Monthly Archive: April 2015

“What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate”

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke)

Near the end of the film, when Luke is surrounded in the church and about to be shot, he repeats the movie’s most memorable line. The abusive prison warden had said to him just before delivering another of many beatings to the irrepressible Luke.

The failure to communicate is at the center of most break-ups of marriages and relationships. It’s also the reason the different sides in political battles so frequently end up in partisan standoffs, legislative gridlock and missed opportunities for solutions.

“My way or the highway” is all well and good if you have all the power in a prison camp, as the “Captain” did in Cool Hand Luke. It doesn’t work as well in legislative bodies, as evidenced by the public’s growing dissatisfaction with Congress and the whole political process.

In the 30-plus days we have left in Carson City, how do we as legislators avoid the equivalent of a divorce (in which the two sides part over their irreconcilable differences and lose a great deal that they could otherwise have had) or a prison riot (i.e., chaos, with only the most powerful coming away as “winners” but at great expense, usually in the form of the loss of lives)?

If communication is the reason things don’t work, then it can also be the reason they do. I suggest we all begin with seeking a clear understanding of what the various sides (leaders, caucuses and mini-caucuses) want to get out of a session-ending deal. I suggest each group come up with a list of Must Haves, Also Wants and Would Be Nices — and then communicate it to the others. That is how negotiations begin.

Governor Sandoval has already stated his policy priorities, mostly centered on his education programs and the funding required to implement them. Senate Republicans have their policy agenda which, because they are in the majority, must be considered. Senate Democrats have their agenda, too, although they are in the minority (for a change).

Democrats in the Assembly don’t have the numbers to dominate, but their cooperation is crucial for any final budget deal to get passed.

And then there are the Republicans in the Assembly. Will enough of us find a budget number with which we can live with and that supports most, if not all, of what the Governor is asking? Or will we factionalize like the “Mean 15” did in 2003, necessitating special session upon special session until one side finally gives in?

We all came to Carson City to pursue the passage of our individual bills. We all came in with personal priorities. But our primary responsibility is to approve a final budget that will fund state government for the next two years.

We can do this. But it will take, as it does in any successful marriage, the willingness to understand the needs of the other half of the partnership. No one gets everything they want in a marriage that works. For the good of the family, parents sometimes surrender some of their personal desires.

For better or worse, just like in the vows uttered in a marriage ceremony, lawmakers are “wedded” to the promise of making the Nevada family work. Any failure to find ways to cooperate, as difficult as it may be, rests squarely on our shoulders.

It’s time to get down to the tough work of understanding what we each want and then negotiating and hammering out our differences. Nevada’s future is worth the fight.

If we don’t get the job done, it will be because we had a failure to communicate.”