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Hold your nose and vote progressive in the Congressional races

<p>John Oceguera</p>

John Oceguera

“THE ONLY WAY for a reporter to look at a politician,” H.L. Mencken famously wrote, “is down.”

Nevada progressives mulling candidates for federal office can relate.

The best — and worst — of the bunch

Of the six politicians in these parts who are in genuinely contested races for one or the other branches of the U.S. Congress, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford is easily the most promising — and he’s a young, able-bodied guy who parks his SUV in the handicapped spot.

But Republican opponent Danny Tarkanian’s one and only qualification for election in Nevada’s new fourth congressional district, or any job, for that matter, is the fact that his father used to be a famous college basketball coach.

Tarkanian is flirting with bankruptcy, and may be taking his sainted father with him, thanks to a madcap California development scheme that was unraveling about the same time as the 2010 GOP Senate primary, when the perennial failed candidate was trying to convince his party’s paranoid base that he was just as wingnutty as Sharron Angle.

By sending Horsford to Congress, Nevadans would launch what could — could, mind — develop into a congressional career of distinction, achievement and significance. Tarkanian, by contrast, could be in Congress for the next 50 years and would only be noticed, if at all, for embarrassing mistakes. The coach’s kid needs an income, and fast. He should grow up, stop running for office and start looking for a job.

Dean Heller’s best feature

Like the overwhelming majority of Nevada politicians, Congresswoman and Senate candidate Shelley Berkley is borderline economically illiterate. That, along with the pandering reflex common to contemporary Democrats, explains why Berkley occasionally supports Republican tax policies and parrots Republican economic talking points. And when it comes to Israel, she’s somewhere to the right of Mitt Romney. So ugh.

But Republican incumbent (by appointment only) Dean Heller is the senatorial equivalent of Flat Stanley: shallow, banal and easily propped up anywhere — especially in support of policies that further enrich those at the top at the expense of everyone else.

On the bright side, people who know Dean Heller well assure me that he is one lazy sumbitch. So Nevadans can take comfort in the presumption that Heller will dumbly go along with right-wing extremism, but at least he’s unlikely to initiate it on his own, let alone orchestrate its implementation. (There. Let it never be said that I have nothing nice to say about Dean Heller.)

Where Berkley and Heller differ most is on social issues and civil rights. There is a methodical, systematic effort, spearheaded mostly by middle-aged Republican men in Congress, to deprive American women of reproductive and other rights, and Heller is a reliable foot soldier in the GOP’s gender war. Say what you will about Berkley (I’ve said plenty over the years), she has been consistently good and sometimes very good on protecting and expanding the rights of women as well as the rights of gays and people who aren’t white.

It’s the women, stupid

Combine Horsford’s capacity to be obtuse, Tarkanian’s prospective irrelevance, Berkley’s willingness to cave to Republican economic nonsense and Heller’s superficiality, and you might end up with John Oceguera, the Democratic candidate in the third congressional district.

He was a fireman for more than 20 years, and it’s fair to assume that during that time, perhaps early in his career, he must have done things that were noble, or brave, or that at least didn’t suck … things that merit if not admiration, then at least respect.

But by far the strongest recommendation for Oceguera is that he is not Joe Heck.

Like Heller, Heck stands firmly with the aforementioned gaggle of middle-aged men dedicated to government regulation of lady parts. Oceguera, by contrast, has made protecting women’s rights the cornerstone of his campaign. To be sure, Oceguera is driven by a poll-tested calculation that women’s issues and women voters provide the best and probably only chance for him to win. But why Oceguera has vowed to fight the Republican men’s crusade against women is not as important as the fact that he’s vowed to fight it.

Rock-solid lock: If elected, Oceguera will cynically play footsy with Republicans for political gain, and progressives will be disgusted. But Oceguera won’t be what Heck has been during his freshman term in the House — a rubber stamp for the radical and reactionary Tea Party agenda.