Election filing: Random thoughts

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Friday was the last day to file for office for 2014 elections. I hit the highlights in my Sunday column, but there are a few more stories and interesting notes in the lists of names.

  • A surprising number of Democrats filed to run against Rep. Mark Amodei in the 2nd Congressional District. Given the registration (144,255 active Republican voters versus 110,795 Democrats, with 56,714 non-partisans), it’s a long shot even for the most well-organized candidate who didn’t face a primary. But Vance Alm, Brian Dempsey, Ed Lee and Kristen Spees are all fighting for the chance to lose to Amodei.
  • Amodei is not known for being a liberal, but he still drew an ultra-conservative challenger in the person of Janine Hansen, who when she’s not saying ridiculous things as a lobbyist at the Nevada Legislature occasionally runs for office unsuccessfully on the Independent American Party banner.
  • Although some surmised Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, might not file for the 4th Congressional District (currently represented by incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford), he did. One cannot underestimate the frustration inherent in being part of the minority Republican caucus in the Assembly!
  • Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, couldn’t avoid a primary: Pahrump Democrat Harley Kulkin jumped into the race. But something tells me the Republican primary (hotelier Sue Lowden versus state Sen. Mark Hutchison versus Chris Dyer) will draw more interest.
  • Former Assemblyman Ron Knecht, who served one term before being defeated for re-election following the debacle that was the 2003 legislative session, but who won a seat on the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents in 2006, filed for state controller. Yeah, I don’t know, either.
  •  A surprising number of candidates are running unopposed (always the best way to run, if you ask any veteran pol!). They are: state Sens. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden and Dr. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City; along with Assembly members John Ellison, R-Elko; James Oscarson, R-Pahrump; Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas; Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas; Melissa Woodbury, R-Henderson; and newcomer Edgar Flores, running as a Democrat in District 28. (That seat was formerly represented by Lucy Flores [no relation].)
  •  As if she didn’t have a hard enough slog against incumbent Rep. Joe Heck, Democrat Erin Bilbray will have to fend off one Zachary “Mr. Z” Campbell in a Democratic primary! Where’s the field-clearing power of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when you need it, huh? (Heck has no primary opponent in his race.)
  • In the critical state Senate District 9 race, which, if the Republicans win, could very likely enable them to take over the upper house, there’s a four-way GOP primary! That’s right, Vick Gill, Becky Harris, Ron Q. Quilang and David J. Schoen will have to fight it out among themselves for the right to challenge incumbent Democrat Justin Jones. Excellent coordination, Republicans!
  • How bad is it for Democrats in Assembly District 22 (where I happen to live)? Bad: Nobody filed to run as a Democrat, so voters will have to choose between the winner of the Republican primary (incumbent Lynn Stewart versus challenger Richard Bunce) and Independent American Party member Leroy T. Lalley. Sigh. I guess that’s what 13,950 Republicans versus 11,899 Democrats does for you.
  • Confession: I’m actually kind of looking forward to the primary between Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Las Vegas Constable official Lou Toomin. Some people — not me, of course — think Giunchigliani can be mean and crush those who oppose her into the composite minerals that make up the human body with a single glance. That would sure be something to see!
  • When Mike Schneider was a state senator, his crusade for light-rail was considered Quixotic. But now that everybody from the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance’s Tom Skancke (a longtime supporter of rail technology) to researchers from the Brookings Institution to a growing coalition of local officials are embracing the idea, his last-minute filing for the Clark County Commission (in incumbent Susan Brager‘s district) takes on an interesting hue.
  • Constable John Bonaventura — whose office was eliminated by the Clark County Commission — is now running for the commission. Is it so he can re-create the constable’s office? While his reality-show hi-jinks would make for good copy, it’s my guess his public career will suffer a sudden interruption when incumbent Mary Beth Scow wins the Democratic primary in that race.
  • Danny Tarkanian‘s bid for university regent in District 2 will be his fifth — fifth! — bid for a public title in the last decade. Just saying.
  • Don’t forget! Some of this could change: Candidates have until March 25 to withdraw from an election, or rescind a previously filed withdraw. So stay tuned!

 

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MTP still bad, weekend viewing confirms

Monday, March 17th, 2014

I watched Meet the Press for the first time in years this weekend, entirely because my friend and colleague Jon Ralston was to be a guest in the roundtable segment. Jon — host of daily TV show Ralston Reports on KSNV Channel 3 here in Las Vegas — did a great job as always, even if he did have to share screen time with “press” such as this one guy from the Heritage Foundation’s blog and an ex-Barack Obama flack turned political consultant. Ah, balance.

Before the roundtable, however, I found Meet the Press had not improved in the years since the sudden death of former host Tim Russert. We switched from a White House official dodging host David Gregory‘s questions about the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation to dodging questions about the president’s popularity rating. Really? We’re one bullet away from a hot war in Crimea — but let’s not forget how the president’s poll numbers impact this story?!

In case you don’t believe me, here are a few of the questions posted on the Meet the Press Facebook page this weekend:

  • Will President Obama be an asset or a liability for Democrats in November?
  • Will Democrats or Republicans gain the upper hand in the midterm elections this year?
  • Would President Obama ever delay the individual mandate in#Obamacare?
Actually, that last question isn’t too bad, if one only added the missing second, third and fourth: “…and does he really have the constitutional authority to do so? And is the Affordable Care Act the law of the land, or is it not? Because if it is, why are we not getting on with implementing it?”
I did, however, enjoy the interview segment with comedian Bill Maher, and his helpful reminder that the problems associated with the Affordable Care Act arise not from too much socialism, but from too much capitalism. Amen.
So, congrats to my friend Jon and to Maher for seizing upon the Sunday morning airwaves and making them temporarily worthwhile. Would that would happen more often!

