Sunday, May 08, 2011

Two Contrasting Political Cases

As was widely predicted, Governor Sandoval has appointed Dean Heller to the Senate seat vacated by the disgraced John Ensign. While the Nevada law on how to fill Heller’s House seat is notoriously vague in some ways, it clearly mandates a special election. Secretary of State Ross Miller has thrown that election open to all comers rather than having candidates selected by party caucuses, and as noted in an earlier column, we can expect a lively campaign between now and the special election in September, during which time the state’s Congressional delegation of two will be down to one, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas), who has already announced her intention to run against Heller for election to the Senate seat in 2012.
While Sandoval’s appointment of Heller was expected, it was not the only possible way to go. The Governor could, for example, have appointed a respected Nevadan to fill Ensign’s seat until the 2012 election – Bill Raggio comes to mind as someone who would have been an excellent choice. This would have left our Congressional representation intact, but would not have given Heller a leg up in the election, which I suspect was at least a part of the Republican Governor’s motivation for the appointment.
Appointing what is sometimes referred to as a “placeholder” would also have saved the State an estimated one million dollars that could be used, (and is desperately needed) for other purposes in these difficult economic times. At the same time Sandoval is cutting jobs and programs, he seems blithely oblivious to the possibilities of using this money more wisely. To bring it closer to home, the special election will cost Washoe County about $350,000, and we will pay for that one way or another.
Sandoval has not said much about his thinking in appointing Heller, and of course under state law he can do pretty much what he wants in filling the seat. Still, in the absence of anything from him to counter the widespread view that the purpose of his appointing Heller was political, I’m inclined to take that view – that the Governor who was elected on promises of fiscal accountability has put politics ahead of good financial judgment, and that it’s worth a million dollars of our money to him to have his pal and his party get an edge in an election they probably would have won anyhow.
On a more bi-partisan note, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has put ideology second and is making common cause with the Right, including and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn have joined forces with Tea Party activists in an attempt to kill six billion dollars a year in ethanol subsidies, taking on the corn lobby. Ethanol is made from corn and has been promoted by corn growers as an alternative to dependence on oil. It has also been blamed by environmentalists for contributing to algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico. Most importantly, corn used for ethanol production is corn that is not available to feed cattle, pigs, chickens, and other food sources which then have to be fed more expensively, raising food prices.
Feinstein and Coburn are garnering support from both sides of the political spectrum including the Tea Party Patriots group which noted on its Facebook page “When the Left and the Right agree…amazing things can happen.” Ethanol production accounts for 40 percent of the US corn crop and its value as a fuel is questionable given that fossil fuels are used both to grow corn and to refine it into ethanol and because ethanol yields less energy per gallon than gasoline. To add insult to injury, ethanol not only doesn’t save much energy overall, but may increase greenhouse gas emissions.
So we have two cases in point – a Governor who, for all his piety about cutting spending, is willing to spend much-needed money for political purposes, and two Senators who are willing to put partisan differences aside for the greater good. We can only hope that the latter is a harbinger of a more rational and intelligent political future.

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