Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007 | 1:16 a.m.
Just when you thought our future was secure.
I am going to date this column. It is Thursday and I have just finished watching the Democratic debate in Iowa. Since the polls tell us the race is tightening, the debates and then the early voting in Iowa and New Hampshire could prove quite interesting.
I have already declared my support for Sen. Hillary Clinton - she is not only a close friend but also a person I believe is ready and able to serve without any on-the-job training. And, as much as I believe that when the dust settles the senator from New York will be leading the Democratic charge to the White House, I know enough about politics to realize that anything can happen.
What I do know is that if Iowa and New Hampshire aren't decisive as to which of the Democratic candidates will be the nominee, that puts Nevada right in the middle of the bull's-eye of American politics. It is, at that point, highly likely that the outcome of the Nevada caucus will determine who the next president of the United States will be.
To be absolutely fair and balanced - that would make me the only one - the Republican caucus in Nevada will probably tell us nothing. As will the earlier votes. It is more likely that my Republican colleagues will drag their decision out quite a bit longer, mostly because consensus this year is darned near impossible.
That leads me to the other thing I did Thursday that relates very much to this presidential race and, even more so, to the healthy physical, mental and economic future of Las Vegas. I read the newspaper.
I understand that reading may become a lost art in America - another reason why education must be a top priority for the next president and not just a campaign slogan - but it is a habit I picked up as a youngster and find hard to break. It is also how I learn what is going on in my community, in my country and around the world.
One subject I haven't read much about lately is the federal government's long-term plan to bury the nation's high-level nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, which is just 90 miles from the population center in Las Vegas. I haven't read very much simply because there hasn't been that much.
For a good while, Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Harry Reid, with an assist from the rest of the Nevada congressional delegation, has used his persuasive abilities and his position as majority leader of the U.S. Senate to thwart at every turn the nuclear power industry's plan to bury its problems in our desert. That is no small undertaking.
Harry has gone up against every monied interest in Washington and, so far, has defeated their efforts to jam the dump down our throats. What was a virtual certainty when President George W. Bush chose Yucca Mountain as the place to dump the nation's nuke garbage - in the face of scientific evidence showing it was one of the worst and most dangerous places to do so - quickly became an underdog effort once Harry Reid got on the case.
In short, if there were a Superman fighting nuclear waste and the devastation that could result from it in the world's entertainment capital, Sen. Reid would be wearing that cape. As an aside, what is most incredible to me is that the newspaper the Sun is delivered with and certain Republican leaders in this state are doing all they can to persuade the voters to "unelect" Harry the next time out. Do they think Nevadans are that stupid?
But I digress. The newspaper stories this past Thursday made clear that the government's efforts to dump on Nevada have not slowed down. The effort by the Energy Department to move toward licensing next year got a boost when a judicial tribunal ruled the process can move forward.
It was a tactical loss for Nevada, to be sure, and more important, it brought home the need to continue to press our fight against what Clark County's studies have shown could be economically devastating for our community. Forget our health. What about our money?! Think about no jobs, no home values, no business values ... actually, no business!
So why talk about these two subjects today?
Because they are related. If you step back and try to look at this presidential race in simple terms, I suggest you look at the candidates' positions on Yucca Mountain, because that will tell you almost all of what you need to know.
The three top Democratic candidates all profess to oppose Yucca Mountain - especially when they are campaigning in Nevada, an effort made easier when most of the world now realizes how dangerous and foolish it would be to dump high-level waste in Yucca Mountain.
But what did they do when it came time to stand up and be counted on a critical vote on Yucca Mountain's future in 2002? Did they side with President Bush, who promised Nevada he would not dump on us but did it anyway? Or, did they take the side of Nevadans who needed their help more than ever before?
Hillary Clinton, who has nuclear power plants in her own state, was under significant pressure to screw Nevada - as Congress did in 1987 when it singled out Nevada as the only state to be considered for a nuclear waste dump - but she didn't. She was on our side in 2002 when we needed her and voted with us, and she is on our side now.
What about John Edwards, who also has power plants in his home state and was under similar pressure from the nuclear power industry when he was a U.S. senator? He caved. He wasn't running for president back then so he couldn't have cared less about us out here. He voted with President Bush.
As for Sen. Barack Obama, the record is less clear. He is from a state covered with nuke power plants and would, therefore, be under the kind of pressure that made his Illinois colleagues vote to cover their own behinds at the expense of ours out here in the Silver State, but he was not in the Senate at the time. He is free to say whatever he wants and hope Nevadans believe him.
As for me, I am going with the person who exhibited political courage and scientific understanding. When the chips were down she voted with Nevada's families. There is honor in her position. There is courage in her vote. And there is one more irrefutable reason why Nevadans should be prepared to tell the country where we stand and with whom we stand for president.
To think about doing anything else is to think what this state and our tourism industry will look like when the first high-level nuke accident happens on Interstate 15.
That event, unlike the presidential outcome, is a certainty.