It must be that nobody has ever called Mark Hutchison a liberal before.
The Republican state senator from Las Vegas, a Mormon Boy Scout leader and attorney who has represented the Republican Party and the state while suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act, has established a reputation as anything but liberal.
That’s undoubtedly why Hutchison, now running for lieutenant governor, came across as defensive and even angry Monday while debating his Republican primary opponent, Sue Lowden, on KSNV’s “Ralston Reports with Jon Ralston.” And it wasn’t the host’s tough questions that rankled Hutchison as much as the smiling Lowden’s constant needling over taxes and the Affordable Care Act.
As Hutchison grimaced, Lowden held up a list of 57 taxes, fees or other levies from last year’s legislative session, 56 of which Hutchison had voted “yes” on. And while most were benign bills — increases in fines for violations of the law, voluntary fees for roads and special license plates, or fees for law libraries, recycling electronics or marriage licenses — some were more controversial. Lowden hit Hutchison especially hard for backing a mining tax, a move he said he made as an alternative to the 2 percent margin tax known as The Education Initiative, which Hutchison called “the biggest disaster in my lifetime.” (Really? The biggest?)
Besides, Hutchison shot back, Lowden was no stranger to taxes during her tenure in the state Senate, where she nonetheless developed a reputation as an anti-tax lawmaker. She voted for taxes on limited-liability companies and real estate transfers, he charged.
“And I made a mistake,” Lowden shot back, never losing her smile.
Lowden even said she’d have “taken pause” on voting for Assembly Bill 114, the bill that legalized Internet poker within Nevada’s borders and allowed Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday to sign a compact with Delaware to allow the states to pool players. “Every person in the building voted for it,” Hutchison scoffed in reply.
Now, this would hardly be an issue were it not for the phobia Republicans seem to think their base feels about the idea of taxes. Otherwise, Hutchison could simply have reminded the audience what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said — “taxes are what we pay for civilized society” — and been done with it. He could have pointed out the intellectual bankruptcy behind the idea that every single tax is bad. He could have said a pledge to vote against every tax or fee without even considering the purpose for which it’s proposed is ridiculous.
Instead, he was left to remind the audience that his voting record was almost identical to noted conservative state Sen. Barbara Cegavske. (Aligning himself with Sandoval would have been no help; Lowden allowed at the start of the debate that the governor could use a dose of her spine-stiffening conservatism in his administration.)
Anger is a new emotion for Hutchison. His 2012 Senate race was a model of respectful dialogue, his work in the Legislature has been characterized by thoughtful, intelligent questioning, and his interactions with reporters have been sedate and convivial.
Then again, he’d never been called a liberal before Lowden jumped into the race, notwithstanding Sandoval’s endorsement of Hutchison.
Lowden, a former TV anchor at ease before the cameras, had few stumbles. She obviously didn’t know the details of a religious freedom bill, and she persists in defending her infamous 2010 remark that people continue to barter for health care (which earned her the “chickens for checkups” catchphrase in her failed primary bid for U.S. Senate). But she came across as confident, cheerful and, of course, conservative.
Alas, it’s the kind of conservatism that brooks no dissent when it comes to a tax or a fee, and offers no forgiveness for anyone who had good reasons for supporting them. Meanwhile, Hutchison — a liberal by almost no one’s definition — is left to do a slow burn over the tarnishing of his reputation.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.