WASHINGTON -- Prospective presidential candidate Fred Thompson will have some explaining to do to Nevadans concerned about nuclear waste, if and when he visits the state.
Like fellow Republican candidate Sen. John McCain and Democrat John Edwards, Thompson voted for the Yucca Mountain Project as a senator in 2002.
Edwards says he has since changed his mind, while McCain remains a supporter of the proposed nuclear waste repository.
But Thompson's ties to Yucca Mountain got tighter last week when he named Spencer Abraham his campaign chairman.
As secretary of energy in 2002, Abraham signed off on the Yucca project on Valentine's Day and recommended President Bush do the same, which he did the next day.
In his recommendation letter, Abraham told Bush he "considered carefully" Nevada's arguments against Yucca Mountain, including that the site has not been studied enough, that transportation of nuclear waste is too dangerous, and that the state's outcry had not been heard.
"None of these arguments rises to a level that would outweigh the case for going forward," Abraham said.
Thompson is raising money, setting up a campaign structure and speaking to groups, everything short of formally declaring he is in the race.
But because Thompson is not yet a candidate, a spokeswoman at his exploratory committee in Nashville, Tenn., said she could not say how he plans to talk about Yucca Mountain on the campaign trail, nor would she comment on Abraham.
Thompson recently named former Nevada Republican Party chairman John Mason to head his campaign in Nevada, according to Zac Moyle, the state party's executive director. Mason, an attorney in Reno, could not be reached on Friday.
Moyle said he understood Thompson "definitely plans to be in the state" but was unsure when.
Linda Rozett, the Thompson spokeswoman, said she did not have his advance travel schedule available.
Democrats said they will be waiting.
"Fred Thompson is no friend to Nevada on the Yucca issue, and Spencer Abraham is even worse," state party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said. "He delivered the world's worst Valentine to Nevada."
Rep. John Campbell, a House member from Southern California who is part of a Republican anti-pork barrel team, enraged Nevada representatives recently when he tried to kill a $200,000 earmark for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Campbell said the earmark illustrated why the system for doling out federal grants "needs to be reformed or eliminated."
As it turns out, Campbell at the same time was seeking an earmark of his own, requesting $14.3 million to restore estuaries on Newport Bay. House leaders agreed to make $1 million available in a water spending bill.
Asked to square the special funding with his efforts as a reformer, Campbell said, "Let me make clear my position: The earmark process needs to be reformed because it has been abused. It does not need to be eliminated."
He went on to say the Newport Bay improvements were initiated by his predecessor, and not by him. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had funded the work in previous years but not this year for some reason. He said three other Californians besides himself also asked for the earmark. Campbell said he sponsored an amendment that would have wiped out all earmarks from the water bill, including his own.
Finally, Campbell said, "I probably won't make any more" requests for earmarks. "Frankly, I didn't expect to get this one."
FOR LOVE NOT MONEY
The House passed a bill last week that would put an end to Dr. Larry Lehrner's paid gig for his wife, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
The bill, which passed by voice vote last Monday, would prohibit candidates from paying spouses to work on their campaigns. Berkley paid Lehrner $5,000 last year for services rendered in her re-election bid.
"That's fine with me," Berkley said of the ethics measure intended to discourage conflicts of interest.
Berkley said she believed "it was the legally appropriate thing to do" to pay Lehrner for his out-of-pocket expenses and for "schlepping me all over town."
"He also does an extraordinary amount of computer work for me," she said.
A bit of a techno buff in addition to being a nephrologist, Lehrner worked software to identify voters and nonvoters in Berkley's district for outreach efforts by her campaign.
Lehrner, who recently flirted with a congressional run of his own, did not want to be paid, Berkley said.
"I insisted that he take it, but I'm thrilled that I don't have to do that anymore," she said.
Not that Lehrner needs the money. He is a millionaire several times over, according to the couple's financial disclosures.
Summertime means 20,000 student interns flocking to Washington, where most run errands, clip newspapers and work the copy machines.
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada hosts about 20 students at any given time as Senate majority leader, a spokesman said. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., carries a smaller number.
Completing her final day for Reid on Friday was the daughter of Arianna Huffington, the columnist and founder of The Huffington Post, a widely read liberal blog where Reid's leadership performance is regularly discussed.
Asked for a roster of Reid's other summer interns, spokesman Jon Summers said providing that information "is not something we generally do."
Summers maintained that other than Christina Huffington, an 18-year-old student from Los Angeles, there did not appear to be anyone else from families who could be considered famous or "interesting" to reporters.
Ensign sponsored an intern with a celebrity connection from a slightly different perspective.
Branden Earp of Las Vegas, a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno, is the great-great-nephew of gunslinger Wyatt Earp, the senator's office reported.
WINNING BY LOSING
Following the Senate's immigration debate last month, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., complained that he was not able to introduce one of his amendments. He proposed to stiffen the law preventing newly legalized workers from claiming Social Security benefits for any jobs they performed while they were illegal.
Ensign finally got his chance on the night of July 12. But after a short debate, the amendment was killed on a procedural motion after Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said it was overly broad.
Ensign's amendment gained 57 votes, but he needed 60 to advance it.
While Ensign lost the vote, he may have gained ammo to use in his second job as chairman of the Republicans' Senate campaign committee.
The issue of Social Security payments and illegal immigrants is a resonant one with many voters. The Ensign amendment got Democrats on the record and gave the Nevadan possible ammunition against Democratic incumbents during the upcoming races.
Perhaps sensing a trap, 13 Democrats voted for the Ensign amendment, including five who are up for re-election in 2008. Among them was Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Ensign's deputies at the National Republican Senatorial Committee have made it no secret that she is their top target.
Stephens Washington Bureau writers Tony Batt and Brian Duggan contributed to this report. Contact political reporter Molly Ball at 387-2919 or MBall@reviewjournal.com.