 

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Heller voted against CIA lawyer over secrecy issues

Monday, March 17th, 2014

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller

Couldn’t help but notice over the weekend that Nevada’s own U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was one of four “no” votes to confirm Caroline Krass as the CIA’s new general counsel. Heller voted no along with Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Tim Scott, R-S.C. and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

I asked why, and this is what Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith wrote back:

“When evaluating this nomination, Senator Heller weighed the value of transparency and disclosure against the need to maintain national security. The Intelligence Committee is a useful tool in striking that balance. In her testimony, Ms. Kass [sic] indicated that she opposed the release of CIA documents on the basis that crucial legal opinions about intelligence matters are beyond the scope of the Intelligence Committee. Senator Heller opposed the nomination due to the lack of clarity regarding whether or not the CIA will cooperate with the Committee and submit to congressional oversight.”

Well, it seems to me Krass was explicitly clear: The CIA will not cooperate with the Intelligence Committee nor submit its classified legal opinions to congressional oversight. (That, by the way, is a perfectly good reason to oppose her nomination.) Heller has been clear in the past that he wants the public to be able to see at least some of the legal documents underpinning America’s intelligence gathering. For example, he’s part of a bipartisan group of senators who want the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to declassify its rulings on government surveillance programs.

Krass, by the way, replaces acting CIA General Counsel Robert Eatinger, who referred Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to the Justice Department for possible prosecution for allegedly obtaining classified documents in the Senate’s investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program under former President George W. Bush. That referral caused Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to call out the CIA in a speech on the Senate floor. It turns out, Eatinger — who oversaw the detention and interrogation program in the Bush years — is mentioned more than 1,600 times in the Senate’s investigative report. Sadly, President Barack Obama has striven to remain neutral in the standoff.

While we’re about the business of getting those crucial legal opinions declassified, it might not be a bad idea to give the public a look at that CIA report, too.

 

 

 

 

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Ballot Quest V: Search for Victory Continues!

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Remember a couple of years ago when then state Sen. Steven Horsford defeated Danny Tarkanian 50 percent to 42 percent in the race for the newly created 4th Congressional District?

I could have sworn that Tarkanian said that he was done with politics after that race. (And it would only make sense, because he’d run unsuccessfully for secretary of state, state Senate, and U.S. Senate, racking up a string of losses along the way.)

Oh, wait. He did say he was done. According to the Review-Journal, Tarkanian said this following his loss to Horsford:

Tarkanian also said he is getting out of politics: “My family and I are going to step out away from it and move on with our lives.”

But today, his family and he stepped right back into it, as Tarkanian filed to run for the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents District 2, currently represented by Regent Robert Blakely. Attorney Trevor Hayes is also seeking the seat.

Danny Tarkanian files for university regent in photos posted by wife Amy Tarkanian on Twitter.

There was some slight confusion on Twitter, as Amy Tarkanian — Danny Tarkanian’s wife and the former chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party — said, “Excited to have filed for NV Board of Regents District 2.” But she later clarified it was Danny Tarkanian who had filed — and posted the photos to prove it.

So, with the fourth time be the charm? Has Danny Tarkanian finally found an office with a district of sufficient geographic compactness to win? Could this be the start of a comeback tour that could see him run again for statewide office? Or will circumstances (and voters) cause him to step out away from it once more? Stay tuned!

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Screw you, Coburn!

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

You all remember U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., don’t you? He’s the former roommate of our own John Ensign (in that Washington, D.C., home owned by a shadowy religious group) who acted as a go-between after Ensign had an affair with his best friend and chief of staff’s wife, and who later claimed priest-penitent and doctor-patient confidentiality to avoid having to talk about the affair, which he ultimately did anyway.

Oh, by the way, Coburn is a gynecologist. And Ensign’s a dude. But whatever.

He’s the guy who was given a letter of admonition by the Senate Ethics Committee because he helped Ensign’s best friend consummate an illegal scheme to lobby Congress before a one-year cooling off period had expired. Remember? Yeah, that guy.

Well, anyway Coburn gave an exit interview to the New York Times Magazine, since he’s announced he’s leaving the Senate this year, two years before his term is up, to deal with complications of prostate cancer. And he didn’t have very much nice to say about Las Vegas or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, either.

Among the lowlights:

  • “A third of those on the other side literally can’t stand me because they don’t like my positions and the way I communicate them. And with the other two-thirds, I’ve not effectively communicated with them to change their heart.” Or, it really could be because he’s wrong about a lot of stuff.
  • “My philosophy is different than most of the people up here. I think if you do the right thing and lose, you still did the right thing. I think if you do less than the right thing and win, it’s morally reprehensible.” So, let’s just see, where does “helping your buddy negotiate a monetary settlement so his adultery doesn’t become public” fall into that philosophy? How about “breaking federal law”? Is that more on the morally reprehensible side, or “doing the right thing” side?
  • “Q: You’ve been quite critical of Ted Cruz, and your feelings about Harry Reid are well known. Which one would you rather take a long car trip with? A: Oh, Ted Cruz by far. Ted is a good guy.”
  • “Q: No road trip for you and Reid? A: He probably wouldn’t survive it. I would bore him to death.” Somehow, I think if Reid and Coburn were confined in a small space, it’s not Reid who’d end up dead, and the cause of death would not be boredom…
  • “Q: So I guess you won’t be staying here after you retire? A: No. Heck no. I contemplate and pray a lot about what I’m supposed to do. The one thing I know I’m supposed to do is to leave here.” And based upon Coburn’s own informal survey, three-thirds of the Senate agrees!
  • “Q: You have compared Washington with Las Vegas. Why? A: Las Vegas takes advantage of every weakness that we have. That’s what power in Washington does. Power is a tool. And how you use it is a discerning attribute of your character.” Speaking of tools…
  • “The best power we have is the power to bring people together to solve problems. That’s my big beef right now with the president. His power has been used more often to divide us as a nation rather than to bring us together.” And with all that help you and your party have offered him, too! What nerve that guy has!
  • “Q: Do you have any liberals on your staff? A: I had some Democrats, but they died.” Of boredom, right?

