Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 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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