Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is peeking out of his post-scandal shell by asserting himself on controversial policy issues -- with mixed results.
Ensign in June admitted to an extramarital affair with former campaign employee Cindy Hampton. She is married to Doug Hampton, who was Ensign's friend and a senior Senate staff member. After the affair was revealed, Doug Hampton accused Ensign of helping him line up lobbying gigs with Nevada companies, which might violate laws that restrict lobbying. An investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee is under way.
But that's not stopping Ensign from taking a public role in opposition to health care legislation favored by fellow Nevadan Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. In an interview, Ensign said he's planning to hold town hall meetings in Northern and Southern Nevada this month.
The first forum is planned for Las Vegas on Friday, although the details hadn't been finalized when he mentioned it last week.
"The goal is to raise awareness. Obviously we'll make it open to the press, open to the public," Ensign said.
He says Republicans will work to undermine Reid's efforts to pass major health care legislation by targeting senators and members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the overhaul but live in districts where voters are skeptical of the plan.
Each house of Congress has narrowly approved its own version of reform, which will need to be reconciled in conference committee.
Ensign says changes to either side's version could prompt supporters to jump ship.
Ensign favors health legislation that would provide incentives for healthy behavior and allow folks to shop across state lines for insurance, among other things.
But as Ensign confronts policy issues, he is also forced to deal with unanswered scandal questions. That is what happened last week when Ensign appeared on CNN for an interview with Rick Sanchez. The topic turned from terrorism to the scandal, which was clearly uncomfortable for Ensign.
Here's a rough transcript of the exchange about the allegations that Doug Hampton violated lobbying restrictions with Ensign's help.
SANCHEZ: Sir, that's an illegality and something you owe an explanation for to your constituents.
ENSIGN: That's his problem, that's not my problem. We will cooperate with any investigations.
Later, Ensign tries to change the subject.
ENSIGN: I've spoken all I need to speak on this. ... I did nothing illegal, I did nothing unethical. That will absolutely be proven. Near the end of the interview, Ensign indicated he intends to remain in office.
ENSIGN: The Ethics Committee will clear me, and I will be able to go on being a senator.
REPUBLICAN FORUM GETS UGLY
A forum for Republican candidates held last week at the Summerlin library by the Sun City Conservatives lapsed into name-calling and unpleasantries directed at President Barack Obama.
On stage were U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian; gubernatorial candidate Mike Montandon; congressional candidates Joe Heck and Joseph Tatner; and incumbent state legislators John Hambrick and Richard McArthur, both of Las Vegas.
During his speech, McArthur called Obama a socialist.
At another point during the event, an audience member shouted, "Send him back to Kenya!" It was an apparent reference to unsubstantiated allegations that Obama was born in Kenya and is ineligible to be president. The remark drew laughter and applause from the audience, and none of the candidates on stage corrected the statement, though Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate has been deemed authentic.
WEB SITE EXPLORES VARIETY OF MYTHS
Speaking of persistent myths, the nonpartisan Web site PolitiFact.com listed prominent bogus political statements of 2009.
The list of statements getting dishonorable mention includes the following:
• A Nov. 12 statement by commentator Glenn Beck, "In the health care bill we're now offering insurance for dogs."
• A claim by Vice President Joe Biden during the height of swine flu fears that when you sneeze on an airplane, "It goes all the way through the aircraft."
• A claim by a chain e-mail about a bill in the works that "will require us to put on our 2009 1040 federal tax form all guns that you have or own."
PolitiFact also has the details on the phony claims about Obama's birth. It's worth a visit for any serious political news consumer.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.