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Reid Hashtags postponed until April

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Program note, people: The Hashtags and Headlines luncheon featuring me interviewing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been postponed until April 17, to allow Reid and others to attend the funeral of casino pioneer Jackie Gaughan, who died today.

The event will now be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Versailles ballroom at the Paris hotel-casino on the Strip.

The monthly Hashtags and Headlines event, sponsored by the Review-Journal, allows community members to hear from experts on important local topics, from the future of downtown to sports arenas, from taxes to education. It’s hosted by me and R-J senior editorial writer Glenn Cook.

 

 

 

 

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Obama likes Zach better than Chris: Alert the media!

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Zac Galifianakis -- not a journalist, but that's OK

So, there’s been some controversy over President Barack Obama‘s decision to be interviewed on Funny or Die by Zach Galifianakis on the subject of the Affordable Care Act. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. It’s hilarious.)

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza wrote it up in his traditional way — Obama has grasped the shifting media landscape! He’s moving to take advantage of the changes! He’s winning the hour! — before offering a slight complaint that the president hasn’t sat down with the Post since 2009 for an interview.

A bit more Cillizza, if I may beg readers’ indulgence:

The conclusion? Obama and his team are big believers that the fracturing of the mainstream media into a thousand niche site has fundamentally altered how — and with whom — he should spend his time.

Obama’s election in 2008 coincided with a rapid change in that equation. The growth of non-traditional media — from Huffington Post to The Daily Show to 1,000 other offshoots covering pieces and parts of the news cycle — allows this president to pick his spots and his audiences in ways that were unthinkable even for George W. Bush.

And the denouement:

Obama detractors will declare it as beneath the president to subject himself to what is, in essence, a comedy sketch. Obama allies will respond that Obama appeared on the show to promote the Affordable Care Act to the so-called “Young Invincibles”, the healthy young people who he badly needs to opt-in to the law in order to ensure its long term success. And [the Galifianakis show] Between Two Ferns is regarded by this White House as a significantly more impactful way to reach the 30 and under crowd than the vast majority of more traditional news sites and channels.

Beyond Cillizza’s unforgivable use of the non-word “impactful,” his piece on this controversy illustrates precisely why the president — and many of the rest of us — choke on most political coverage. We get a bit of facile analysis (the Internet is changing the media landscape! Why, didn’t I read about that in the January 1998 edition of No Shit Digest?). We get the conventional wisdom summary of both sides of the argument (Obama’s critics will call him a dilettante who can’t take a tough question; Obama’s supporters will say this is a great thing).

And then he stops writing.

So, who’s right? Was Obama wrong to do this? Why should he sit down with the Post instead of Galifianakis? Or why, pray tell, shouldn’t he be able to do both? And wasn’t the message he delivered via Funny or Die (which became the No. 1 referral site to healthcare.gov after the interview went live) an important one to get out?

Instead, we get the same warmed over on the one hand/on the other that substitutes for real political journalism most of the time, and at the Post in particular. It’s tiring, it’s meaningless and it doesn’t serve readers. Could it be The Daily Show is popular precisely because it avoids that ridiculous construction and reveals hypocrisy (on both sides, even!) the way traditional media should, but doesn’t?

Then again, President Obama knows this, and has talked about it in the past. Said the president in April 2012:

I think that there is oftentimes the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented — which reinforces I think people’s cynicism about Washington generally.

Exactly. And while Cillizza may see his role as simply and objectively reporting “both sides,” the job is actually to figure out the truth and report that. This will involve taking a stand, because quite often, one of the sides is flat wrong, and journalists really need to do something truly terrifying: Say so.

Don’t hold your breath. And speaking of not holding your breath, what I’d really love to see is the president sit down for about two hours for a live, no-commercial, no-holds barred interview with a panel consisting of Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges of Truthdig, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation and Matt Taibbi, now of First Look Media.

Now that would be both awesome and totally unsuitable for printing in the Washington Post. 

UPDATE: Jeff Greenfield, writing on The Daily Beast, says Abraham Lincoln would have agreed to be interviewed by Zach Galifianakis, too!

 

 

 

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Congress’s job approval on the rise!

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Fully 15 percent of all Americans now approve of the job that Congress is doing, a 3-percentage-point gain over last month, according to Gallup.com.

15% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing; just 85% left to go!

According to Gallup, 15 percent is the lowest approval rating ever recorded for Congress, although it’s close to the 2010 rating of 16 percent recorded before the mid-term elections of that year. It’s enough to make a congressman long for the heady days of 2001, when the rating hit 63 percent in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

At this rate, assuming a consistent rate of growth, a majority of Americans will love Congress again this time next year! Something to look forward to at last!

 

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Dark money PAC lies about Miller

Monday, March 10th, 2014

A dark-money super PAC will spend half a million dollars airing ads attacking Secretary of State Ross Miller with exaggerations and outright falsehoods.

