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Ambitious lawmaker set up nicely at CSN

Ruben Kihuen officially launched his congressional campaign Thursday, culminating a very busy three months for the state senator and Democratic Party rising star.

The 31-year-old lawmaker has been laying the groundwork and building support for his run, making himself seen every day. His Twitter feed (@RubenKihuen) provides the details.

This past Tuesday: “At the National Clean Energy Summit. Exciting to see national & local leaders discussing how clean energy can lead to econ diversification.”

From Aug. 23: “Looking forward to addressing the AFL-CIO convention this morning. It’s nice to be back in beautiful Reno, NV.”

From Aug. 18: “Caught up w/ many constituents today over lunch at East LV Community Cntr. Was there to speak abt the Colorado River & water conservation.”

It’s pretty standard stuff for a politician with ambitions for higher office. But is it a productive, appropriate schedule for a College of Southern Nevada administrator?

On July 1, shortly after the conclusion of the 2011 Legislature, Kihuen was promoted to diversity programs manager at CSN. Kihuen has worked at the college for most of the past 13 years, since well before he was first elected to the Assembly in 2006.

Over the past year, the very smart, personable Kihuen has been promoted twice, and his base salary has climbed more than 30 percent to roughly $62,000 per year. His current position was created for him — a college spokeswoman says new responsibilities were added to his previous position, so CSN wasn’t required to post the new job or open it to other potential applicants.

Kihuen took an unpaid leave of absence to serve in the 2011 Legislature (as he did in the previous two sessions). But he has been back on the crowded, cash-strapped college’s payroll since returning to Las Vegas from Carson City, fulfilling job responsibilities that conveniently intersect with the demands of a political campaign.

Among the many requirements of Kihuen’s new position, as reported by CSN:

— “Collaborate with Asian, black, Hispanic and Native American communities …”

— “Coordinate internal and external diversity, cultural and outreach activities …”

— “Collaborate with/build working relationships with key Southern Nevada entities and represent CSN at community functions.”

One of Kihuen’s biggest recent tasks was directly overseeing the Nevada Youth Alliance’s Aug. 20 back to school fair at CSN’s Cheyenne Avenue campus. According to the college, “approximately 7,000 residents attended to obtain free school supplies, immunizations, checkups and other educational and health-care related services.”

It’s a politician’s dream to hand out goodies to the families of voters. But taxpayers shouldn’t have to provide a salary as an additional benefit.

Kihuen says a wall exists between his job with CSN and his political career.

“My priority is to complete my responsibilities at CSN. I will have a campaign team to assist with the demands of my campaign,” Kihuen wrote in a Thursday email sent a couple of hours before he announced his candidacy (Interesting timing, no?). “My position requires that I represent CSN at certain events. My campaign events and activities are separate from CSN. There is currently no confusion, and there will be no confusion in the future about my role and capacity at each event on behalf of CSN.”

His direct supervisor, CSN President Michael Richards, isn’t confused, but he’s apparently concerned.

“The perception of conflict is troublesome and I have spoken with him about this extensively,” Richards wrote in an email, saying Kihuen’s political career was not a consideration in his July promotion.

Richards added that Kihuen would have to take a leave of absence from CSN once he announced his candidacy. “Ruben may pursue his political goals on his own time.”

But I couldn’t confirm whether Kihuen was politicking on his time or the taxpayers’ dime. I asked CSN for payroll records to check whether Kihuen had taken any paid or unpaid leave over the past three months. Similar records released by the city of North Las Vegas proved that John Oceguera — an assistant fire chief who has his own congressional aspirations — was double-dipping during the 2011 session while serving as Assembly speaker.

However, college counsel says the payroll files of Nevada System of Higher Education professional staff are considered confidential, a position that flies in the face of the state’s public records law.

Kihuen said he has taken three days of paid and unpaid leave from his CSN position over the past three months because of political activity. His Twitter account would seem to indicate more leave was needed.

From Aug. 24: “Tonight’s Spanish community town hall mtg in East LV was a complete success. Almost 3 hours of listening to constituents & sharing ideas.”

From Aug. 13: “Visiting and catching up w/constituents at the LV Latin Chamber of Commerce consumer expo. Lots of useful information for the community.”

(Note Kihuen’s use of the word “constituents” as opposed to “prospective College of Southern Nevada students.”)

From Aug. 11: “Highly productive mtgs today w/Obama campaign manager Jim Messina & Sec of Labor Hilda Solis. Their visit to NV is very much appreciated.”

From Aug. 2: “Waiting to greet President Bill Clinton at the World Market Center. He’ll be giving the keynote address at the Las Vegas Market Show.”

Come on, what does a furniture show have to do with college diversity?

It’s bad enough that Kihuen’s position at CSN exists in the first place. The higher education system has the nerve to send lobbyists to Carson City every other year to cry poverty and demand ever more public money, then it keeps adding positions that promote institutional adherence to squishy, politically correct gobbledygook.

But CSN had to rub it in the face of taxpayers by filling one of those positions with an ambitious politician.

And we can’t even find out whether we paid for him to campaign?

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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