-Journal’s Lorraine Longhi. “It is insane that I spend so much time disciplining trustees when that should not be the case.”

But Cepeda is not a fourth-grade teacher trying to bring order to a classroom full of obstreperous students. She’s not the boss of anybody on the board, all of whom were elected to represent their various districts. And while it might be nice if trustees were always civil, respectful and thoughtful in what they say in person and online, nobody – including the board president – is allowed to “discipline” an elected official who is engaging in constitutionally protected free speech.

That’s true even if the tweets in question are insulting to fellow trustees, critical of the superintendent or at odds with school district policies. These people were elected to set policy and hire and fire the superintendent; their thoughts on those matters can be considered not just free speech, but a core part of their duties.

And if a trustee goes too far, says something too outrageous, they will be disciplined, but only by their constituents, who put them in office in the first place, not by a board officer who holds her position because of a vote by members of her own board.

“I am pleading for folks to just have decorum,” Cepeda said, according to the Review-Journal. “I don’t think it should be so controversial to ask for professional communications.”

Nor should it be controversial for voters to expect trustees to focus on things such as student achievement, raising test scores and graduation rates, and complying with state laws about site-based decision making. If voters were to be asked what they’d like to see their trustees focus on, it’s very likely Twitter etiquette would not be high on the list.

Procrastinators unite!

If you haven’t already voted, your time is running out! Luckily for you, there are still options for those of you who like to wait until the last minute.

First, you can still vote by mail. So long as your mail-in ballot is postmarked by Tuesday, and received by the county by Saturday, June 18, your vote will be counted.

Second, you can vote in person on Tuesday. You can find a list of voting centers around Clark County online, and you can vote at any center, regardless of where you live in Clark County. You can also drop off your mail ballot (remember to sign the outside of the envelope!) at any voting center.

You can also register to vote or change your registration on the same day as the election, although if you don’t have a state-issued ID card, you will only be allowed to vote with a provisional ballot, which will only be counted after your eligibility is verified.

No matter how you choose to do it, be sure to register, get educated and cast a ballot! Then you can sit back and tune in to the Review-Journal on election night to find out who’s ahead when most of the votes are counted.

Publicly financed campaigns

Nevada doesn’t have publicly financed political campaigns, at least it’s not supposed to. But this state-sponsored informational video featuring appointed Lt. Gov. Lisa Cano Burkhead – who just happens to be on the ballot on Tuesday – is awfully suspicious.

On its face, the video seems perfectly related to the job: Cano Burkhead is extolling the natural and human-made wonders of Nevada, which is certainly part of her duties as chair of the state’s tourism commission. But the two-minute video prominently features the appointee during early voting in a heavily contested election, which looks like using state resources to campaign.

The state may want to consider a policy such as that used by the city of Las Vegas, which holds that once an elected official files for re-election, or election to another office, that person can no longer appear on city TV or in city-produced materials for the duration of the campaign. That way, nobody can accuse the city of favoring an incumbent or taxpayers of funding campaign materials.

But there were some nice pictures of Nevada wilderness in the video, at least.

Endorsements update

The fact that Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed 1st Congressional District candidate Amy Vilela is not a surprise. Vilela is a Sanders-type progressive and co-chaired his successful 2020 caucus effort here. And Viela’s opponent, incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, was an early Joe Biden backer.

And Sanders’ boilerplate language is pretty much what you’d expect, too: “Amy was my state co-chair in 2020, and has been a consistent champion for Medicare for All in Nevada. When elected, Amy will be a champion for working families, and she will fight tirelessly for a Green New Deal, Housing for All, and a progressive foreign policy,” Sanders said.

What is a surprise is the timing. The release went out on Thursday, the penultimate day of early voting. Wouldn’t it have been better for this endorsement to come, say, a month ago, before voters started receiving their mail ballots? Granted, only 3.9 percent of the Democrats in the 1st district had cast ballots as of Thursday, but this could have been better for Vilela’s campaign.

More endorsements

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has backed Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore for treasurer.

“Michele Fiore is a proven fighter for the people of Nevada,” Cruz says in a recorded message. “With galloping inflation and gas prices spiraling out of control as a result of ludicrous left-wing policies, it’s never been more important for Nevada to have someone as treasurer who will fight back against government waste and out-of-control spending.”

Sadly, the state treasurer does the investing for the state. Government waste and out-of-control spending in Nevada is overseen by the Legislature.

Quote of the week

“Debra March is a great mayor of Henderson. I’ve known her a long, long time. I don’t have anything negative to say about Debra March, but I can tell you I’ve vetted every single application that came before me. Without a doubt in my mind, Lisa Cano Burkhead is the No. 1 choice.” — Gov. Steve Sisolak in the Las Vegas Sun, praising with a faint damn in discussing his appointment of Cano Burkhead to the lieutenant governor’s job instead of March.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.