What does Jon Porter stand for? Whatever will get him re-elected

For this entire decade, Jon Porter’s desire to live the Washington lifestyle has consumed him to the point that he can’t even remember what he represents.

Porter is proving this year that whatever remaining principle he might have had has been lost to the political reality that he’s still in one of the nation’s toughest congressional districts.

Back in the days prior to opposing children’s health insurance before voting for it, when Porter was a state senator, he pushed hard for more Republicans to be drawn into the brand new congressional district he hoped to one day own. Redistricting — the decennial political process — showed Porter to be a man of utmost character back in 2001. Political character, that is.

He almost single-handedly held up the legislative session, forcing an overtime to settle the disputed boundaries of the 3rd Congressional District. The special session brought with it Washington partisanship to the once-collegial atmosphere in Carson City. The rift between the parties and the houses laid in 2001 would grow into a force that now prevents any on-time adjournment.

But in the Las Vegas Valley, where the population’s political memory is much shorter than six years, Porter is known less for his days as a whiny state senator and more for his service as a congressman.

Last year’s election scared him, winning by the narrowest of margins over a political newcomer barely in her third decade. The new Porter is stridently on message — whatever can get him re-elected is what he’ll follow.

The new Porter even returns press calls these days. Any free media is good media when you’re running 24-7.

Last week, Porter showed just how critical keeping his seat is. On Tuesday, he voted to support an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

You can’t be against the children in an election year. When Porter voted against an earlier version of the insurance program in July, he was quickly attacked by forces on the left hoping to unseat him.

Now he’s right on message — falling squarely in the uber-calculated position of having opposed something initially only to support it later knowing that President Bush will veto the measure and provide him cover.

Porter’s three terms have taught him to count votes, and right now it’s doubtful Congress will be able to override that expected veto. So in his own triangulated way, Porter gets to be publicly for something he probably opposes (if the July vote was any indication of his real position) and gets to walk away without being painted as “against the children.”

His fellow Nevada Republican, Dean Heller, rejecting the bill outright because he believed it would drive more families to cancel their private insurance for the government-funded plan.

“You will end up with more deficits,” Heller said.

Never mind that here in Nevada 78,000 children will still have no insurance even with the SCHIP expansion.

The Democrats are grooming Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas for the big stage. And, after he finishes his high-profile murder case against Darren Mack, Daskas will be out in force trying to raise money and build name recognition before Porter can paint him as a carpetbagger and/or a tax-and-spend liberal.

Porter had $600,000 cash on hand back in June for that cause, and he recently raked in an additional $100,000 from his gaming buddies. So, as a sop to the industry, Porter is sponsoring $50 million in pork to help draw international tourists to the United States.

The Improving Public Diplomacy Through International Travel Act would essentially make the federal government a travel agent.

And talk about tax-and-spend, Porter’s measure would increase federal spending on overseas travel marketing 250 percent.

Way back when a Democrat was in the White House, the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration was cut. Now the tourism industry wants to reinstate the funding.

Porter’s co-sponsor, Sam Farr, D-Calif., said international tourists have to be courted.

“The perception around the world is that America does not welcome international visitors,” Farr said at the news conference.

Maybe the way people in other countries view us has something to do with Porter’s enthusiastic support for the war in Iraq. Make no mistake, Porter was for the war before he was for it. Not only did he support it from the beginning, he’s supported every funding bill, cheered on the surge and is now squarely positioned as one of the administration’s go-to guys for the Iran message.

If Porter didn’t believe his own calculation that the “war on terror” plays well in his suburban district with lots of military families, he wouldn’t be so stuck on his support for ongoing occupation.

The way he puts it, the Middle East needs us there to keep the world safe. Oh yeah, and Israel is over there, too.

Porter will do whatever it takes to win. That may mean forsaking so-called Republican principles of small government and low taxes. That may mean claiming support for the troops, or the children, or whatever else is politically palatable.

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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