Dennis Myers: Learning about government seems out of fashion

A few weeks ago, when another veterans’ memorial was being dedicated in Carson City, the Associated Press reported, among other things on the funding for the memorial: “The Nevada attorney general’s office contributed $300,000 of nearly $493,000 that Nevada derived from a 43-state settlement of a lawsuit against Johnson &Johnson alleging quality control shortcomings with over-the-counter drugs.”

The AP did not provide a byline on this article, which was wise, because it is inaccurate.

Most people who have taken a government class know that the executive branch does not “contribute” money to anything. Only the legislative branch can appropriate funding. And most capitol reporters would know that lawsuit settlements go into the state general fund for allocation by the Legislature. In this case, Nevada’s Interim Finance Committee (one of two legislative committees that handle legislative business when the full Legislature is out of session) contributed the $300,000 to the memorial, not the attorney general’s office. Basic civics.

It’s amazing how often reporters get things like this wrong. Just last week, the Sacramento Bee ran a story under the headline, “Marijuana is legal in California. So why is the CHP arresting delivery drivers?”

Cannabis is not legal in California. Repealing state-level prohibition doesn’t make it legal. The reporter forgot about an entire level of government, the federal government. As long as federal prohibition is in place, everyone in possession of marijuana is still vulnerable to arrest, no matter what state law says.

In 1999, when Nevada reached its settlement with the tobacco companies, the state attorney general’s office claimed that the money had to be used for health care. It was a favor to the health care lobby, which wanted to hijack the entire settlement, and it was not true, which NO reporters reported. Fortunately, Gov. Kenny Guinn recommended appropriating 40 percent of it to college educations for Nevada high school graduates. Even then, the health care community got all the remaining money. This is the level of knowledge of most reporters about the governments they must cover.

I assume the public is just as uninformed on the way government works as are reporters. I make this assumption because I have just checked the requirements for graduating from high school in Nevada. I made this check because a former county school board member told me something I could not believe. The requirements do not include any civics classes, social studies classes or government classes. None. There’s math. There’s science. There’s English. No government. I am not making this up. See for yourself: https://tinyurl.com/yccz6827

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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