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Manendo harassment probe hurts Ford’s future

Sexual harassment allegations against state Sen. Mark Manendo are going to hurt the political career of Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford.

The majority leader’s delayed and timid rebukes of Manendo scream that Ford put his political objectives above timely justice for women who allege they were victimized by a man in power.

In early May, Ford launched a secret investigation into complaints that Manendo had sexually harassed lobbyists. With just two weeks left in the session, Ford announced that Manendo was resigning as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. With just hours left in the session, Ford gave a prepared verbal admonishment from the Senate floor, the political equivalent of hitting Manendo with a wet noodle.

Ford thinks Manendo engaged “in conduct that I believe to be unbefitting of a senator,” hence the verbal admonishment. But Ford also thinks Manendo may be so guilty — “once the investigation commenced, more allegations came forward, which meant it would take more time to complete the inquiry” — that there wasn’t time for Ford to take decisive action. Now that the 2017 session is over, the Senate can’t expel or censure Manendo.

This is like having evidence that someone committed robbery, but deciding to let the statute of limitations run out because you’re investigating accusations that the suspect committed a dozen other crimes.

It’s not a pretty picture for Ford, who’s expected to run for attorney general — Nevada’s top law enforcement position — in 2018.

On its new microsite RadicalAaronFord.com, the Republican Attorneys General Association hits on the most plausible explanation for Ford’s inaction: Ford needed Manendo’s vote to accomplish his legislative goals.

If Ford had expelled Manendo from the Senate, I think we’d have funding for Education Savings Accounts, which Ford strongly opposed. Why? Democrats would have needed three Republican votes to pass the capital improvements budget, which most Republicans voted against to force a compromise that included school choice funding. (While the final tally had three Republicans votes, sources told me that Sen. Becky Harris, R-Las Vegas, wouldn’t have voted yes if she had been the deciding vote.)

Ford didn’t respond to my requests for comment.

Ford’s defenders claim that he should get credit for starting an investigation because many think previous Democratic leaders knew of ongoing harassment by Manendo but ignored it. That would be true if Ford were new to the caucus, but he has been Manendo’s colleague since 2013 and was the Senate Democratic leader in 2015. If harassment by Manendo were as widespread as Ford said, why didn’t victims feel comfortable approaching Ford previously? His lackadaisical response to these claims offers a big clue.

“Ford didn’t even remove Manendo from the Senate Democratic Caucus,” said Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. “Ford coddled this guy all session long and then he did the bare minimum to create the appearance that he actually cared about doing something.”

Funny how restrained Democrats like Ford are when they find evidence of an actual “war on women.”

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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