I flipped on the television the other day and was drawn in as a drama unfolded before my eyes: The creepy sepia tones, the ominous soundtrack, the unadulterated whoppers passed off as fact.
Something seemed eerily familiar.
For a moment I thought it was the season premiere of "24" guest starring dangerous Democrat Dina Titus as an international terrorist. But it wasn’t "24," just one more 30-second misdirection from three-term Republican Rep. Jon Porter in the 3rd Congressional District race.
Cue the commercial: "Pensions lost. Savings slashed. Retirements delayed. We’re all feeling the pain. Well, everybody but Dina Titus. While our retirements were in jeopardy, Titus voted to quadruple her taxpayer-funded pension. She was even caught double dipping, taking two salaries from the state. To help pay for all her shady schemes she voted for 25 different tax hikes. Dina Titus: a self-serving politician we can’t afford."
I half expected Agent Jack Bauer to emerge through the smoke of a devastated Nevada riddled with the wreckage of so many tax hikes and let that terrorist Titus have it. Trouble with the story line is, Agent Porter is shooting blanks.
In 1989, when she was in her first term in the Nevada Legislature, Sen. Titus voted with her colleagues to raise the part-timers’ pension, which she wouldn’t have qualified to collect for another nine years. Under public pressure, in a special session the Legislature repealed its earlier vote.
That’s one bomb defused.
Those who know Titus understand that she doesn’t "double dip" in the usual sense of the term, but instead takes an unpaid leave of absence from UNLV to serve at the Legislature. That snuffs fuse No. 2.
Then there’s 25 tax hikes "to pay for her shady schemes." This Porter bomb is a tricky one. Not because Titus never voted for tax hikes — she voted with the majority on two major increases in the past 17 years — but because there are so many dummy wires. Is voting for a tax exemption actually voting for a tax increase? No. How about voting to clarify the legal language regarding tax statute? No again. A number of those votes didn’t raise taxes at all.
You can argue Titus is too liberal. She has a track record of supporting expanding public education and conservation for environmentally sensitive areas such as Red Rock Canyon. But you won’t get far on factual ground questioning her ethics. She’s about as square as they get in this state.
Still, if the commercial sticks it’s something Titus can add to her resume: UNLV political science professor, published author, protector of Red Rock Canyon, state senator — and shadowy danger to the community.
Haven’t I seen this movie before?
It was four years ago when gaming executive Tom Gallagher was assailed essentially for being a casino executive who wasn’t raised here. (Porter was born in the sleepy Las Vegas suburb of Humboldt, Iowa.)
In 2006, in a "Return of the Carpetbagger" theme, Porter assailed upstart challenger Tessa Hafen for moving from Washington, D.C., to the wilds of Henderson just to run for Congress. He neglected to mention Hafen was a third-generation Nevadan with family roots reaching back to the region’s pioneer beginnings.
The big whopper strategy worked in 2006. He beat Hafen by fewer than 4,000 votes. The question is whether that strategy will work against Titus in a big year for Democrats nationally and one that finds Republican voters outnumbered in the 3rd District by more than 30,000.
Porter is chided by his fellow Republicans for not being a true believer and is vilified by Democrats for being a nonplayer, but the fact is he is a smart campaigner. While many of his Republican House colleagues were loyally embracing a badly tanking Bush administration in 2007, Porter avoided getting caught in presidential photo-ops. He also cast votes across party lines, giving himself ammunition when the inevitable attempts to tie him to Bush were made.
That’s smart politics. So is the decision to lie about one’s opponent and pound away until Election Day. In that area of political science, professor Titus could take lessons from a real master.
Like a tried and true formula from a Hollywood back lot, Porter’s plot line has worked before.
Will this be the season his show is canceled?
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.