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Jackson: Special-interest victory by default — again



Ask any Nevadan what they know about any Nevada lieutenant governor, and after a few moments of blank stares, a few folks who have been around for a while might remember that one time in the ‘90s, when Lonnie Hammargren had to be physically restrained from performing a tracheotomy on a daredevil who had crashed his motorcycle.

That’s pretty much the most interesting thing that has ever happened in connection with the office.

Well, okay, a few years prior to that, a lieutenant governor named Bob Miller became governor when the governor, Dick Bryan, got himself elected to the U.S. Senate.

A similar scenario is drawing attention — and two Republican candidates already — to the 2014 race for lieutenant governor. Lots of kids think that after coasting to reelection next year, the Governor of Reno will leave midway through the term by beating Harry Reid for Senate in 2016 or getting appointed to a cabinet position.

There are at least as many scenarios whereby Brian Sandoval would finish his term than leave it midway through. A cabinet appointment probably but not necessarily depends on a Republican winning the presidency in 2016. Almost no one who can count electoral votes expects that to happen. A more likely path for a Sandoval cabinet post may be if Reid talks Obama into giving one to Nevada’s Republican governor as part of a deal to keep Sandoval from running for Senate.

As for a 2016 Senate bid, one wonders if the congenitally conflict-averse governor has the stomach for the brutal paces through which Sandoval assuredly knows Reid would put him. Sandoval could have run for the Republican Senate nomination in 2010, a nonpresidential year when Democratic turnout is lower and when Reid was particularly vulnerable. Instead, Sandoval chose to run against the already-dead-in-the-water Jim Gibbons and Rory Reid, the latter unfortunately proving unelectable for no other reason than his last name. There were a lot of reasons Sandoval passed on challenging Reid (the elder), not least among them the desire of powerful industries for a fully and reliably house-trained governor. But it also suggests Sandoval’s political career is driven by the determination of special interests as to where Brian Sandoval would be most useful at any given time, not the fire in Brian Sandoval’s belly. Those same Nevada special interests, by the way, will be in no rush to oust a Nevadan from his position as majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

But that’s all contrarian analysis. Conventional wisdom, which is right sometimes, assumes a strong likelihood that Sandoval doesn’t finish out a second term, so jeepers, that lieutenant governor’s job is gold.

Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Joe Heck, along with the aforementioned special interests and the campaign cash that makes them special, have lined up behind the candidacy of state Sen. Mark Hutchison, who may be singularly qualified for the generally irrelevant job of lieutenant governor by virtue of his relative obscurity. That’s nothing a few hundred thousand dollars of TV ads can’t cure.

Sue Lowden, who did run for Senate in 2010 and probably would have beaten Reid if Sharron Angle hadn’t beaten her in the primary, is also running. Jon Ralston notes that Lowden is in all manner of nasty spats because she still owes advertising companies and other vendors $500,000 from that campaign. It’s tempting to activate a Twitter account just to observe that our grandparents used to pay their ad agencies with a chicken, but no doubt hordes of Twitterati have already beaten me to it.

As Nevada Republicans queue up for statewide offices in 2014 — and beyond? — um, what about the Democrats?

Ross (son of Bob) Miller will run for attorney general (and presumably governor in … 2022?), but the prospects of serious Democratic candidates for statewide office may end there. Whatever interest Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak entertained in a gubernatorial bid appears to be waning, and Sandoval may face only token opposition. Assemblywoman Lucy Flores has not determined, or is not disclosing, whether she’ll run for lieutenant governor. If she doesn’t, Democrats might be stuck with County Commissioner and reliable punch line Tom Collins, a caricature of a cowboy who not only makes disparaging remarks about “tree huggers” but even got arrested for shooting a tree that displeased him.

The Democratic bench seems a tad thin.

This (like most things political ‘round here) brings us back to Reid. He has built an impressive Democratic Party machine in the state, but that machine has focused almost exclusively on presidential and congressional contests, at the expense of state politics and policy.

To be fair, lately the party has lobbed broadsides at Sandoval over Greyhound therapy and the state of care at Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital, as well as Sandoval’s laughable rationalization for vetoing gun background check legislation.

But throughout the Legislative session — throughout nearly the entirety of Sandoval’s governorship — neither the state party nor Democratic legislators have articulated a cohesive critique of Sandoval’s handling of the most pressing issue Nevadans care about: the economy. While the party machinery is never at a loss to fire out policy-based criticisms of the remarks and/or votes of Heck, Heller and even the mining industry’s pet congressman in the ultra-Republican first congressional district, Mark Amodei, Democrats have made no comparable effort to hold Sandoval accountable for his tiresomely empty economic and fiscal policy. The only thing more vacuous than the lieutenant governor’s job is the Nevada Democratic agenda.

Despite a substantial Democratic voter registration edge in the state, Republicans are eagerly vying to follow Sandoval into higher office while Democrats are running scared, or not running at all. If Democrats offer no credible alternative to Sandoval on Election Day, it will be because they’ve never offered an alternative to Sandoval’s vision, or more accurately, lack thereof.

HUGH JACKSON cohosts The Agenda on KSNV Channel 3.