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Krolicki is cleared, but we shouldn’t feel good about what he did

It must come as a relief to Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki to find his face back in the public eye as a vindicated man.

Like other politicians, Krolicki has assiduously courted the public’s favor in pursuit of statewide office, first as Nevada treasurer for eight years and then as lieutenant governor following his election in 2006.

He’s been so adept at putting his image before the public in positive ways, in fact, that prior to his indictment he had been mentioned prominently as a likely Republican challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (A quick check of the dozen prospective candidates anxious to take on Reid tells me that perhaps Krolicki’s political dream wasn’t so exclusive, after all.)

After his indictment on felony charges of improper political enrichment he immediately squealed that the investigation by the state attorney general’s office was motivated by the great and powerful Democrat Reid. (Reid’s power is so awesome in Nevada that a recent statewide poll shows Reid losing by a wide margin to either of two Republicans with exactly one puny victory between them.) On Monday, District Judge Valerie Adair gave Krolicki an early Christmas present when she dismissed the charges against him, essentially ruling prosecutors failed to produce specific evidence of criminal activity.

In Nevada, it’s clear brazen political self-promotion on the taxpayer dime isn’t a crime. From the look of things, it’s a perquisite of incumbency.

If such preening and grandstanding were felonious, Krolicki would be joined by busloads of political newcomers and seasoned old-timers who take advantage of local and state Web sites to make sure their names and faces remain before the public. Surely Adair must have taken into account the current overcrowding at the state’s penitentiaries in making her reasoned decision.

Krolicki is vindicated, but that doesn’t mean you should feel good about what he did. As state treasurer, without legislative approval Krolicki used funds from the Nevada College Savings Trust Fund to cut a dandy advertisement promoting the state program. Prosecutors alleged Krolicki spent $6 million on marketing and legal fees without approval.

The advertisement featured Krolicki with little ones touting the importance of saving for college with the state plan.

Nice image.

It was especially nice for Krolicki, who was ramping up a run for lieutenant governor and surely benefited from the free advertising campaign. All it lacked was a “Krolicki for Lt. Gov.” logo.

But did he benefit to a criminal extent? What law was actually violated? And if the college plan investments were successful, how much was actually lost?

Those are the questions the studious Judge Adair found herself asking. Those are questions Krolicki’s attorney Richard Wright would have whittled into a successful defense in a trial that was to begin Dec. 14. Krolicki’s choice of Wright proves the lieutenant governor has something on the ball, despite my suspicions to the contrary.

Krolicki initially lamented the whole investigation was politically motivated. It was a complaint that not only made him look like a whiner, but also wasn’t proven out by the facts. I noticed Krolicki let others wave the conspiracy wand Monday. That, too, was smart.

I guess what Krolicki was guilty of isn’t a crime in Nevada, where local and state governments spend copious amounts of taxpayer money on Web sites and communications staffers, television stations, and advertising for everything from the county hospital to the state college savings plan. In Southern Nevada, the city and county governments have television stations that not only inform, but manage to keep council members and commissioners on the air more than the cast of “Friends.”

It’s probably too much to ask, this being Nevada, but maybe Krolicki will start paying for his advertising out of his own pocket.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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