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Follow the Money: Mining companies gave lawmakers nearly $250,000 during 2018 cycle

Since the state’s founding, the mining industry has long been one of the most dominant players in Nevada’s political sphere — a trend that continued in 2018.

A total of 14 companies and individuals involved in Nevada’s mining industry gave 57 legislators about $248,500 through the 2018 election cycle, about 2.3 percent of the $11.7 million raised by lawmakers in 2018. It’s slightly less than the $266,000 the industry gave in 2016; a presidential election year where most industries reported more contributions than they do in midterm elections.

Contributions were dominated by three entities: Newmont Mining ($82,500), Barrick Gold ($80,000) and the Nevada Mining Association ($56,250). Together, the trio accounted for about 88 percent of total industry spending.

Newmont operates 11 surface mines, eight underground mines and 13 processing facilities in Nevada, while Barrick Gold operates the large Cortez and Goldstrike mines. Barrick has launched a hostile $17.8 billion takeover attempt of rival Newmont, which if successful would result in the world’s largest gold company with an estimated worth of more than $42 billion.

The industry has long been criticized by progressive groups, who argue low, “sweetheart” tax rates belie billions in annual profits.

Like many other industries, the industry trade association — the Nevada Mining Association — operates a political action committee for its members. But in the 2018 cycle, only six companies gave a total of $80,000 to the association’s PAC: Newmont, Barrick, Coeur Rochester, Kinross Gold, Marigold and NV Energy.

The utility company is a member of the mining association. The group came out in opposition to the Energy Choice Initiative ballot question in August 2018; NV Energy spent a record-breaking $63.5 million opposing the ballot question, which failed.

Other large donors include High Desert Gold ($10,000), Kinross Gold ($9,000) and Coeur Mining ($7,000). The remaining eight donors all contributed $1,000 or less.

The top recipient of mining contributions was rural Republican Assemblyman John Ellison, who received $22,500 in total, including $10,000 from High Desert Gold Corp. — the only maximum donation from the entire industry. Other big recipients include Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($19,000), Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson ($14,500), Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler ($13,500), and Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer ($10,500).

Only two elected Assembly members — Democrats Richard Carrillo and Skip Daly — as well as four appointees — Democratic Assemblywomen Rochelle Nguyen and Bea Duran, Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen and Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris — did not receive any contributions from mining sources.

Democrats, who make up a bulk of the Legislature, also took in the largest chunk of mining industry money — $146,000 to the Republicans’ $102,500. On average, however, GOP legislators received slightly more per contribution, $1,601 to $1,505 for Democrats.

Lawmakers in the Assembly also received more in total ($147,550) than their Senate counterparts ($100,950), though senators still brought in more on average ($1,654) than members of the Assembly ($1,475).

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Local Inspirations
Local Inspirations: Patrick Herman

SPRING CREEK — As the administrator of the local Pilgrim Radio Satellite station and Spring Creek Christian Academy, Patrick Herman stays sane by remaining creative. His busy schedule requires him to record for two radio stations, teach art and speech classes, meet with prospective and current students, and clean bathrooms.

“It’s a labor of love,” Herman said, “So I don’t know if I’d even call it a challenge. It’s so much fun to run both the school and the radio station. Would I do it for free? Probably. It’s one of those things where you’d do it even if you didn’t make any money.”

Herman began to hone his radio skills in Reno.

“I was actually a mortgage broker for many years, and it’s not very creative to be a mortgage broker. Lucrative, yes; creative, no. … I used to be in journalism in Channel 2 in Reno and Channel 8 in Las Vegas. And then I went back to college. … I became a mortgage broker which lasted 15 years but in the interim I was also a teacher at Reno Christian Academy.

“I remember going to my old professor in Reno from UNR and just asking, why do I feel this way? He says, ‘You know what you’re experiencing? This is a mid-life crisis.’” Even though he was only in his late 20s, Herman had to agree.

“I’m an art major and Spanish major. I did a lot of communications as well during college, but that wasn’t my major.”

The professor went on to tell him, “You need a creative outlet.”

While not as obvious an art media as painting, Herman chose radio to be his canvas. “I thought you know what, I’ve already done the media for the TV news so I thought I’d love to do radio, it’d be fun. So I went down to Pilgrim Radio. And they were like, sure, we’ll put you on in the mornings. … That has been a good creative outlet.”

But eventually it became clear that more of a change was needed.

“I was tired of doing mortgages. You can only get so creative with mortgages…. So I actually gave up my clientele… I gave it all up because I thought, I am losing my mind doing this.”

In 2005, with nothing to hold him in Reno, he moved his family to Spring Creek.

“This is beautiful. We thought we could raise our kids here. We sold our house … and I thought, No, we’re just going to invest, and live, and homeschool our kids.”

Life was going the way he had intended until the possibility of something bigger came into view.

“I was actually running the homeschool group here,” Herman said. “There were four other families. … And one of them at one of our meetings said, ‘Oh, yeah the little Christian school is closing.’

“I perked up because I was a teacher for so many years at a Christian school in Reno. I said, ‘Why what’s going on?’

“’Oh, the principal just wants to retire.’”

The news that Ruby Mountain Christian School was closing “did not sit well with me. It was festering in my soul.”

The next day he called up the retiring administrator, Randy Wetmore, and set up a meeting. RMCS was run under the umbrella of Ruby Mountain Bible Church since 1980.

“I remember Randy having this perplexed look, and he said, ‘You would take this school over?’

“And I thought, ‘Yes, I would!’”

When the school opened for the 2008-2009 school year it hadn’t just changed leadership it became a new school, Spring Creek Christian Academy.

“(SCCA) got its wings from Ruby Mountain Christian School. … They were the wind beneath our wings. … Randy, of course, loved education, and so he was completely in support of us. And guess what, so were all the members of the church. It was a wonderful year and a half.”

