Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 | 2 a.m.
I went to see Ruben Kihuen kick off his congressional campaign Tuesday at Rancho High School with low expectations. And he failed to meet them.
Kihuen, 31, has an inspiring personal history: The child of working-class parents, he immigrated here from Mexico as a young child.
He’s a skilled retail politician. He served two terms in the state Assembly before winning a state Senate seat in 2010. He knows Hispanic neighborhoods, understands grass-roots organizing and obviously loves being around his constituents.
But there’s almost no substance.
His thin legislative record has already been noted, and Tuesday he offered virtually nothing on policy issues.
In this fraught moment, when Nevada faces the worst crisis of its young history, Kihuen told a few hundred supporters — many of them high school kids — that he’d go to Washington and defend Medicare and Social Security and support veterans, though he said nothing substantive about those issues.
Which had me wondering: Will he protect motherhood and baseball? And what about the all-important apple pie issue?
Not to worry though: He’ll listen to his constituents and care about them.
He told my colleague Jon Ralston recently on “Face to Face” that people don’t care about legislation: “What people are concerned about is somebody that cares about them.”
I doubt it. I’m pretty sure they’re concerned about losing their jobs, their health insurance and their homes.
I struggled to understand Kihuen’s rationale for running until I realized that he seems to think the very fact of his being on the ballot is supposed to constitute the logic of his candidacy. To show the American dream is still alive, you must elect the immigrant child who grew up in poverty.
So like former President Bill Clinton, he’s running on empathy, and like President Barack Obama, he’s running on the strength of his own narrative as a kind of national morality play.
Fine, but let’s remember that those two men — agree with them or not — can talk your ear off about the most obscure public policy for hours, and enjoy it. Kihuen shows no such aptitude or interest.
The most irritating moment of his speech for me was when he noted our failing education system in Southern Nevada, with a dropout rate of 50 percent or more.
Then Kihuen said he would go to Washington and make sure Nevadans have great schools.
Huh? If you want to do something about our schools, then Washington isn’t the place. Stay here and do something about them. Become a teacher or principal or go back to Carson City and work on reforms.
On this point, I don’t mean to single out Kihuen. I find it depressing that our most promising Democratic elected officials and candidates, including Kihuen, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Leader John Oceguera, are in such a rush to go to Washington. Having already been there, I suppose former Rep. Dina Titus has more of a claim to finishing unfinished business, but this applies to her, as well.
To all of them, I ask: What is it you can accomplish there? Members of Congress vote on stuff, send out news releases, find lost Social Security checks and raise money. Every available hour they’re in a boiler room asking someone for money for the next campaign.
Of course it matters which party is in the majority. But a clever canine could do the job.
Meanwhile, back in Nevada, our schools, health care system and economy are all failing in one way or another. We’re a failed state. And it has very little to do with Washington.
This is why I always thought Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election was overhyped. He can’t solve our problems from Washington, especially given the current gridlock. And neither will Kihuen if he becomes a Beltway backbencher.
Nevada’s problems must be solved in Nevada, so maybe these congressional candidates should think about sticking around and helping us solve them.
CORRECTION: John Oceguera's title was changed from majority leader to Assembly speaker. | (September 29, 2011)