Let’s suppose for a moment that Democrat Rory “PAC Man” Reid’s nefarious scheme to pump money into his flagging gubernatorial campaign last year had succeeded, and he’d been elected instead of Republican Brian Sandoval.
And let’s suppose now-Gov. Reid was faced with the political circumstances that now confront Sandoval: U.S. Sen. John Ensign’s resignation in disgrace just one day ahead of a deposition before the Senate Ethics Committee.
State law is unmistakably clear. NRS 304.040 says: “In case of a vacancy in the office of United States Senator caused by death, resignation or otherwise, the Governor may appoint some qualified person to fill the vacancy, who shall hold office until the next general election and until his or her successor shall be elected and seated.”
So, what would a Gov. Reid do, knowing that Reps. Dean Heller (a Republican) and Shelley Berkley (a Democrat) had both announced their intention to seek Ensign’s seat in 2012?
I’ll tell you exactly what he’d do: He’d immediately appoint Berkley to the seat, thus giving her a year’s head start on Heller to govern and raise money as an incumbent U.S. senator.
And, just suppose minority Republicans — worried that Heller would be handicapped in 2012 by a Berkley incumbency — decided they’d draft a resolution calling on Gov. Reid to “establish an open, fair and public process to fill the vacancy in the office of United States Senator”?
And that the resolution asked Gov. Reid to consider the appointment of an “honorable caretaker with no political motivations or electoral ambitions.” And that it further asked him to establish a one-week process where any qualified Nevadan could throw his or her hat into the ring, and that those names be made public?
Assuming those Republicans could even get a vote on their resolution, what would a Gov. Reid do in response? I’ll tell you exactly what he’d do: Ignore those Republicans by saying the law gives him the authority to appoint whomever he wants, without need of an open and public process.
And, if he was in a particularly snarky mood that day, Gov. Reid might also have told those Republicans that elections have consequences, and granting a political advantage to a fellow party member — and perhaps keeping the U.S. Senate in Democratic hands — is one of those consequences. And he would be entirely justified, not to mention legally in the right, by telling them that.
So why should it be different just because Reid lost the 2010 race?
Democrats started urging Sandoval not to appoint Heller almost before the echo of Ensign’s resignation died, knowing that the leg up would put Berkley at a serious disadvantage at the polls next year.
At first, it was just your standard political mewling, donning the cloak of openness and transparency because it benefitted them at the moment.
But on Monday, when Assembly Democrats went so far as to draft, introduce and pass on a voice vote Assembly Concurrent Resolution 8, it went from simply political tragicomedy to officially pathetic.
The non-binding resolution now travels to the Senate, where it will likely be approved as well.
And Sandoval? He’s already said he intends to announce his appointment before the May 3 date on which Ensign’s resignation becomes effective. That choice is almost assuredly Heller.
And politically, who can blame Sandoval? Aside from the cost of a special election, there is no good argument to be made for why he shouldn’t use his position to bestow political advantage on Heller.
Because, whether they’re willing to admit it or not, if the roles were reversed, Democrats would do the exact same thing.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. His column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at (702) 387-5276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.