That could have been the lead of a news story about a new attack ad mounted by an outfit called the State Government Leadership Foundation, a 501(c)(4) “social benefit” organization that’s legally allowed to shield its donors from public view. However, the group was started with corporate funds from companies such as Exxon Mobil, Time Warner and Pfizer, and mostly attacks Democrats.

Here’s how the organization describes itself on its website:

The State Government Leadership Foundation (SGLF) spotlights hotbed issues and conservative policies that state government officials wrestle with most. For too long, out-of-touch leaders in the states have colluded with special interests to raise taxes, swell state budgets, and increase the size of government. The SGLF is taking the lead on educating elected and appointed state government officials, providing support to local officeholders, and highlighting meaningful, conservative solutions. The SGLF is a 501 (c)(4) social welfare organization and is a strategic partner of the the Republican State Leadership Committee, one of the largest conservative caucuses in the country.

And the Republican State Leadership Committee, of course, is the Ed Gillespie, Karl Rove-founded organization that works to develop the GOP bench by electing Republicans to down-ballot races. So says the group on its website:

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) is the largest caucus of Republican state leaders in the country and the only national organization whose mission is to elect down-ballot, state-level Republican officeholders. Since 2002, the RSLC has been working to elect candidates to the office of lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state legislator.

Ironically enough, a Republican attorneys general group split off from the Republic State Leadership Committee in January amid tensions between the two. But that’s surely not enough to stop them from attacking Miller, a formidable candidate for AG and perhaps governor down the road.

Which brings us to the ad, dubbed “Miller’s house of cards,” to dovetail with a website that’s been around for awhile. Here’s the ad:

The ad hits Miller first for “traveling the globe” on somebody else’s nickel. The only international trip, however, appears to be one in which Miller joined other secretaries of state in Taiwan, at a conference underwritten by that nation’s government.

Holly Madison of Girls Next Door fame

Miller is depicted — often through photos he posted himself on social media — hanging with celebrities, including former Girls Next Door star Holly Madison. (She’s incorrectly identified as a Playboy Playmate; although she has appeared nude in the magazine with her Girls co-stars, she’s never actually been a Playmate.)

This part of the ad should backfire; hanging out with celebrities — especially celebrities such as Madison — is a bad thing now? A person can’t be a serious candidate for public office but have fun in his personal life on his own time? I suppose Republicans would never, ever want to hang out with the likes of Madison, for fear of damaging their future political careers? It’s pathetic and it smacks of the kind of jealousy dorky underclassmen feel for the quarterback who dates the head cheerleader. Plus, Madison is a constituent!

The ad next hits Miller for accepting $60,000 in gifts and travel from special interests, the ad says. And here’s it’s important to note two things: One, the reason the State Government Leadership Foundation knows about all of that is because Miller made the legally required disclosures.

Two, Miller has been at the forefront of demanding greater transparency in Nevada’s laws for all elected officials, efforts that have met with characteristic resistance among lawmakers (including, it must be said, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, who is running to replace Miller as secretary of state).

Should Miller have turned down all gifts and all offers of travel, even though none violated the law? One could argue that, I suppose. But Miller followed the law as its written, and made full disclosure.

But then the ad descends into fiction: “He lives the life, you pay the tab,” the ad says. “Tell Ross Miller to stop living the high life at your expense.”

This, of course, is a lie: Miller did not use taxpayer dollars in any of the cases the foundation is criticizing him over. The assertion is totally false, and Miller’s campaign is asking Nevada media outlets not to air the ad as a result.

Or, as Miller said in a statement released in response to the ad:

As secretary of state, I’ve led the fight to clean up our elections, and keep anonymous special interest money out of Nevada campaigns. So it’s no surprise that a Washington-based special interest group is coming after me. While the U.S. Supreme Court may have given this group the right to spend money on elections, they have no right to hide their donors, or ignore our laws.

My disclosure forms are public for anyone to see. The real question is, why won’t this group also be transparent, and disclose the funders who paid for this ad? Nevadans have the right to know who is trying to buy their vote and what they hope to gain.

I call on the secret donors behind these attacks to come out of the shadows, disclose their donations, and debate the issues in the light of day. Until then, I will continue to review every legal option to compel this front-group to reveal its special interest donors.

And that’s not just talk. Miller has sued groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Citizen Outreach after those groups have spent money on ads and fliers without providing what Miller says is the legally required disclosure. He’s had only mixed success in the courts, however.

The bottom line: The State Government Leadership Foundation appears quite willing to exaggerate or even flatly lie about Miller, to pursue its political goal of electing more Republicans in down-ballot races so as to have a larger pool of candidates to draw from when it comes to national office. They shouldn’t be trusted, however.

 

 

 

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CPAC straw poll results are Democrats dream ticket

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Isn’t it odd how the Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll results track almost exactly with the candidates that Democrats are praying Republicans nominate?

Take a look at the list (compiled by the Washington Times):

  1. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — 31 percent
  2. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — 11 percent
  3. Dr. Ben Carson — 9 percent
  4. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — 8 percent
  5. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. — 7 percent
  6. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — 7 percent
  7. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — 6 percent
  8. Texas Gov. Rick Perry — 3 percent
  9. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — 3 percent
  10. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — 2 percent
  11. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — 2 percent
  12. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — 2 percent
  13. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — 2 percent
  14. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — 1 percent
  15. Ohio Gov. John Kasich — 1 percent
  16. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — 1 percent
  17. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio — 1 percent
  18. U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. — 1 percent
  19. Donald Trump — 1 percent
  20. Former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. — 1 percent

What stands out about this list the most is that  you have to drop to No. 6 — with Walker — before you get to a candidate who might even have a remote chance on a national stage. And while CPAC attendees managed to push some of the biggest jokes toward the bottom of the list — think Palin, Trump and West — there are still some ballot clowns higher up (think Santorum, Huckabee and — what’s that third one, again? Oh, right — Perry).

