Silent Sandoval works to get elected, then reveal ‘Ze Plan’

Recall the TV show “Fantasy Island” and the little guy who would get excited and yell “ze plane, ze plane”?

Oh Tuesday, I almost did that myself when Brian Sandoval released his Cliff Notes version of “ze plan, ze plan” in his third televised debate with Rory Reid.

Until I realized the GOP gubernatorial candidate wasn’t providing much detail. I don’t consider a two-page news release after the debate an in-depth account, especially since it doesn’t identify cuts he recommends. Is that all there is? Actually, yes.

Sandoval essentially is following the same playbook every beauty queen uses. Don’t say too much because then people might not like you. Smile and be friendly and exceedingly polite. Try to avoid controversy. Make sure there’s no food in your teeth.

It’s a playbook that’s worked. The polls show Sandoval creaming his Democratic opponent, the Clark County commissioner with the unfortunate last name of Reid.

But Sandoval really hasn’t delivered, and as someone who likes both men personally, it’s been a disappointment to see him play it so safe since he first became a candidate in September 2009.

Ze Plan he released is essentially this: He’s going back to the 2007 budget and start from there.

So do you have any idea what that means? I certainly don’t.

Sandoval waited until one week before Election Day to answer the question: How will you balance the budget without raising taxes when it looks as if there will be a $3 billion shortfall?

Then he didn’t really answer it.

Cuts will have to be made for him to abide by his promise: “I won’t raise taxes even if you torture me with whips and chains.” But where will he cut?

The former assemblyman, attorney general and federal judge acknowledged in his debate Medicaid numbers are increasing. They’ve gone up 69 percent from 171,634 cases in 2007 to an estimated 290,000 this budget year and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. If Sandoval has any ideas how he’ll cover that, he’s not sharing them.

I cut Sandoval slack early on, when he didn’t have a formal plan. But I also said he couldn’t stand on the sidelines and just throw rocks at Reid’s budget plan and not present one of his own. To my dismay, that’s exactly what he’s done. And he’s gotten away with it, despite all the media criticism and Reid’s unrelenting attacks. You can criticize Reid’s plan, but you have to trust that Sandoval has a plan to balance the budget.

By presenting Ze Plan in Elko, Sandoval ducked the Las Vegas and Reno press, which would have been eager to ask follow-up questions, he either can’t or won’t answer.

Sandoval took the safe, but cowardly approach, undoubtedly trusting the advice of his political advisers. But he didn’t do well in Elko, robotically repeating his own criticisms of Reid’s plan — which could also make an appearance on “Fantasy Island” for the amount of new revenues he predicts will come in.

I’ve watched most of the televised debates this season. The first gubernatorial debate, with its ghastly sound problems, was pure torture and viewers probably turned it off rather than listen to the screeching. The second was annoying because Reid kept yapping like a Jack Russell terrier that he had a plan and Sandoval didn’t. We got the point the 15th time.

The Elko debate was the best of the three for Reid, but didn’t change the dynamics of the race.

Ze Plan needs some serious fleshing out, and, obviously, that won’t happen before the election Tuesday. That spineless position won’t be forgotten by historians or journalists. It’s smart politically, but shows a lack of substance a Sandoval administration will have to work hard to overcome.

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

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