When it became necessary to leave the nest, Herman explored different options before accepting an offer from Don Decker to rent half of the old Spring Creek Utilities building.

“We came to look at this place and I said this will never work as a school. It’s all compartmentalized. It doesn’t work, but lo and behold it does.”

When Decker was diagnosed with cancer he gifted the building and surrounding property to the school.

“I would imagine,” Herman said, “somebody would start to gather in your wealth … but they didn’t do that, they started giving away properties ... It is unbelievable the amount of providence that has taken place –God’s providence – throughout the years to this little school. By all normal means it shouldn’t be open. It shouldn’t still be in existence. But here we are.”

The gift has really helped with the administration since the biggest challenge to running a small school is finances.

“It boils down to money and volunteers. It just always does,” Herman said.

He wasn’t sure if a school could exist without a mother church. Herman loves that now because the school isn’t the child of one church it has become common ground for many of them.

“Because of this one ministry the churches are united in one way or another. And I love to see them come together for our events and mingle,” he said. “I usually stand afar off and just watch because it is so neat to see all these congregations to come together … and oftentimes it is because of the school.”

In May 2015, Herman excitedly shared his creative outlet with the school. MY99.7, the school’s little radio station, began broadcasting. Not only does it give the students another opportunity for creativity, it also allows the students to show their personality.

Every student has been able to help with the station, from kindergarten through 12th.

“It’s very unusual that the personality for this age group comes out but it definitely does,” Herman said.

When starting the station Herman believed that since they were a Christian school, the radio should have all Christian music. But when he discovered that the kids weren’t listening to their own radio station, he took a step back.

“We started asking the kids: What are you listening to?”

Their answers set the direction of the station. It’s now “Spring Creek’s Positive Mix,” mixing Top 40 hits with lively Christian music.

“We thought that is our audience, it’s these kids … and that’s what we are still doing. We put in about a quarter Christian music that is fun-loving and upbeat … like these kids.”

Daniel Johnson, who used to be on the radio daily, wishes he had the time to do it again.

“At first, you definitely are stressed out about it, but then after a little bit you relax and have a conversation about dumb stuff, and laugh, and hopefully help other people laugh,” he said.

AP NewsBreak: US plans to lift protections for gray wolves

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials plan to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, re-igniting the legal battle over a predator that’s running into conflicts with farmers and ranchers as its numbers rebound in some regions.

The proposal would give states the authority to hold wolf hunting and trapping seasons. It was announced Wednesday by acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at a wildlife conference in Denver.

Wolves had previously lost federal protections in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where hunters and trappers now kill hundreds of the animals annually.

Wildlife advocates and some members of Congress reacted with outrage to the latest proposal and promised to challenge any final decision in court.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now with the group Defenders of Wildlife, warned of an “all-out war on wolves” if the plan advances.

“We don’t have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife,” she said.

But government officials countered that the recovery of wolves from widespread extermination last century has worked and they no longer need the Endangered Species Act to shield them.

“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in an emailed statement.

Agriculture groups and lawmakers from Western states are likely to support the administration’s proposal.

Further details were expected during a formal announcement planned in coming days.

Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century.

They received endangered species protections in 1975, when there were about 1,000 left, only in northern Minnesota. Now more than 5,000 of the animals live in the contiguous U.S.

Most are in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions.

Protections for the Northern Rockies population were lifted in 2011. State officials and government biologists say the region’s wolves have continued to thrive despite pressure from hunting. The animals are prolific breeders and can adapt to a variety of habitats.

Wildlife advocates want federal protections kept in place until wolves repopulate more of a historical range that stretched across most of North America.

Since being reintroduced in Yellowstone National park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s, the Northern Rockies population has expanded to parts of Oregon, Washington and California.

Those states so far have not allowed hunting, despite growing pressure from ranchers whose livestock herds have been attacked.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has argued for years that gray wolves have recovered in the lower 48 states, despite experts who contend they occupy only about 15 percent of the territory they once roamed. Agency officials insist the recovery of wolves everywhere is not required for the species no longer to be in danger of extinction.

John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Technological University, said most wolf experts probably would agree the species is not at imminent risk. But said he dropping federal protections was a premature move.

Many people “still find it difficult to live with wolves,” primarily because they kill livestock as well as deer and elk that people like to hunt, Vucetich said. If wolves are returned to state management, he said, “I do worry that some of the states could be overly aggressive and that wolves could fare worse than their current condition.”

The government first proposed revoking the wolf’s protected status across the Lower 48 states in 2013. It backed off after federal courts struck down its plan for “delisting” the species in the western Great Lakes region states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials disclosed to the AP last year that another scientific review of the animal’s status had been launched.

Shire declined to disclose the agency’s rationale for determining the species had recovered, but said members of the public would have a chance to comment before a final decision in coming months.

Ryan Yates, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, applauded the federal agency’s plan and said many farmers and ranchers have lost livestock to wolf kills since the species was granted legal protections. The farmers and ranchers will respect state regulations aimed at managing wolf populations, he said.

“Some people like them, some people don’t, but the law’s the law,” Yates said.

Nevada attorney arrested for trying to intimidate witness with rat emoji

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Authorities say a Las Vegas lawyer is accused of trying to intimidate a witness in a criminal case.

Attorney Alexis Plunkett was arrested and jailed Tuesday on warrants accusing her of one count of bribing or intimidating a witness and one count of dissuading or preventing a person from testifying.

According to a criminal complaint, Plunkett allegedly used a fictitious social media account to post a rat emoji and the witness’ name with the intent “that the statement would threaten, intimidate, and/or place witness in danger of being harmed.”

Plunkett’s attorney, Michael Becker, did not immediate return a phone call Wednesday from The Associated Press.