If Democrats could pick their foe, they might build a consensus around Paul, who doesn’t even think many of his fellow Republicans are worthy of the party. (“There’s a great battle going on. It’s for the heart and soul of America,” he said in his CPAC speech. “You may think I’m talking about electing Republicans. I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty.”)

After Walker, serious candidates such as Ryan, Daniels, Kasich, Pence and Portman don’t seem to have captured the fancy of the CPAC crowd, which sadly will probably not be selecting the final nominee. But the straw poll results are a fascinating insight into the minds of modern conservatives. Who knew they’d agree with the Democrats so much?

 

 

 

 

 

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Short and not-so-sweet

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

A majority of Nevada Supreme Court justices today issued a two-word denial of a request from former 12-year Reno Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza to reconsider their recent ruling that term limits prevent her from now running for mayor.

“Rehearing denied,” said the court. (Seriously, read it here: Order denying rehearing.)

I’d hoped the court would at the very least explain why its ruling broke so radically with past precedents in similar cases, but apparently, it was not to be. As no appeal lies from the state Supreme Court in this case, the matter ends here.

 

 

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“Fatal blow” speech kind of blows, Guv

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval

See, this is why it sucks that the Nevada Democratic Party can’t come up with a quality candidate to run for governor.

If it could, there would at least be somebody to challenge remarks such as those incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval made at the annual luncheon of the Nevada Taxpayers Association on Tuesday. Sandoval, acknowledging he was “preaching to the choir,” proceeded to trash The Education Initiative, a 2 percent margin tax on Nevada businesses proposed by the Nevada State Education Association, which will appear on November’s ballot.

Apparently, “Sandoval, the association and most Nevada businesses oppose the proposed 2 percent margin tax….” Really? Most businesses are against it? Is there a survey out of which I’m not aware? Because it might be interesting to find out why the 87 percent of small businesses that would be totally exempt from the tax would oppose it, huh?

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the margin tax opponents wrote in to remind me of the Nevada State Bank 2013 Small Business Survey, in which 74.7 percent of those surveyed said the tax was “a bad idea.” Then again, the survey acknowledged that only 1 in 3 respondents were even familiar the tax. So, fully-two thirds of respondents can credibly said to be speaking directly out of their ass in saying “tax — bad.” Very well, then.  

If Sandoval had a Democratic opponent, he or she might take issue with some of the governor’s quotes in what we’ll always remember as his “Fatal Blow” speech. Like so:

• “All things being equal, we prefer to keep more of our earnings,” Sandoval said. “That facts makes new taxes a tough sell. As such, the proponents of new taxes, like any good marketer, ignore what’s unpopular about the product. Instead, they point to the alleged benefits of the tax, rarely mentioning the costs.”

Well, sure, governor, all things being equal, we’d probably prefer to keep all of our earnings, and pay nothing in taxes. You’re not advocating that, of course, because you’re not one of those Republicans who believes all taxes are bad, and government should be starved to death. So we’re just debating the merits of which tax policy is best.

The problem is, however, all things are not equal. Nevada’s schools — always underfunded — are not getting better, and will not until we make greater and smarter investments in them. This cannot happen without money. So before you go talking about the “alleged benefits” of more money for schools, try to remember that you yourself approved a greater allocation of cash for Nevada’s education system in the last session of the Legislature.

Now, I can’t speak for the other proponents of new taxes, but I can say that I have never shied away from detailing the flaws of The Education Initiative. (Among them: The potential taxation of unprofitable businesses; the disparate impact on low-margin businesses; and the potential for job losses if the tax is approved.)

But the real sales job here is the one being done by the governor, who without mentioning it is advocating to allow some of the largest companies in America to continue to do business in the state of Nevada while paying absolutely nothing on their revenues, the way they do in every state that surrounds Nevada. It’s not entirely clear to me why Nevada’s governor thinks our state shouldn’t raise the same kind of revenues that California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Arizona are getting right now for their schools, but that’s a damn good question for him.

If only he had an opponent to ask it!

• “They [tax advocates] force the opponents to make the case and prove why the tax would be harmful or unnecessary,” the governor said. “Speaking out against new benefits is not popular. Hard truths rarely are. … Tax revenues, as we all know, have to come from somewhere, and someone will have to pay.”

Hard truths? You want some hard truths? Well, seek shelter, because I’m about to drop some of those hard truth bombs on you! Nevada’s schools are near the bottom in per-pupil spending. Nevada’s graduation rate, while slowly improving, is still totally unacceptable. Nevada’s teachers are paid less than the national average. And I don’t need to tell the governor that Clark County schools, in particular, struggle with poverty, foreign-language-speaking students and social ills like few other districts. He knows all of that.

So what’s the point? That opponents of the tax have to make their case, just as proponents do? Isn’t that a bit pedantic and obvious, even for “the choir” to whom Sandoval was preaching? The fact of the matter is, The Education Initiative has a very hard uphill climb ahead of it, what with the business community, the gambling industry, Republicans, Libertarians, even a large swath of organized labor against it. If anybody has to make the case, it’s the advocates of the tax.

