August 25, 2016 - 6:00 pm
Rep. Cresent Hardy, by his own admission, is not necessarily the most eloquent of speakers.
But the first-term Republican congressman who was swept into office on the crest of the red tide of 2014, has waxing loquacious on the campaign trail as he fights to keep his seat against Democratic challenger, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen.
A Democratic tracker, armed with an audio recorder, followed Hardy to a couple of recent events, including a luncheon put on the by the Nevada Republican Men’s Club on Aug. 2. Here’s a look at some of the things he said. (And I promise if you read to the end of this very long blog, there’s a priceless payoff!)
• “Now we need to move forward and make the change,” Hardy told the group. “I don’t care if this means it’s me that needs to be changed, do it folks. Get us outta there. I will replace myself with somebody that [sic] knows more than I do and understands it better.”
This is actually fairly remarkable. Only rarely do you find a politician who contemplates his own ouster publicly, and even rarer is one who would admit there’s anybody better for the job. If nothing else, give Hardy credit for humility and maybe even a little bit of patriotism for being willing to sacrifice his seat if a better-informed, better-equipped person comes along.
The trouble? Kihuen’s volunteering to be that guy!
• “My balanced budget amendment says if the president doesn’t bring forward a balanced budget by the time that it’s due, that he loses his regulatory authority,” Hardy explained. “And if the Congress doesn’t bring forward that balanced budget with the time it’s due, that we lose our power of the purse.”
Up until now, I thought the main problem with the balanced budget amendment was the stark choice between massive budget cuts or massive tax increases. But what Hardy appears to be saying above is that it could get much, much worse! Could government even function if lawmakers and the president missed a budget deadline and lost their powers? Would this not lead to government shutdowns? Could such an amendment ever get the required support to pass?
I asked Hardy’s spokesman, Larry Farnsworth, about the idea and its implications. “The congressman’s balanced budget amendment is to ensure that Washington lives within its means the same way working families and small businesses across the 4th District have to,” Farnsworth said. “Furthermore, he believes the best way for the government to continue operating efficiently is for Democrats and Republicans to work together. He believes that’s something that can be done without raising taxes or increasing spending.”
But if you don’t raise taxes and you don’t increase spending, that leaves only one thing: Big cuts to the budget, and not just discretionary spending, either. And something tells me the families of the 4th District might not be too happy when they see the details of those cuts.
• No offense! “Fifty years we’ve been at war on poverty,” Hardy declared. “People have gone, you know the thing, people are becoming more dependent on our government. Sorry, folks, if I’m insulting you. I don’t meant to offend people when I say things, but I’m going to say some things that might be offensive to you. Get over it, because I choose not to be offended. You can’t offend me, so I can’t offend you. We have a responsibility to take care of our neighbors. We have a responsibility to be better community builders. Stop asking the government to do stuff that you can do for yourself.”
First, it’s important to understand that Hardy has actually gotten better at talking about this issue, given that two years ago, he was referring to people pulling up to welfare districts in a big, fancy Escalade.
Second, let’s leave aside the fact that it is possible to offend people even if the speaker chooses not to be offended. But that’s not the main point here: Hardy seems to be saying we should eliminate anti-poverty programs and leave relief to neighbors and community organizations. Or maybe not. Farnsworth explains:
“The federal government has spent $22 trillion on poverty programs and the congressman’s point is to what end?” he said. “If someone was born in poverty today, they’re just as likely to stay there as if they were born into poverty 50 years ago. Many of these programs penalize work by striking benefits when people are still trying to get back on their feet. What the congressman is advocating for is expanding opportunities and not government.
“A better way to approach poverty is not spending more because we haven’t seen the results. Rather, we should be focus on redirecting the money we’re already spending to reward work, tailor benefits to people’s needs, improve our schools so people get the skills they need to get good-paying jobs with benefits, allow them to save for the future and demand results. This is what we did in 1996 after the welfare reforms and 3.5 million fewer people were living in poverty – and we should redouble those efforts because right now with more Americans on food stamps than anytime in our nation’s history and the amount of people who have given up looking for a job – we clearly have more work to do.”
