Commentary - March 2, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Nevada's Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, has been throwing a lot of shade toward Adam Laxalt lately.

Ford first called out Laxalt -- Nevada's Republican attorney general and GOP front-runner for governor in 2018 -- on Twittter for his seemingly hypocritical stance over the use of executive orders by President Obama and President Trump.

Laxalt joined a multi-state lawsuit challenging executive orders by President Barack Obama on immigration in 2015 and spoke out against Obama's actions in news reports and at various gatherings.

Now that Trump is the one signing executive orders, including those on immigration, Laxalt is not speaking out. Ford questioned if Laxalt's zeal against executive orders had flamed out.

"When he (Laxalt) sued President Obama over immigration EOs, he said, "nations ruled by executive commands do not remain free for long." Ford tweeted and added: "Still true?"

That's not the only time Ford has been critical of Laxalt lately.

During the Obama years, Laxalt also preached against "federal overreach" in areas of immigration, water and land issues. And with Trump's new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session's aversion to legal, recreational marijuana, Ford has called on Laxalt to “vigorously defend Nevada’s marijuana laws from federal overreach.”

Ford noted Laxalt was never shy about taking action against the federal government under the previous administration and said Laxalt “must show that same consistency in taking on President Trump’s overzealous attack on the will of Nevada voters."

Laxalt's response has been subdued, with spokespeople saying each particular executive order should be examined individually and that the AG's office "will continue to monitor this situation."

The most seasoned of Laxalt's spokespeople is Robert Uithoven, Laxalt's main campaign consultant, who also lobbies on behalf of Laxalt's richest benefactor, Las Vegas Sands Boss Sheldon Adelson.

Uithoven was asked on Nevada Newsmakers this week if Laxalt would fight for Nevada's marijuana laws if the federal government tried to stop the state's budding recreational pot industry. After all, marijuana is still illegal by federal law.

He was noncommittal. Laxalt will wait and see what the feds do, Uithoven said.

"There has been no action (by the federal government)," Uithoven said. "That (Ford's question) is a political statement. He doesn't need to react to a political statement of the senate majority leader. He will wait until there is Department of Justice action."

Uithoven went on the slam Ford's statements.

"It is incredibly, politically charged .. whatever it was, a tweet, from the senate majority leader. The Department of Justice has not been in contact with the state of Nevada. You saw before Sen. Ford breathlessly put that statement out, that the governor had already come out and said, 'there has absolutely been no contact with the federal government.' "

UIthoven decried Nevada's quandary of opposing federal and state marijuana laws, then put much of the responsibility to fix it on Democrats.

"Sen. Ford might want to spend more time contacting his congressional delegation," he said. "We have four Democrats and two Republicans in our (Nevada) congressional delegation. The ambiguity needs to be fixed by the congressional delegation."

Until then, Ford should not expect a reply from Laxalt.

"The AG's job is to enforce Nevada law, you are correct," Uithoven said. "But until there is some kind of action, I don't think it is the attorney general's job to sit there and watch Sean Spicer's press statements and react to every one of them like the senate majority leader does."

Uithoven was referring to a statement made by Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, who said that states with legalized recreational marijuana should expect “greater enforcement” of the federal law.

Right now, if the U.S. Justice Department makes it an issue, my odds of Laxalt not defending Nevada's recreational pot laws are 60 to 40.

The thinking here is Laxalt would not fight a Republican-led U.S. Justice Department over Nevada's recreational pot laws. Neither Laxalt nor GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval ever endorsed the new, voter-approved recreational marijuana laws.

"Federally, it is listed as an illegal drug," Uithoven said. "I think that is where the focus ought to be placed. There is a lot of ambiguity. Look what goes on in Colorado and what is sure to happen here. Look at other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. It's a cash business. The banks are afraid to get into it."

DEMOCRATS see hypocrisy in Laxalt's lack of an aggressive stance on Trump's executive orders, since he appeared to be against executive orders in general -- that Congress should be making the laws, not Obama -- just a few years ago. He spoke to me in those terms in 2015 before my retirement from the Reno Gazette-Journal, saying:

“This suit is not anti-immigrant,” Laxalt said, when asked about joining a multi-state lawsuit challenging executive orders by Obama on immigration. “This is about protecting the rule of law. That is my job. That is my lane I plan on staying in. The policy side is something Congress needs to figure out.”

Even though some of Obama's and Trump's executive orders have been about immigration, you can't put them all under the same umbrella, Uithoven said.

"Every one of these, you need to take on a case-by-case basis," Uithoven said. "There are thousands of executive actions taken in a presidential term. Some are an abuse of the executive authority and some are citing the executive authority that allows the president to do so. I think Donald Trump has done that."

Uithoven defended one of Trump's executive orders in particular, which banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

"There is a special law that allows the president to do the travel bans a number of presidents have issued travel bans," Uithoven said. "The previous president did. The previous president before that did."

A federal court stopped implementation of Trump's travel ban last month, which was later upheld by a federal appeals court. It didn't sway Uithoven's thinking.

"Just because you have a number of attorneys general who have an issue with it, or a political issue with it or a Ninth Circuit ruling, does not necessarily mean that a law was violated by the executive by an executive order."

Uithoven, who ran Ted Cruz's Nevada presidential campaign in 2015-16, defended Trump's use of the executive order, even with the court action against it.

"A Ninth Circuit judge (U.S. District Judge James Robart) did it, not the full Ninth Circuit," Uithoven said. "If those were to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, I would think that once again, the most overturned Circuit in the United States would be overturned by the Supreme Court. I am not a lawyer. I am not here to litigate that issue. But I will tell that every executive order is different and the president has powers invest in him in that office to sign executive actions."