Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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jon ralston:

Substance in this cycle of rhetoric

In this Season of Firsts in Nevada, with records being set no one wanted to see, the real uncharted political territory is this: For decades, Nevada has had a couple of months between the primary and the general; this year, the season is 2 1/2 times as long.

And there has been no respite in the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate, highest percentage of voters who think their state is going in the wrong direction (80 percent-plus) and highest number of bad chicken jokes and painful angle puns. Yes, the records keep on coming, including the first governor ever to lose in a primary and the first time (perhaps anywhere) all three of the state’s top officials have upside-down approval/disapproval ratings (Harry Reid, John Ensign, Jim Gibbons).

Maybe Lee Greenwood can do a new one: “I’m proud to be a Nevadan.”

And new this cycle is the elongation of time, which seems less likely to heal any primary wounds than cause them to fester and allow new ones to form. Instead of a summer vacation, the two major campaigns — or at least half of them — have, with a whine more annoying than the wail of vuvuzelas, been pounding reporters with the same excruciating messages.

By now, every reporter in the state, and much of the public, perhaps, is acutely aware that GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle, presumably heavily armed, wants to storm the houses of every senior in the state demanding they hand over their Social Security and Medicare or face “Second Amendment remedies.” Or something like that, Harry Reid’s campaign has told us — incessantly, in fact.

Meanwhile, the fortnight following the primary has enabled most everyone to discover that Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Sandoval has been rendered mute by an experimental operation known as the “Shut Up and Coast if You Have a Big Lead” procedure, although he apparently has a secret plan to fire all the teachers in the state. Or something like that, Reid the Younger’s campaign has been telling us — repeatedly, in fact.

I am blinded by the illumination at work here, folks. And 130 days to go, still more than twice any general election campaign anyone here has seen.

So let the debates begin — or not. Reid the Elder will be about as reluctant to sit down with Angle as Silent Sandoval is to break bread with Railing Rory. My guess is both the senator and the former judge will agree to three debates, with the formats as restrictive as possible, to ensure minimal damage.

It will be interesting to see in the Angle-Reid race which contender actually is more recalcitrant about debates. Either is capable of saying anything at any time.

But I am actually much more interested in the Reid-Sandoval debates because, as I have previously ranted, the state’s future will be much more affected by who is the next governor than who is the next U.S. senator — at least in the short term. That’s because of another record, one few have focused on and one which that be pushed to the forefront of the discussion during the next four-plus months: The unprecedented $3 billion deficit.

So far, not surprisingly, Sandoval can’t imagine any possible scenario, thanks to a commitment made during a withering interview with first lady Dawn Gibbons, in which he would consider raising taxes. And Reid the Younger, the man with the plan but no explicit figures, has been almost equally Bush 41-like in his read-my-lipping.

As I am hardly the first to point out, both are, not to put too fine a point on it, lying. This, of course, is not unprecedented in a campaign. But at this point in the state’s history, it could be devastating unless both present detailed plans of how they are going to cut half of the state’s budget, a figure Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley pointed out this week has yet to really grab people.

“What this could potentially mean is huge cuts,” Buckley said Monday on “Face to Face.” “Higher ed got cut 20 percent (last time). What would they do with a 50 percent cut? Lower ed ... is funded at 47th in the country ... We will have a crisis on our hands and people will be learning about it shortly.”

Or they won’t.

“Let’s just talk the truth here for a minute,” Buckley added. “Neither candidate sees (his) path to (election) talking about the revenue. So they’re both going to ignore it.”

Or will they?

Maybe there will be another record in this Season of Firsts: The first time a substantive conversation takes place.

Thanks to the new, longer campaign season, there’s certainly plenty of time.

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