Ensign’s long goodbye has nothing to do with protecting family

Once again, John Ensign trots out his love for his family as a reason to quit politics, citing protecting them as his reason to resign from the Senate. Once again, I don’t believe him.

On March 7, he ended his four-month-long race for re-election, citing a campaign’s hardship on his family.

Apparently it was a revelation to him that the race might turn ugly, even though since June 19, 2009, he’s received more news coverage for his affair and the cover-up than for anything he’s accomplished as a senator since then.

On Thursday, he again trotted out the family, this time as his reason to resign.

What a joke.

This is all about his ego, his arrogance and saving his reputation. It’s about the threat of more embarrassing publicity and his inability to raise money.

Anyone who can read can zero in on the key language in his news release: “I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigations, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings.”

Those last three words are a tacit admission he feared the Senate Ethics Committee was about to go public against him. Resigning on Good Friday before Easter seems like odd timing.

The ethics committee still may go public, according to The New York Times, which reported the committee may still release information gathered about the Nevada Republican.

The statement by the Democratic and Republican co-chairs of the committee was telling, too: “Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision.”

Because of his resignation, effective May 3, the committee cannot require Ensign to answer questions in what would become a public circus, perhaps forcing his parents to testify about why they gave $96,000 to the family of their son’s mistress, Cindy Hampton.

The questions also would focus on whether Ensign crossed any ethical lines trying to help his mistress’s husband, Doug Hampton, attract lobbying clients. Hampton has been indicted on allegations he violated Senate Ethics laws, making him both a cuckold and a defendant.

In March, Ensign declared that to resign was an admission of guilt, and he’s not admitting he did anything wrong, other than have an eight-month affair with his wife’s best friend. Both Hamptons also were Ensign staffers.

Ensign certainly isn’t resigning to help the GOP retain his seat, even though that’s the likely result, presuming Gov. Brian Sandoval appoints Republican Congressman Dean Heller.

Heller would then automatically have more of a statewide presence, which he sorely needs, since he is little known in Southern Nevada, despite representing a small portion of it. As a senator, fundraising becomes easier, news coverage is more frequent, and instead of his campaign paying for trips to Southern Nevada, those expenses, including town halls and mailers, will be taxpayer-funded as “official business.”

I remember the first day I met Ensign and interviewed him about his decision to challenge Rep. Jim Bilbray, an entrenched four-term Democratic incumbent.

He was conservative, articulate, handsome and likable, and I didn’t think he had a chance. But I didn’t know then that gaming honcho Mike Ensign was his stepfather and that gaming money would flow easily to him, providing enough financial support to the veterinarian to mount a serious campaign in 1994.

Money clearly played a role in Ensign’s latest decision. The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Tetreault outlined Ensign’s recent fundraising, which was pitiful. He raised less than $100,000 for his campaign.

That had to be humiliating.

People keep asking if his wife, Darlene, has forgiven Ensign. He says she has, and I believe it’s true. When I’ve seen them together a few times, she is affectionate toward him. The two born-again Christians believe in forgiveness.

Now that he’s resigning, maybe Nevadans can forgive Ensign for wasting two years with his malarkey.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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