Incumbents have to love Harry

The great irony of campaign 2010: Harry Reid, the lightning rod at the center of the country’s anti-incumbent storm, is shielding incumbents up and down Nevada’s ballot with his unpopularity.

Reid has attracted so much criticism and consumed so much airtime, newsprint and campaign cash that there’s practically nothing left for the dozens of other races voters will decide, from statewide and legislative offices to county posts and judgeships.

Story lines that would have commanded the attention of the electorate in any other election cycle are mere afterthoughts this fall.

Remember that Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto indicted and prosecuted Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki? Remember that the indictment was so obtuse the charges were dismissed? And that Masto’s husband was raising money for Krolicki’s opponent?

Me neither.

Treasurer Kate Marshall’s office lost $50 million when the stock market crashed. Her office hasn’t been particularly precise in administering the Millennium Scholarship program, a quality you generally want in the state’s CFO.

But that’s not as sexy as Harry talking about hottie senators.

Rather than run for the hills, a handful of term-limited legislators are trying to switch houses. Odds are they’ll all win. In more than 50 legislative races, four incumbents might lose. Tops.

Is there an incumbent on the ballot (besides Reid) who’s had a tougher two years than Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie? Speeding officers dying in crashes they caused. Two high-profile, controversial police killings of suspects during the heart of the campaign. A new headquarters being built amid a recession-driven budget crisis.

None of these issues has handcuffed Gillespie. He’s a lock for re-election.

And is anyone talking about the Clark County Commission, supposedly the most powerful elected body in Nevada?

The unrelenting dominance of the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race for the U.S. Senate really struck me last month, when the Clark County School District named a new superintendent.

The district’s previous two superintendent searches commanded the attention of the public. Each was the story for more than a week. People talked about it and had opinions.

Today, I’d be willing to bet 19 out of 20 people still don’t know the name of Superintendent Walt Rulffes’ replacement.

It’s Dwight Jones. He’s Colorado’s education commissioner.

If he can’t build any immediate name recognition, how can challengers in the final weeks before Election Day?

All the attention on Reid and Angle doesn’t just make it hard for challengers to gain support and raise money (especially in this economy). It allows incumbents to distort, ignore or flat out lie about their records and positions. They know no one will hold them accountable.

Not with Reid at the top of the ticket.

Harry Reid — the best friend an incumbent ever had.

Just as predicted

In my Aug. 22 column, “Preparing for Democratic smear campaign,” I previewed the slimy, over-the-top negative campaigning voters could expect in a handful of key state Senate races. Democrats lied about the records of incumbent Republicans in 2008 to gain control of the Legislature’s upper chamber, and because the party-led strategy worked so well, a repeat performance was inevitable.

Well, here we are in the final month of the campaign, and mailboxes are filling with mud. Republican Sen. Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas is the prime target of the Democratic Party because of her consistent opposition to tax increases. The state Democratic Party is sending out roughly one attack piece against Cegavske every day to targeted voters in District 8, with the goal of electing attorney Tammy Peterson.

And who’s making sure the Democrats have the money to sustain this negative campaign? Why, Harry Reid, of course — who last week won the endorsement of state Senate Republican Leader Bill Raggio.

Yes, Raggio supports the re-election of the man most responsible for shrinking his caucus. Only in Nevada.

Sounding the alarm

Unionized firefighters are working like heck to prevent legislative blazes before first spark of the 2011 session.

Their garish pay and benefits, not to mention their stubborn refusals to make meaningful compensation concessions, are a huge bull’s-eye for budget hawks.

Firefighters know that if Democrats don’t achieve two-thirds supermajorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, they’ll have to compromise with Republicans to get the votes they need to raise taxes.

And the GOP’s list of demands is likely to include major collective bargaining reforms, including the elimination of binding arbitration and the opening of contract negotiations to the public and the press, as well as big changes to public employee retirement benefits — perhaps moving all future government hires out of Nevada’s defined-benefit pension and into a 401(k)-style, defined-contribution plan.

Last week, the Clark County firefighters union put out a call to members to put in time on behalf of three Assembly Democrats: John Oceguera, a North Las Vegas firefighter and the likely Assembly speaker, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Ellen Spiegel.

“Please, pick one of these events and show your commitment to your livelihood,” the bulletin says.

The notice puts particular emphasis on proposals to do away with pensions for future firefighters, noting that “this will eliminate the future funding of all current employees’ retirement plan, thus making the plan bankrupt.”

If that isn’t a description of a Ponzi scheme, I don’t know what is.

I wouldn’t expect Oceguera, Kirkpatrick and Spiegel to tout the endorsements by firefighters.

But it’s pretty clear that Democrats, who are trying to talk a good game about making painful choices and being fiscal conservatives, are committed to letting you keep less of your money so firefighters can make more.

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

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