Las Vegas Sun

September 27, 2022

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Political rift could hurt state’s Yucca fight

Nevada politicians pride themselves on shelving partisan ideals for the greater good of the Yucca Mountain battle.

But Democrats have hiked anti-Republican rhetoric in recent weeks not just to shine light on the state's fight but to sow seeds of blame destined to sprout just before Election Day.

Political leaders claim there is nothing harmful about Democrats and Republicans talking differently, but some suggest the discourse could create a rift in Nevada's Yucca Mountain fight.

"In a body like the Senate, it helps to have both senators saying the same thing," said Tim Fackler, a UNLV political science professor who specializes in American politics and campaigns. "The individual differences are usually aired within the borders of Nevada itself, but if that seeps into Washington, that could be a problem."

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., hasn't been shy about slamming the Republican president on national television even as he discusses his friendship and working relationship with Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

Last week Reid upped the political ante by filing a friend of the court brief to a General Accounting Office lawsuit against the White House seeking disclosure of information related to creation of the Bush administration's energy policy.

With key Yucca Mountain decisions made during a Republican administration and with proponents of the project donating to local Republican congressional races, Democrats say the issue will dominate the campaigns by the time voters go to the polls in November.

"It will absolutely be a campaign issue for the congressional races, and I also think it will be an issue in some of the state Senate races," Nevada's Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said. "We'll definitely point out candidates' ties to the nuclear industry or to proponents of the project."

The difference between the parties was clearest immediately after Bush on Feb. 15 approved Yucca Mountain to be the nation's nuclear waste repository. Democrats attacked Bush while Republicans said they were "disappointed" or felt Bush had been misled.

"President Bush is a liar," Reid, the Senate's Assistant Majority Leader, said. "He betrayed Nevada and he betrayed the country."

"All Americans should be concerned, not just because he lied to me or the people of Nevada and indeed all Americans, but because the president's decision threatens Americans' lives," Reid added.

Republicans like U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons say they take no offense to remarks against their party's national leader and don't see Reid's lawsuit as anything other than support for Nevada's cause.

"I support that concept of the lawsuit," Gibbons said. "It's not Republicans versus Democrats, it's Nevada against the other 49 states."

But Lisa Gue, a policy analyst with non-partisan consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said the Democrats have taken the lead -- at least in Washington -- fighting Yucca Mountain.

"The Bush administration's attachment to energy industries is not helpful to the Yucca Mountain fight," Gue said. "In as much as this administration proposes construction of new nuclear power plants, it is an implicit endorsement of Yucca Mountain."

The Democrats are driving that point home to voters on a daily basis. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., called Bush's decision a "broken promise" and Democratic congressional candidate Dario Herrera has been attacking the administration and House Republicans at every opportunity.

"It's a great issue for us and we're going to keep it up," said Mark Nevins, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington.

Nevada's Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, who met Bush at the White House just days before the president's decision, said he was "dismayed" by Bush's actions, but is not upset by the Democrats' harsh words.

"This is not about Republicans or Democrats," Guinn said. "This is about Nevadans.

"It isn't politics," he added. "It's the health and safety of every resident at stake."

Reid said Republicans such as Guinn and Ensign, "didn't care what I said."

"I never apologize to anyone when I disagree with the president," Reid added.

Reid also said he does not think his remarks about Bush or his decision to join the GAO lawsuit against the White House will affect his relationship with Ensign.

Ensign did not return numerous calls for comment.

"I told the president what I was going to do," Reid said about his remarks. "It was no surprise to him."

Berkley said she didn't see much difference in her statement and the ones the Republicans made after the president's decision.

"I think we're all coming from the same page," Berkley said. "The Nevada delegation speaks with one voice when it comes to Yucca Mountain and I believe that we will continue to work ... in a united fashion."

Even as she says that, Berkley and Herrera join in a common refrain assaulting Republican House leaders and touting Democratic House leadership as friends of Nevada.

"The reality is the House Republicans are rabidly pro-Yucca Mountain," Berkley said. "No amount of rhetoric will change that."

Jon Porter, the Republican vying with Herrera to represent Nevada's 3rd Congressional District, said it's time to put talk like that aside.

"Now more than ever, with Senator Reid in such a strong leadership position in the Senate, we need to work together," Porter said. "Now more than ever we need to be unified and put this strong rhetoric aside."