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July 5, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

When politicians and partisans exploit

In stark contrast (I hope) to the thumbsucking and fulminating about the horrific events in Aurora, Colo., I prefer to spend today on a much less tragic incident last week, but one that has sparked similarly offensive and embarrassing behavior from politicians and partisans.

I speak of the closure of Amonix, that solar plant in North Las Vegas, a shuttering that was inevitable after mass layoffs were reported in January. In the fire-first/think-later culture that characterizes the unremitting nature of modern American politics — thank you, Internet — national Republicans reached for their Solyndra files while Democrats searched for ways to change the subject.

What happened in the aftermath of the plant’s closing illuminated much that is wrong with the political world, especially the reflexive partisanship. But it also reinforced just how afraid so many Democrats are to stand up for what they believe in because what they believe in is not so popular, whether they have lost the messaging war or the policy arguments.

Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign was the first to froth, sending out a release headlined, “NV Company Proof of Failed Stimulus Spending.” Forget that Team Heller knows no such thing, or had any knowledge of why the company failed. But it was a chance to say this was “yet another account of how Shelley Berkley’s stimulus ...”


Step back for a moment. Heller & the GOP chorus (national Republicans were quick to jump on the company’s failure, too) likely knew nothing about whether the $5.9 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery funds had been used. But Amonix was simply a piece of a poll-tested mosaic, with various pieces melded together to use as a rhetorical weapon against Democrats.

The Berkley campaign reacted swiftly — and just as politically — with a release blaring: “SHAME ON DEAN HELLER — A Gleeful Heller Tries to Score Political Points As Hundreds of Nevadans Lose Their Jobs at Amonix.”

Not sure how you discern glee from a news release, nor do I know how Team Berkley knew Heller actually was “rooting for failure.” But even if you think Heller asked for it, I missed the line in that news release where Berkley defended her vote for the stimulus.

Indeed, getting any Democrat to defend the stimulus is more difficult than getting a Michigan fan to cheer for Ohio State. Berkley is far from alone — in recent months, congressional contenders John Oceguera and Steven Horsford have done everything not to be captured on “Face to Face” saying they would have voted for the stimulus. Last Thursday, I asked Horsford, without success, no fewer than five times whether he would have voted for it.

Yes, I know the stimulus is unpopular. But if Democrats won’t stand up for the two signature achievements of the Obama years — the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act — simply because they do not poll well, what are we to believe? The usual nod and a wink that they are only playing the political game, but Democrats can count on them if they voted for them?

Berkley’s release did have the best line of any of the reactions: “It’s time for Heller to put Nevada first by joining Shelley Berkley and Republican Governor Sandoval to find solutions that put people back to work. “

Clever. And shameless.

The GOP governor, to his credit, did not back away from his longtime support of the stimulus-funded project — then again, it would have been tough with all those pictures of him at the Amonix groundbreaking. “The governor supported a company which was expanding to Nevada and creating jobs in a targeted economic development sector, which is a priority for him,” his spokeswoman said.

Sandoval has suffered criticism from the right, especially from the Nevada Policy Research Institute, for relying on solar energy as a centerpiece of his economic development efforts. NPRI has said government should not pick “winners and losers” through subsidies.

In essence, the state led by a Republican is pursuing the same theory that the federal government led by a Democrat did.

The problem is Democrats want to tout “clean energy,” it often seems, not for whatever salutary benefits the more expensive technology might provide, but so they can tar Republicans as being handmaidens of BIG OIL (no type face too large). Republicans, too often, are more interested in deflecting any public policy questions on solar or wind or geothermal because they don’t want to cede any ground to the opposition.

It seems only fitting that after all the nonsense that Politico revealed that the original federal grants to Amonix came from the Bush Administration. I have no hope that this revelation will shut anyone up.

So I end with a plaintive plea, one that surely will be ignored by politicians and partisans just as the admonition usually is treated by children: Think before you speak.

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  1. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that Green Energy grants(American Reinvestment and Recovery) funds are for the sole purpose of temporary job creation and little else. . . from our congress officials that made sending Americas manufacturing base overseas possible? The very same congress critters that have spent/sent the U.S. economy into 2nd place behind China who's GDP is now higher than the U.S.A. since 2010(Penn State study) With U.S. debt/borrowing and Americas manufacturing base nearly destroyed one would think our elected congress would act to do more than short term Green Energy temporary jobs projects by foolishly throwing tax dollars we do not have away on pie in the sky ideas. . .

  2. Re Future. You are correct in your assessment of the issue. However, I would submit that the government, no matter who's in charge, must continue to invest in green energy concepts. Some will lose, and eventually, some will win.

  3. This is a noteworthy example of "reflexive partisanship." The information from Politico that the original federal grants came from the Bush administration reflects Jon's typical coverage of the complexity of the story.

    I, too, wish the Democrats would defend the stimulus and the ACA. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm going to email some "positive communication" ideas to Shelley Berkley.

    I have to say that the Democrats are no match for the tall tales that are spun by GOP politicians and operatives.

  4. Jon Ralston in my humble opinion is the best political journalist in Nevada today. And he is generally fair. But I have to take some real issues with him on this column and other recent columns.

    1. There is justification in his criticism that some Democrats are not defending ObamaCare and the stimulus. But isn't the corporate press and even the family newspaper he works for at least partially responsible by not fully reporting what these measures do?

    2. For example how many people know that the mandated health care care version of President Barack Obama's ObamaCare was a Republican idea first developed by the Heritage foundation as an alternative to HillaryCare in 1993? And this was sponsored in Congress by then Sen. Robert Dole, Newt Gingrich and still Sen. Orrin Hatch?

    3. How many people know that we were losing nearly 800,000 jobs a month in the month Obama came to office and now we are creating 85,000 to 245,000 jobs a month. Up to a million jobs a month turnaround.

    4. How many people know Gov. Mitt Romney wants to return to the failed policies of George W. Bush?

    5. How many knew in 2000 George II was a failed business Schlemiel who had four oil companies and ran each into the ground?

    6. Why is the Las Vegas Sun not reporting that larger than life billionaire Sheldon Adelson is under investigation by the US Justice Department and the the Security and Exchange Commission?

    7. Is the Las Vegas Sun afraid of Adelson? Or is Brian Greenspun, owner, publisher and editor afraid it will create a split in the Jewish community? Ray A. Cohn, retired political investigative journalist.

  5. After following your journalism for well over a decade now Jon Ralston - I often ask myself the "WWJRD" question: What Would Jon Ralston Do?

    My answer: Think; Fact-Check; Think; Draft; Think; Corroborate; Think; Re-Write; Think; Double-Fact-Check; Think; Speak/Publish - LOL!

    Thanks for your keeping partisans like me from becoming extreme-partisans (that add little if anything to the public discourse) - I'm becoming somewhat more cynical, but still trying to avoid becoming jaded and extremely partisan!

    It's hard to not be emotional when, for example, hypocrites like Heck and Heller are voting against veterans (and going after Berkley for saving a kidney center and getting the new V.A. Medical Center we so desperately needed)!