But yes, governor, somebody has to pay taxes. So why not look at the business community, which has never had to pay taxes on its revenues in this state? Casinos pay a gross gambling tax, in addition to all the other taxes businesses pay. Mining operations (sometimes) pay a net proceeds of minerals tax, in addition to the rest. Residents pay sales, gas, property, real estate transfer, car registration and ancillary services taxes. Hell, tourists pay sales and room taxes, some of which are supposedly earmarked for teacher salaries but which were diverted to the general fund by Sandoval and the Legislature over the objections of teachers. But businesses pay nothing on revenues, and never have, even after studies of the state’s tax system have recommended they should.

You want to be defensive about something, governor? Explain to us why you’re defending that as good policy.

• “Spending is just so much more enjoyable when you ignore where the money comes from,” Sandoval said. “But we must try to resist the easy temptation to forget the burdens of taxation, even when that burden may fall on someone else.”

Because, yes, that’s why advocates created The Education Initiative — they wanted to enjoy some of that old-timey free spending! It wasn’t because they saw cuts to education budgets during the recession. It wasn’t because they were dismayed those cuts came on top of chronic underfunding. It’s not because they think more money could help make schools work better. It’s not because teachers are underpaid for the work they do. It’s not because a feckless Legislature in the unrelenting grip of special interests has consistently refused to enact anything resembling a cogent tax policy.

No, they just want to have fun spending other people’s money! You know, kind of like the governor and the Legislature, when they “swept” money out of local government funds to fill holes in the state budget, holes that should responsibly have been filled by taxes which were made impossible because leaders adhere to bumper-sticker slogans rather than face reality. Man, it must have hurt when the Nevada Supreme Court put an end to that nonsense in 2011, forcing Sandoval to give in to the easy temptation of extending a package of expiring taxes — which, as ever, places the burden more on residents than on business — in order to avoid further cutting his budget!

Residents bit the bullet in 2011, and 2013, when Sandoval again extended those taxes. But businesses should not? Really? Who elects the governor in Nevada again? Oh, that’s right: The Chamber. The Nevada Taxpayers Association. The Nevada Resort Association. The Nevada Mining Association. Casinos. How could I forget?

I wrote approvingly when Sandoval extended those taxes, because it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. Sandoval apparently feels guilty, however, because he noted that he and the Legislature worked to eliminate the payroll tax for 74 percent of Nevada’s business. (And since the tax is based on how many employees you have, the bigger the payroll, the bigger the company, the bigger the tax.)

Well, guess what? According to a look at the tax from Jeremy Aguero, principal at Applied Analysis, 87 percent of Nevada’s businesses would not be subject to The Education Initiative. (Again, the remaining 13 percent that would pay the tax are the state’s largest businesses, accounting for the largest employment.)

• “The margins tax would be the fatal blow to many businesses and that is something I cannot accept,” Sandoval said.

Me, either, but for different reasons. I will not argue the tax will be without consequences. (Aguero, who has performed work for both the Coalition to Defeat the Margin Tax and The Education Initiative, has listed some of those consequences in a report he prepared, although tax proponents question some of his underlying assumptions.) It will undoubtedly have an impact on businesses, and a significant impact on some.

But so would any tax, from a gross receipts tax to a simple business revenue levy. No tax is without some pain. And while the arguments over The Education Initiative’s flaws will go on from now until Election Day, the fact is, other states have revenue taxes, too. And those states still seem to have the Targets, the Wal-Marts, the auto dealers, the banks, the law firms, the Red Robins, the bakeries, the Realtors, the light-industrial manufacturing and all the rest. In fact, those states seem to have more of those businesses than no-tax Nevada does, since our state maintains the second-highest rate of unemployment in the nation.

Will some money-losing businesses be forced to close because they have to pay the tax? Perhaps, but one wonders how long a business that loses money would have been around anyway. Will some Nevada businesses close and move away? Maybe they will. But the odds are — since 46 of the 50 states impose a business revenue tax of some kind — they will move to a place where they will also have to pay a tax on their income. (And in some states, such as California, their employees will have to do so as well.)

The Education Initiative is not perfect, and nobody ever argued it was. It will have impacts. But you know what else has impacts? A school system that fails its pupils, that fails to produce the kind of workers that Nevada needs if it ever really wants to diversify its economy and attract the industries that Sandoval’s own administration says it wants. The fatal blow to hundreds of young people in this state comes every year while leaders sit by and argue about which tax is best, while nothing ever really changes.

That’s something I cannot accept. And nobody else in Nevada should, either, least of all its uncontested-for-re-election governor.

 

 

 

 

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Nevada Week in Review host Fox stepping down

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The ageless Mitch Fox, who is stepping down as host of the Vegas PBS show Nevada Week in Review

I still remember my first appearance on Nevada Week in Review. I was a police reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, and host Mitch Fox had asked me on to discuss, among other topics, the assault of a group of tourists outside the Frontier hotel, which was then the subject of the longest-running labor strike in city history.

I was nervous. While I’d been a print journalist for about five years at that point, I’d never done TV. I was worried I’d make a mistake, say the wrong thing, look at the wrong camera, get Broadcast News-level flop sweats, or something even worse. And on top of everything else, I had to be objective. (I was just a regular reporter back in those days, and we were supposed to keep our opinions to ourselves.)

Well, all that went out the window when somebody or other opined that the beating of tourists with picket signs seemed to be an uncharacteristic response for a relatively peaceful demonstration. At which point I lost all fear of making a fool of myself, lost all concern for “objectivity” and boldly stated that, as non-violent as the demonstration may be, hanging dolls meant to represent then-Frontier owner Margaret Elardi in effigy wasn’t exactly setting a Ghandi-like tone.

