Despite Berkley’s ethics woes, final chapter yet to be written
September 25, 2011 - 12:59 am
With all the hand-wringing surrounding Shelley Berkley these days, I’m surprised someone hasn’t suggested the U.S. Senate candidate fold her election tent and retreat into the shadows of the House of Representatives like a hunchback in a romance novel.
It would certainly make things easier for Senate-appointee Dean Heller, who was handed the office by Gov. Brian Sandoval in the wake of John Ensign’s marital scandal and resignation. But surely Heller knows better than that.
Berkley’s a fighter, albeit one who was damaged by self-inflicted cuts, the greatest of all being first reported by the New York Times. The Times wrote about Berkley’s promotion of legislative action that benefited her husband, kidney specialist Dr. Larry Lehrner.
While academic ethicists and Washington watchdog groups are howling, the issue isn’t simple. Although Berkley’s work benefited her husband’s practice, it’s also true that she and the rest of Nevada’s congressional delegation worked to rescue the University Medical Center kidney transplant program. Without that overall effort, Southern Nevadans would have been left traveling for life-saving treatment.
But when she wrote a fellow House member and a federal regulator to request increases in Medicare payments that could benefit her husband’s work directly, she raised more than eyebrows.
Still, it’s not exactly a killing blow. The Times article reminds me of the beating Sen. Harry Reid took in a series of Los Angeles Times articles that appeared to link his office to benefits his family members might have received. Exactly nothing came of the stories, and Reid certainly wasn’t damaged by them come election time.
The facts of the Berkley ethics issue will sort themselves out in time and in Washington. The politics of Berkley’s ethical predicament play themselves out in increasingly melodramatic fashion — and, remember, the campaign is still more than a year away.
On one side you have the righteous accusers of the Republican Party, who frankly must be tickled pink it’s finally not one of their own in the cross hairs of criticism. (Gibbons and Ensign, who?) But like swashbuckling characters in the hands of a pulp novelist, they’re blowing their lines. Filing an ethics complaint and imploring — a more polite way of saying “begging” — Congress to act against Berkley won’t get far. And they should at least get their facts straight in the complaint.
You can almost hear the ham-handed protagonist as he attempts to storm the castle, shouting, “Ready, fire, aim!”
On the other side, Democrats have clearly gone into full political panic mode, surrounding their girl like so many Musketeers. Or is that Mouseketeers ?
Rehashed revelations that then-Rep. Dean Heller played the gushing courtesan on behalf of NV Energy in its failed attempt to press for a coal-fired power plant outside Ely is political grist that, blasted at the right moment, might just paint the new senator as no friend of the little guy. But coming directly in the wake of the Berkley story, it falls far short as a counterbalance to a researched article in the nation’s leading newspaper.
And there’s the Democratic Party’s attempt to remind us that Berkley’s actions resulted in improved kidney care in Southern Nevada. (Which is true, by the way, but not exactly the greater point of that Times story.) A commercial thanking Berkley for helping to secure life-saving health care in a veritable wasteland of advanced medical treatment might repulse some political observers, but I suspect it plays better on Main Street.
Beyond the failure to consistently disclose, Berkley’s greater sin is political. She’s uncharacteristically handed her opponent an issue with which his allies are guaranteed to whack her over the head from now until Election Day.
En garde, madame.
This is far from a deal closer. Because the story broke this early in the campaign, something darker will have to emerge or this episode likely will be reduced to a footnote in a race filled with enough toxic invective to fill Yucca Mountain to bursting.
That prospect alone is enough to turn the stomach of even the most devoted political romantic.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.