Political Notebook: GSA’s blowout still poster child for waste

There have been other questionable government meetings. Like the $4.1 million small-business conference the Internal Revenue Service held in Anaheim, Calif., in 2010. Or the $6.1 million the Department of Veterans Affairs spent for two 2011 conferences in Orlando, Fla.

But to some in Congress, the poster child for wasteful travel spending remains the $823,000 General Services Administration western regions conference held October 2010 at the M Resort on Las Vegas Boulevard South.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., referenced the “now-infamous GSA Las Vegas conference” in bringing a bill to the House floor Wednesday to cap agency spending on conferences to $500,000 unless a director decides something more is justified.

The bill also would cut travel budgets by 30 percent of what was spent in 2010. It passed by voice vote.

“We don’t need clowns. We don’t need mind readers. We don’t need a Star Trek video. We don’t need pictures of agency representatives in a bathtub with a glass of wine,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.

The Star Trek video actually was part of the IRS conference in Anaheim, but the others were among the highlights of the raucous M Resort gathering. The person in the tub was Jeffrey Neely, a GSA regional commissioner who headed planning for the conference and who left the agency after it all ended up in the newspapers last year.

During debate, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., were quick to say they were against wasteful spending but urged their colleagues not to blame the culture of resort cities for bad decisions made by a few bad apples.

“These cities should not suffer from poor judgment by a handful of government workers,” Heck said.

Titus, who represents the city of Las Vegas, agreed. She also wanted to correct the record.

“The GSA conference was not in Las Vegas; it was in Henderson, which is in District 3,” she said.

That one belongs to Heck.

— Steve Tetreault

save Twitter questions for last

Rep. Joe Heck showed Monday he doesn’t much care to discuss his son’s social media rants, even when they include references to the congressman’s access to national security information.

Heck, a member of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, endured a minor firestorm last month when the website Buzzfeed revealed several Joey Heck tweets that included racist and homophobic language in addition to a reference to his dad’s national security connections.

“Obama didn’t make the call to kill Osama. … That was the intelligence committee #iwouldknow,” one of Joey Heck’s offending tweets read.

At the time, Heck spokesman Greg Lemon was quick to emphasize the congressman “does not divulge deliberations of the intel committee outside of that committee.”

When asked directly about the subject during an interview about national security and the sanctity of classified information, Heck refused to answer and instead cut the interview short.

“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” Heck said. “Do you really think that my son is tweeting on national security issues? The conversation is over. You have really crossed the line.”

— Benjamin Spillman

OF ROBERSON AND RATHEADS

Conservative political ideologue Chuck Muth of Las Vegas is no fan of state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who seems to have changed philosophically from a right-wing conservative in the 2011 legislative session to a moderate Republican who now thinks more like Brian Sandoval than Rand Paul.

Muth has taken to calling Roberson “Moderate Mike,” a term that some people used to tease Roberson with during the session that ended in June. But Muth, whose persuasive powers over legislative Republicans have declined in the Sandoval era, now has a new name for Moderate Mike. He has made Roberson his “Rathead in a Coke Bottle” award winner.

Huh?

Muth explained it in a July 29 news release. It seems that Grover Norquist, the Republican kingmaker and father of the Taxpayer Protection (no tax increases) Pledge, once said no one thinks twice about buying a Coke. But if someone found a rathead in the bottom of the Coke bottle, no way would that person ever finish the drink and might never buy Coke again.

That one rathead could destroy an entire brand, according to Norquist, who apparently finds the one bad apple can spoil the barrel analogy too 19th century.

Norquist went on to say that Republicans who vote to raise taxes are the political equivalent of a “rathead in a Coke bottle.” For his support of extending more than $600 million in taxes for two more years, Roberson was named Muth’s Rathead in a Coke winner for 2013.

Trouble is most Senate Republicans and Gov. Brian Sandoval also backed the tax extension. Does that make them co-conspiring ratheads, or is Muth an out-of-touch rat?

— Ed Vogel

MATHIS WAS A JUMPER

Reno resident Ty Cobb, a former Army colonel, adviser to President Ronald Reagan and advocate for conservative political causes, also is a master of arcane trivia.

Cobb sent out email messages last week advising his readers to attend the performance of 77-year-old singer Johnny Mathis at Reno’s Silver Legacy and reminding them of his fame in his other career, as a star San Francisco area athlete. Cobb said Mathis in 1955 high-jumped 6 feet, 6 inches to set a new record at Reno’s Mackay Stadium.

Now we all know Mick Jagger at age 70 still jumps around like a teenager as a member of the Rolling Stones, but who knew of Mathis’ jumping ability?

Numerous websites point out Mathis even gave up a turnout for the 1956 Olympics team to keep an appointment to make some recordings in New York.

After nearly 60 years as a world famous singer, Mathis clearly made the right choice.

— Ed Vogel

ABSTINENCE FROM ACTING

One would think that the state Health Division could come up with more theatrically capable teenagers as actors in the series of public service announcements promoting abstinence that the agency is running on radio stations.

These youthful actors clearly are reading from a script as they discuss the dangers of sex, including diseases they say could last a lifetime.

At one point, a young man says he does not want to get an “STI,” before he and his girlfriend quickly pledge not to have sex. STI? Maybe an STD, or sexually transmitted disease.

It is also surprising in the two public service announcements — heard in Northern Nevada on ESPN sports talk shows — how quickly these teens decide they won’t have sex. Any parent of teenagers knows it is not easy, especially when their sons or daughters talk about being in love.

But the ads would have been a lot more believable if the agency simply had gone into any high school in Nevada, spoken with the drama class teacher, and secured a couple of students who really could act.

— Ed Vogel

INVESTING ELSEWHERE

CARSON CITY — The revelation by the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday that Nevada’s 150th anniversary license plates are made in Oregon should be a surprise to no one. It’s par for the course. State government often seems to scoff at Nevada.

Take “Nevada” magazine, the state’s official magazine. It’s printed in Missouri. And only recently did the state take the subscription work on the magazine back from a company in Minnesota.

Then there is the state Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. In the summer of 2012 it was given permission from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to spend $1.8 million to hire Burson-Marsteller to promote Nevada tourism — out of the firm’s office in Santa Monica, Calif.

Democrats on the committee initially tried to block the contract but they acquiesced after a two-month delay.

Then state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford at least pointed out what everyone in the hearing room was thinking: “State money should be used to invest in Nevada.”

Is that too much?

— Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@rviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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