The outstanding feature of politics nowadays goes something like, “They can’t possibly top this.” And then they do.
Our Lyon County Commissioners caught a bad case of Rural-Nevada-Republican-Envy when they got wind that the Elko and Lander County Commissioners enlisted themselves and their county sheriffs in an outfit called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, paying the $2,500 membership fee out of county funds.
Not to be outdone, our team devised a Proclamation which they presented at last week’s commission meeting. The first seven paragraphs wander aimlessly through one “whereas” after another, until finally the Commissioners “proclaim and reaffirm” that we operate as a “Constitutional County.”
We are also told they proudly support the Sheriff “as being a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association.” It’s Peace Officers, by the way, not “Police Officers.” This careful choice of words by the organization’s image-conscious founders was lost on our guys.
Masters of deflection that they are, the Commissioners were happy to see much of the public comment focused on the Sheriff and his Constitutional Sheriffs membership. One concern was the close connection, in terms of shared personnel and beliefs, between the Constitutional Sheriffs and a paramilitary organization called the Oath Keepers.
The Oath Keepers were most recently in the news because they helped organize and execute the January 6 attack on the Capital. A number of their members have been indicted and arrested. Not the best look for law and order types—including our Sheriff—to mingle with these characters.
But the Commissioners felt the Sheriff should be free to join whatever organizations he wanted. If it was such a big deal then the voters could vote him out. To his credit, the Sheriff did apparently pick up the membership tab himself.
The silence with respect to any close or critical examination of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association itself was deafening. Nevertheless, after this little game of “look a squirrel!” the Sheriff asked that the reference be removed from the Proclamation. He thought it looked like the Commissioners were telling him what organizations he could or could not join.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, public comment continued questioning the wisdom and even legality of declaring ourselves a “Constitutional County.” The County Manager even pointed out the futility of County officials assuming powers they don’t really have.
The Commissioners were smart enough not to include a definition of “Constitutional County” in their Proclamation, though it was in quotation marks, like there was something tenuous or “that’s what he said” about it. This little bit of vagueness came in handy later.
The public, who mainly attended via Zoom, had done their homework. They knew a “Constitutional County” is a construct in which the sheriff reigns supreme over any and all other government officials, elected or appointed, local, state, or federal.
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association said it best themselves, on their website: “The law enforcement powers held by the sheriff supersede those of any agent, officer, elected official or employee from any level of government when in the jurisdiction of the county. The vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.”
This is of course couched in all sorts of sketchy interpretations of the US Constitution. It’s the same thinking that led the Commissioners to earnestly declare, to begin the Proclamation: “Whereas, the Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the land.”
Generations of Constitutional scholars couldn’t agree more, but the Commissioners soldiered on, oblivious to the fact that these same scholars have long established that the Constitution’s very reason for existence is to create a strong, effective national government and a coherent and consistent rule of law. It is patently absurd to imagine the framers envisioning a nation run by thousands of county sheriffs, each one believing he had the last word on the Constitution.
One after another, people popped up on Zoom objecting to the whole deal, even noting it would make the Sheriff “King of Lyon County.” Of course—see escape hatch above—the Commissioners assured everyone that wasn’t what it meant at all. The Sheriff had no intention of becoming “King of Lyon County.”
But, thanks to public comment, there it was in black and white. That’s what a Constitutional County is. To be charitable, it might not be true for the current sheriff, but what about the next guy?
Things can go off the rails pretty fast when you’ve got one foot in the imaginary world of political extremism. The Commissioner with a starring role in the whole thing, and supposedly a great lover of the Constitution, attempted to shut down public comment as the negatives began piling up.
There is no more fundamental example of the First Amendment than public comment during public meetings. Nevada’s Open Meeting Law clearly states it cannot be restricted because of content.
To her credit, the Commission Chair set him straight but, unfazed, he committed one of the most juvenile, churlish acts ever seen at a Lyon County Commission meeting. One young woman, who was unable to attend in person because of her work schedule, had requested that her submitted written comment be read into the record. And she asked said commissioner do so. This is a common courtesy even the most partisan politician would have granted one of his constituents, but our star’s reaction was a curt, “I’m not reading this.” It was passed over to a staff member to read.
My purpose here is not to recount the entire meeting. I am not a reporter, but I do have to mention a moment of comic relief that occurred earlier. Our same star Commissioner sprang a surprise on the unsuspecting Zoom audience, not to mention the County Manager, under an innocuous agenda item reading, “Approve starting the process to rename a street in the Dayton area.”
Ho-Hum. Until he got around to revealing his idea was to change the name of Old Dayton Valley Road to President Donald Trump Way. The audience was too stunned to laugh but finally, again after some pointed criticism in public comment, all but one Commissioner joined in going forward with the change.
The one glitch was that “President” would have to be abbreviated as “Pres.” Otherwise, the new signs would be too long. Alternatively, just calling it Donald Trump Way would invite confusion with Donald Trump Jr. They settled on Pres. Trump Way.
In searching for a way to wind up this account of a truly surreal experience, I have to fall back on my favorite Mark Twain quote. I know from observing the five good folks on the Lyon County Commission in the past that what follows is on the mark. The Twain quote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Whereas, even though you know for sure little green men in flying saucers came down and messed with the voting machines and stole the election from Donald Trump, it just ain’t so.
Whereas, even though you know for sure the people who attacked the Capital on January 6 were just tourists taking snapshots, it just ain’t so.
Whereas, even though you know for sure the Constitution says that Sheriff Frank Hunewill is the Supreme Potentate and Lawgiver of Lyon County, it just ain’t so.
Therefore, let it be resolved that they can’t possibly top this.
Photo credit: Outstanding marksman of the White House police force, Roland Ford, Washington, D.C., Aug. 10, 1937 – photo: Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress
Erich Obermayr is an author, community activist, and career archaeologist specializing in sharing historical and archaeological research with the public. He writes about Nevada politics and social issues. He lives in Silver City, Nevada, with his wife.
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