And it was all downhill from there. I’ve guested on the show scores of times since that day, and even guest hosted a time or two, which gave me an increased appreciation for the job Fox puts in day in and day out.

But not anymore. Today, he announced he’s stepping down from the program he’s hosted since 1987 to pursue other job opportunities.

“After a lot of thought and much prayer, I’ve decided that March 7 will be my last program as host of Nevada Week in Review,” Fox said in a statement released by the station. “At this point in my life I want to look for new career opportunities, and that would not be possible if I continued my NWR hosting duties. I’ve had a fantastic 40-year broadcasting career, and 35 of those years have been with Vegas PBS. I’ve had the rare privilege of hosting political debates and covering the Nevada state Legislature. Most importantly, I’ve been host of Nevada Week in Review for more than two decades, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’d like to thank Vegas PBS General Manager Tom Axtell for his support and I wish him and the Vegas PBS staff success in the future.”

Axtell added good wishes, and said the search is on for a permanent successor for Fox:

“Mitch Fox is a consummate professional and talented journalist who, in his three decades at the station, leaves behind a legacy of nonpartisan journalism at Vegas PBS,” said Axtell. “We are working diligently to find a new host for Nevada Week in Review, a program that delivers a trusted, balanced and insightful analysis of the headlines and issues that affect our community. In the meantime, our audience can look forward to a stellar cast of guest hosts during the transition. They will provide the same top notch news perspective that helps individuals learn, explore and make informed decisions.”

Vegas PBS — thanks in large part to Fox — is the television station in the valley that hosted the most election debates, not only top tier races such as U.S. Senate and governor, but also Congress and even the state Legislature. The 2010 Senate debate between incumbent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle was seen or heard on 56 Nevada television and radio stations, and even went international through re-broadcast arrangements.

And Fox traveled to Carson City to cover the Nevada Legislature, conducting interviews and bringing back perspectives from Nevada’s capital to viewers in the most populous part of the state.

Before Fox retired from Vegas PBS, he oversaw a staff of 33 people, working in the studio and in the field. He was also the senior news and public affairs producer at the station for 28 years, and produced an award-winning documentary series called Real to Reel.

But he’s best known for Nevada Week in Review, where he served as host, voice of reason and straight man for journalists from newspapers and television stations across Southern Nevada. The show was known as a place to catch up on the most important stories of the week without the pressures or time restraints of commercial television. More than one ink-stained wretch can say he or she broke into TV on Fox’s show, where he made it look easy and encouraged first-timers or shy guests to jump in and not be intimidated by louder, more obstreperous types, such as your humble correspondent. And off-camera, Fox is just as genteel and classy as he appears on-screen.

The Nevada Week in Review set just won’t be the same with somebody else in the host’s chair. Although consummate pro Fox would say the show must go on, it’s still the end of an era on local TV. I wish Fox the best in his next endeavor, and offer a heartfelt thanks for everything.

 

 

 

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Lucy Flores makes history

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor

Whatever else may be said about Assemblywoman Lucy Flores‘s announcement this weekend that she’ll be running for lieutenant governor, it cannot be said that Democrats didn’t treat it as big news.

There were news releases leading up to the announcement at the College of Southern Nevada’s Cheyenne campus, and a flurry of instantaneous endorsements thereafter. Take a gander at the praise:

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid: “Lucy Flores is the only candidate in this race who understands the struggles Nevada families face and will work tirelessly to improve the lives of the middle class. As a legislator, she fought to increase economic opportunity for everyone, strengthen our education system and never forgot where she came from. Lucy’s story is an inspiration for thousands of Nevadans who are living paycheck to paycheck, who don’t know where their next meal will come from, or who simply strive to provide their children with a better life than they themselves inherited. I wholeheartedly endorse her candidacy for lieutenant governor, and look forward to working with her in the coming years to move Nevada forward.”

Reid sent his remarks out in Spanish, too.

Rep. Dina Titus: ”I am pleased to endorse Lucy Flores for lieutenant governor because she will bring a fresh perspective to the office tasked with improving Nevada’s economy and investing in our future. Her personal experience, legal training, and legislative background make her an ideal person for the job. She understands the difficulties middle class families face and is committed to expanding opportunities for all Nevadans.”

Rep. Steven Horsford: “Lucy Flores is a fierce advocate for her constituents and middle class families across Nevada. She knows from personal experience that it is far too easy for children to fall through the cracks with no one there to help them get back up. That’s why she will focus on improving our schools so every child in Nevada has a chance to succeed. As Nevada’s next lieutenant governor, Lucy will fight to put Nevadans back to work and ensure economic opportunity for everyone. I am endorsing her today because Nevada families need Lucy Flores in the lieutenant governor’s office looking out for them.”

State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis: “Nevada’s Hispanic community was proud to see Lucy Flores elected as one of the state’s first Hispanic women legislators, and we will be equally proud to see her sworn-in as our first Hispanic lieutenant governor. Lucy doesn’t have the typical politician’s background — and she certainly isn’t a typical politician. She is someone with neighbors unable to find work since the collapse of the economy due to the greed of Wall Street. She is a friend whose neighbors’ house has been foreclosed on by one of the big banks. And she is a leader who fought for comprehensive immigration reform before it became the politically expedient thing to do. I am excited to endorse Lucy Flores for lieutenant governor and look forward to working with her next session in helping all Nevadans achieve a better life.”