So really, Hardy is asking the government to do stuff, just in a better and more efficient way. (And I can’t resist pointing out that Farnsworth’s reply embraces welfare reform, which was the brainchild of a triangulating Bill Clinton, which liberals hated because of the terrible way it treated people trying their best to find work, and now Hillary Clinton is running for president having beaten one of those very liberals, Bernie Sanders, and people wonder why the Sandanistas don’t like Clinton and still resent her victory. But will Hardy today embrace Hillary Clinton’s call for a big jobs program and an increase in the minimum wage, which would combat poverty?)
• Kihuen, according to Hardy, isn’t sharp enough to win. No, really: “I’m not Mr. Photogenic who likes to run the limelights like my opponent [Kihuen],” Hardy said. “That’s why he was there [at the Democratic National Convention, where Kihuen had an invited speaking role] so he can get attention because he knows he’s not sharp enough to be able to do it.”
Ouch, baby! Now it seems to me that Kihuen does think he’s sharp enough to become a congressman, because, well, he filed to do so. When I asked Farnsworth about what Hardy meant here, Farnsworth offered only this: “The congressman believes the best way to win is to be at home as often as possible talking to constituents and not out of state schmoozing with special interests.”
For the record, Hardy skipped his own party’s presidential convention in Cleveland this year, saying he wanted to go, but was advised he’d be better off spending time in his district. Trust me, congressman: I went and you didn’t miss that much.
• “You know, that’s the thing that always amazes me. Because I’m white, I’m racist and a bigot,” Hardy said. “Really? So I can’t, I may not understand some of the issues because I am white. I’m not a black person. I’m not a brown person. But you know what, there’s one thing I know I have in here, that I dare say that my opponent doesn’t have. I have a love for mankind, and I even love my enemies.”
Who called Hardy a racist and/or a bigot? Well, apparently, Kihuen did.
“Ruben Kihuen has shown more interest in following his Washington handlers scripted talking points than he has shown in bringing forth solutions to the problems facing 4th District families,” Farnsworth said. “Ruben’s campaign has been particularly disappointing in the fact that he has continuously walked up to the line of disparaging the congressman’s character on social media and fundraising emails by constantly using terms like ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’. The congressman was right to address these comments because there is no place for them in our nation’s dialogue and quite frankly, Ruben should be ashamed of himself and his team and he ought to apologize because the people of the 4th District deserve better.”
In support, the Hardy campaign offered two fundraising letters, in which Kihuen condemns “the hatred and bigotry of Donald Trump and Tea Party Hardy” (not his real name) and another in which Kihuen condemns Hardy’s “record of discrimination” because Hardy once co-sponsored a bill in the Nevada Legislature to make English the official language of the state. (Kihuen, who came to the United States as an immigrant, speaks fluent English and Spanish.)
• “I said all along, I will support and vote for the Republican nominee because the other option is not there,” Hardy said. “Do I agree with Mr. Trump on all issues? No, I do not, but I think he’s the best man in this race to be able to accomplish what we want. I will support him 100 percent. I’ll do whatever he wants me to do to help him get elected, and I think he’ll do the same for me.”
Now, Hardy is hardly alone in this assessment, although he’s endorsing a guy who’s said things (racist and bigoted things, actually) to which Hardy himself has objected. And while there are a few Republicans who have stood up to say they will never vote for Trump, and may even vote for Hillary Clinton instead, I just can’t see Hardy making that statement.
• “To go to Washington and have people tell you, ‘You’ve done well as a freshman, you’ve been very successful.’ I think, what the hell have I done?” Hardy told the Men’s Club. “I haven’t turned the country around. I haven’t changed anything. I’ve stopped a lot of stuff. I guess that’s part of the political process.”
