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September 25, 2016

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Forget Congress, John Oceguera can call himself a lobbyist now

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AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Lobbyist Carole Vilardo talks with Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, late Monday night, June 6, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City as lawmakers approached the final hours of the session.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Hugh Jackson sent me a funny note after he and his co-host, Elizabeth Crum, interviewed Assembly Speaker John Oceguera on their KSNV Channel 3 TV show, “The Agenda.”

“Nov. 7: Mining lobbyist John Oceguera.”

The joke is that following two TV interviews this week, Oceguera’s campaign for Congress against Republican Rep. Joe Heck is all but finished. So, with his political career done, Oceguera will take his rightful place among the influence peddlers of Carson City, making half-truth arguments to clueless legislators on behalf of monied interests.

The gold mining industry will throw him a bone, as will the trial lawyers following his long defense of their hefty hourly fees in construction defect cases. If he’s really saving up for a San Diego vacation home, maybe he’ll slum it and sign up the payday lenders or a towing company. And, following his golden ladder retirement from the North Las Vegas Fire Department, Oceguera will probably do some pro bono work for the firefighters union.

About those TV interviews, which have become instantly infamous:

Oceguera first appeared on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” and refused to take a position on any of the important federal issues, including the foreclosure crisis, Obamacare or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus.

Instead, he stuck to rote talking points spat out of some dim robot at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Worst of all, he couldn’t even deliver them properly. They were so derivative he sounded like a guy on a karaoke machine doing an impression of a guy on a karaoke machine singing a song by a Bon Jovi cover band.

Since Oceguera can’t or won’t defend the key legislation of his own party, here’s a quick primer. When President Barack Obama came into office in January 2009, the economy was in free-fall and economists across the spectrum recommended forceful action. The passage and implementation of the stimulus prevented a more severe downturn, according to many private economists, such as Mark Zandi, who was an economic adviser to the campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain.

As for health care, we have the most expensive and some of the least effective in the industrialized world, with costs far outpacing inflation and millions without access to care. So Democrats, who have been trying to solve the problem since President Harry Truman, tried again. The law tries to get everyone covered while reducing costs.

Instead of saying what he liked or didn’t like about these legislative responses, Oceguera told Jackson and Crum on “The Agenda”: “I’m trying to look forward. Everyone keeps trying to ask questions in the past.”

A totally lame dodge. The only way we’re going to know how you’re going to act in the future is if you answer questions about these fundamental issues.

There’s another reason Oceguera would like not to discuss the past. As Review-Journal columnist Glenn Cook reported recently, Oceguera paid some money so he could retire with a full pension early — at 43! — as a North Las Vegas firefighter last year. With accrued, unused sick time added to his benefits and salary, most of which he took even while the Legislature was in session because he said he worked both jobs at once, he made $452,516 in 2011, according to the website transparentnevada.com.

Oceguera told Ralston it was all “by the book.” Not a very high bar, and I suspect Republicans won’t care when they’re crafting the attack ads.

I get the sense that Oceguera believed his success in Carson City meant he could slide right into this federal race and give the equivalent of CliffsNotes answers. (Um, Ahab, is, like, a tragic hero.)

What he should have realized is that success in Carson City signifies nothing, other than perhaps a character defect.

In obvious damage control mode Wednesday, Oceguera sent out an email with the subject line, “What I stand for.”

He should have answered: “Wealthy lobbying clients.”

Or just left it blank.

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