Friday, April 22, 2011

Bonanza Column 233 – Tearing the Tattered Ensign Down

With apologies to Oliver Wendell Holmes:
Ay, tear tattered Ensign down!
Long has he waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
After several years of agony, denials, and disingenuous statements, Senator John Ensign has announced he will resign from the Senate on May 3. According to Jon Ralston, who follows Nevada politics for the Las Vegas Sun, the Senate Ethics Committee was about to launch a full-scale investigation into Ensign’s activities, which investigation will be forestalled by Ensign’s resignation.
As we’ve said before in this column, Ensign’s resignation is long overdue. He can insist that he’s violated no ethical standards until he’s blue in the face, but the facts speak for themselves – the married Senator had an affair with a staffer who was married to another staffer. When the affair came to light, he dismissed both of them and his parents gave the couple $96,000 dollars as a “gift,” after which the husband took a lobbying job that Ensign got him, ignoring the requirement that Congressional staffers cannot take a lobbying position for a year after leaving their post and cannot in any case lobby the person they worked for, both of which he did.
Ensign may be right that he broke no laws, but he did violate the trust of the Nevadans who voted him into office and all of Nevada which he was supposed to be representing. He is also arguably a hypocrite given his public statements on family values and his membership in the Family, an ostensibly Christian organization.
Oh, better that his shattered bulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
His thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be his grave;
Now the fun begins. In a game of Nevada GOP dominoes, Governor Sandoval will almost certainly appoint his friend and ally Rep. Dean Heller to Ensign’s seat. Heller has already announced for election to the seat in 2012, and being a sitting (albeit appointed) senator should give him a leg up on his only announced opponent, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas. A number of people including the perennial Sharron Angle have already announced they will run for Heller’s district (which includes Incline), and it will be up to the Governor to call a special election once he appoints Heller; naturally, whoever wins this special election will have an advantage in the race for that seat in 2012.
How far the dominoes will fall beyond that is hard to predict and depends on how many people who already hold office decide to enter the fray, but what is predictable is that there will be a circus to rival the 2010 Senate race and that we will see the national media struggling with the Nev-a-da/Nev-ah-da quandary. It will be interesting to see how much damage Angle did to herself in the 2010 race and how much of her supposed support in that race was really anti-Reid efforts that will not necessarily stick to her when she runs against other (rational) Republicans. For me as a Democrat, I’d love to see Angle run against almost anyone.
A lot depends on Secretary of State Ross Miller. The procedure for filling Heller’s seat is unclear and it will be up to Miller to decide how it will go. The most likely possibilities include either appointment of candidates by party caucuses or open primaries. If Heller is appointed and Miller decides that the primary is open, the large number of Republican candidates who have already announced bids to replace Heller could divide the party vote. Angle and former Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold have already launched campaigns. State Sen. Greg Brower told Jon Ralston Friday that he would enter a special election . State GOP Chairman Mark Amodei and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki are also mulling bids. It’s hard to imagine that a party caucus would nominate Angle – they would probably favor party insiders Amodei and Krolicki – but an open primary sounds like a lot of fun.
At any rate, this off-year just got considerably more interesting in Nevada.

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