Sadly, stopping stuff has become an end goal of the political process! But once more, we see Hardy almost denigrating his own tenure. Can he really be that down on himself?
“The congressman is a very humble person. Self-bragging just isn’t his thing,” Farnsworth explained. “He often says his greatest accomplishment isn’t being elected to Congress but talks about how he’s most proud of his family and the business he started that allowed him to create hundreds of jobs for people in Southern Nevada.” (Hardy did maintain a contracting business in Mesquite, although he later filed for bankruptcy, blaming the effects of the recession.)
“He doesn’t think, act or talk like a politician and that’s why so many people support him. He’s a real person and he’s relatable. But don’t mistake that for not being accomplished. He has had a very successful term.” Among his highlights, according to Farnsworth: He was on the conference committee that expanded the I-11 designation from Las Vegas to Reno; he worked to get a veterans health care center for people living in Pahrump; and he promoted Nevada as a drone testing site. And don’t forget the Eastern Nevada Land Implementation and Improvement Act, which passed with only seven dissenting votes.
• And finally, my favorite of Hardy’s recent quotes, this from a meeting of the Active Republican Women of Las Vegas. It’s on Hardy’s favorite subject — public lands — and includes a reference to yours truly, who corrected Hardy in a recent column filled with egghead stuff such as court precedents that control the use of public land and interpret the provisions of the Constitution.
“I happened to be on public lands, which we have 85 percent of our state is held by the federal government [sic],” Hardy said. “Ask yourself why we have some of the hardest funding of any place in the nation, because we don’t own the land like our founding fathers intended. We’ll have the other side talking about how the environment and how we need to protect this, we the people’s land. That’s where they’re wrong. Steve Sebelius can take it and shove it where the sun don’t shine, he’s wrong. Section 3.4 of the Constitution does not say that the federal government has the opportunity to regulate state lands. It has the authority to regulate territories.”
Shove it where the sun don’t shine? Like, in Yucca Mountain?
I feel compelled to note that I’ve never advanced an argument for preserving public lands for environmental reasons, although I’m sympathetic to that line of reasoning. Instead, my argument has focused on the fact that the federal government has the authority to make needful rules and regulations for land owned by the United States. (That’s found in Article IV, Section 3, by the way.) I have also reported how courts have interpreted the Constitution to allow the federal government to own, control, manage and maintain lands within the borders of states.
Hardy seems to be saying that’s not the case, even implying that the federal government cannot own or regulate lands inside a state once it’s admitted to the Union and ceases to be a territory, something known as the “equal footing” doctrine. But the idea that the equal footing doctrine obviates federal ownership or control of federal land has been rejected by the courts as well.
So what did Hardy actually mean?
“The Constitution is very clear that Congress has the authority to make laws governing the management of public lands,” Farnsworth said. (True, but not at all the same thing as what Hardy appeared to be saying above.) “Just recently, the congressman held a public hearing in North Las Vegas with the state BLM director where he heard specifically from a Clark County government official about how BLM policies are affecting the county’s ability to respond to potential flooding and those policies are increasing the county’s concerns about public safety. It just makes sense to ask why the county government should be getting BLM approval to clear detention basins when it rains. And the point is that people who live closer to or even on the land can better manage the needs of community than some unaccountable bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.”
That’s a fine policy argument, but once again, it’s a much different statement from what Hardy proffered above, suggesting that the constitution “…does not say that the federal government has the opportunity to regulate state lands.” In fact, the Constitution says exactly that, which is also the answer to the question of why the county government should be getting BLM approval to clear detention basins when it rains.
Hardy may not like what I’ve said about public lands — in fact, it seems he dislikes them enough to want them stored where the sun does not shine — but that doesn’t magically make those things untrue. In the spirit of a freewheeling dialogue, I’d encourage Hardy to gently set aside the Cliven Bundy-style interpretation of what the government can and cannot do on public lands, and seek the advice of experts who’d no doubt be glad to lend their knowledge to a congressman from Nevada, where the sun shines all the time.