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick:  “Lucy Flores will fight for working families because she comes from one. Unlike too many in politics, she has never forgotten those she was elected to represent. As a member of the Nevada Assembly, she focused on increasing economic opportunity for Nevada’s middle class and improving our education system. She understands that Nevadans want leaders who get things done — not engage in the sort of petty partisan battles that divide us without creating a single job or educating a single child. I support Lucy for lieutenant governor because she is the only candidate in this race who consistently stands up for Nevada families.”

Kirkpatrick’s statement is significant, as she and Flores were once at odds, after Flores backed Assemblyman William Horne for speaker over Kirkpatrick. That cost Flores a committee chairmanship in the 2013 session.

Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange: “While TEA Party extremist Sue Lowden and ethically-challenged, multiple-state vacation homeowner Mark Hutchison engage in a toxic TEA Party civil war, Lucy Flores is focused on what Nevadans care about – good jobs and a quality education system. Lucy knows the challenges Nevada families face everyday to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. Lucy grew up in a low-income household and, in spite of great adversity, put herself through school and became one of the first Hispanic women to be elected to the Nevada Legislature. Nevadans will have a very clear choice this November between Lucy Flores’ commitment to strengthening the middle class, and an out-of-touch politician like Lowden or Hutchison who can’t be trusted to stand up for Nevada families.”

Well, I was going to buy a vacation home in another state, but now I guess that’s a bad thing…? Man, I hate it when people hate on my Huntington Beach neighbor just because he enjoys relaxing in the most awesome city ever.

The point of collecting all this praise from everybody except maybe the Famous Democratic Chicken? Flores has made history as the first Latina to be at the top of the ticket for Nevada’s Democrats.

That’s right: Because the Democrats have essentially ceded the governor’s race to incumbent Republican Brian Sandoval, and because there is no presidential or U.S. Senate contest on the statewide ballot, Flores will be the top standard-bearer for the party in 2014. Reid — who’d already offered praise for Flores before Saturday’s announcement — knows it. So does everyone else who endorsed her on Saturday. And with a damaging Republican primary between Lowden and Hutchison well underway, this is a race the Democrats believe they can win.

That’s why Flores has assembled a serious campaign team: Addisu Demissie, who helped Cory Booker rise from Newark mayor to New Jersey’s newest U.S. senator; Brandon Hall, who helped Reid fend off the depredations of Sharron Angle in 2010; and pollster Geoff Garin.

(Now all they have to do is prevent an unforced errors. Flores mentioned that she’ll campaign in all of Nevada, not just Las Vegas, and that she used to hunt and fish in rural Nevada growing up. Please, for the love of GOD, let us not see Flores toting a shotgun in duck-hunting gear before this campaign is over!)

Besides, there’s a much easier way for Flores to show she’s a Nevada Democrat than killing defenseless animals: She can simply repeat what she said when asked by the Review-Journal‘s Laura Myers about The Education Initiative: She hasn’t taken a position on it. Bazinga.

Flores said in her interview with Myers that she’d do more than the traditional duties of the lieutenant governor, which is the only constitutional office that is considered part-time employment. She said she’ll use the three bills allocated to the lieutenant governor to advance her causes, including education.

“Education has never been a priority for Nevada,” Flores said. “And it’s tied to economic development. You can’t attract businesses if you don’t have an educated workforce.”

That’s exactly right. And spoken like somebody who’s sitting at the top of the ticket.

 

 

 

 

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Krolicki is just too nice

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is nothing if not the consummate politician.

Krolicki, now locked in a battle with Dallas (and, ostensibly, six other states) for the privilege of hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention, is relentlessly upbeat about the myriad and manifest advantages of Las Vegas. He’s more than willing to talk about the easy access to the city via McCarran International Airport, the availability of hotel rooms, the excellent dining and entertainment opportunities, and the ease of getting around, to say nothing of the city’s experience in hosting big gatherings.

But when it comes to trash talking the competition, well, Krolicki is just too nice to do it.

“I don’t think there’s a better city in the world to host a convention. This is what we do,” Krolicki said, according to the Review-Journal‘s Laura Myers. “I wish the other cities well, but we have the infrastructure to do this like no other city. … We’re all in and we’re excited.”

What? He wishes the other cities well? Shouldn’t he be wishing they fall flat on their faces?

True story: He does. He just can’t say that. I mean, how would it look if our state’s lieutenant governor broke bad, Bullworth-style, and started trash-talking the other competitors like he was some kind of irreverent newspaper columnist? Can you see Krolicki saying something like this:

“Are you KIDDING me? Seriously? Denver? Oh, yeah, that’s great. Let’s go to where they legalized pot and nominated Barack Obama. Awesome Republican image there. Phoenix? Where they pass all those bills hating on Mexicans and gays? Great for the party, really. Kansas City? Why the hell are they even on this list? Because of the Koch Brothers? Sheldon Adelson could buy and sell the Koch Brothers! And those cities in Ohio? Have you been to Ohio? Have you seen the desperation in their eyes? They are dying to get out of Ohio and come to a fun place like Vegas! They are praying they LOSE so they can come here! And Dallas? Really? Like we don’t have enough to worry about with Rick Perry showing up and saying two stupid things because he forgot the third one? This is a NO BRAINER! Why do I even have to get on a plane and explain this to anyone?!”

Yeah, I can’t picture that, either (although it would be awesome).

Krolicki actually won’t be getting on a plane today; bad weather in Washington, D.C. delayed flights for some of the cities to make their pitch to the Republican National Committee’s site selection committee. (See, even Mother Nature thinks Las Vegas having to pitch itself is unnecessary.) Las Vegas, Dallas and Cincinnati’s pitch meetings have been rescheduled for March 21.

 

 

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