CARSON CITY -- Disgraced U.S. Sen. John Ensign used his final appearance before the state Legislature to tout the merits of small government and low taxes and avoided mentioning the scandal that torpedoed his once promising political career.
In a wide-ranging speech before members of the Senate and Assembly and Gov. Brian Sandoval, Ensign, R-Nev., covered everything from government borrowing and mining regulations to a recommendation that lawmakers watch the education-themed documentary "Waiting for Superman."
The speech came two weeks after Ensign announced he would forgo seeking another term in office rather than endure an election that no doubt would have focused on the extramarital affair and alleged lobbying law violation scandal that engulfed his career in 2009.
"I guess this is the last time you will have to put up with me speaking here," Ensign told lawmakers and a small audience of onlookers gathered in the Assembly chambers.
He went on to outline his views on Nevada's beleaguered economy, ideas to improve K-12 education and his plans for the remaining 21 months of his second and final Senate term.
Ensign blamed the bursting of the housing bubble for an economic crash that helped push Nevada's unemployment rate higher than 15 percent.
He compared neighborhoods filled with foreclosed homes to busted 19th century mining communities that turned into ghost towns.
"A state plagued by ghost towns does not have to be our future," he said. "We need to diversify our economy, I think we can all agree upon that."
On education Ensign recommended lawmakers watch "Waiting for Superman," a documentary film popular with education reformers that blames teachers unions for much of what ails public schools.
Ensign said the film backs up his belief that states should have more flexibility to give good teachers raises and push bad teachers out of the system.
"If educators are doing a lousy job they need to find something else to do than ruin our kids' education," Ensign said.
He plans to spend the remainder of his time in office pushing for reducing government debt and other conservative issues.
There was tepid applause for some lines in Ensign's speech, but unlike a Feb. 22 speech to the Legislature by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., there was little buzz around the event and Ensign didn't draw much of a crowd.
Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson, one of the lawmakers chosen to escort Ensign into the chamber, said Ensign's message was "spot on" for conservatives, despite his political failings.
"Was he right or not," Sherwood said. "If he was, then you support that message."
Afterward, Ensign said he doesn't have any plans for life after elected office.
A veterinarian by trade, he said it would be possible to resume practice after about six months of refresher studies, but added he has no plans yet to do so.
Ensign was also complimentary of Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is running in the Republican primary for the seat Ensign plans to vacate.
Heller was one of the first Republicans to criticize Ensign after news of the scandal broke and was widely viewed as angling for Ensign's job.
"Dean is a great candidate," Ensign said. "I think he would make a fine senator."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-477-3861.