Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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In wake of Limbaugh flap, a look at some notable gaffes by Nevada politicos

Nevada political figures have a history of foot-in-mouth disease, as well

Rush Limbaugh stirred controversy last week by calling a female law student a “slut” for her testimony before Congress on contraception and health insurance. Sen. Harry Reid shot back this week, saying the conservative radio talk show host’s remarks were “embarrassing for our country.”

Limbaugh has apologized. Yet the episode is a reminder that figures in the political arena have a tendency to open mouth, insert foot and repeat. What follows are some of the more notable verbal gaffes by Nevada political figures.

    • The ladies man

      In the throes of scandal — having admitted to carrying on an extramarital affair with a staffer whose husband was his best friend and co-chief of staff — Sen. John Ensign made a cautious foray into the public. He chose a meeting of Republican women at Palace Station. It was summer 2009.

      “I want to first acknowledge my lovely bride. My wife, Darlene, is here. Anybody who does this job knows that, without a very supportive spouse, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish the things we were able to accomplish, especially when I go to Washington,” he told the group before adding: “I want to share a few thoughts with you tonight. It’s always great, though, to be among such, um, well, beautiful women.

      “Gorgeous room here tonight, I know that. But also pretty, energetic women. We’re going to need that energy together.”


    • ‘That’s going to cost you a bottle of wine’

      In the final hours of the 2011 Legislature, a bill being pushed by NV Energy was the focus of intense lobbying and unusual maneuvering. Ultimately, lawmakers — some of whom later admitted they had no idea what was in the legislation — passed a bill without public hearings to vet all of its provisions. Among the amendments: a $1 billion power transmission line to be paid for by customers.

      State Sen. Michael Schneider, who had called his committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy to order at the back of the Senate floor to help ramrod the bill through, joked with a lobbyist for NV Energy. “That’s going to cost you a bottle of wine,” he said within earshot of a reporter.

    • Smell you later

      When the Capitol Visitors Center opened in Washington, D.C., it was way over budget and way behind schedule. The grand opening occurred in December 2008, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the crowd that the investment of time and money to build the center would pay off come summer.

      “My staff tells me not to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway,” Reid said. “In the summer because of the heat and high humidity, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol. It may be descriptive, but it’s true.”

      In this case, he probably should have listened to his staff.

    • A double gaffe

      Then-Rep. Jim Gibbons was mulling a run for governor in 2005, when he traveled to the conservative stronghold of Elko to address the Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner. He was, or so he thought, in the friendly confines.

      “I say we tell those liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and their music and whine somewhere else,” Gibbons told the crowd. He then added that it was “too damn bad we didn’t buy them a ticket” to become human shields in Iraq.

      The remarks themselves — and the idea that anyone opposed to the war should be pulverized — registered on the gaffe-o-meter. But Gibbons buried the needle when it was revealed that he had stolen his gaffe from Alabama State Auditor Beth Chapman, who had delivered it two years earlier.

      A year later, Gibbons was governor.

    • Gin and a thumb-guillotine

      Mayor Oscar Goodman’s reflex was to shock and then laugh and raise a glass. So it had to get pretty outrageous before one of his utterances rose to the level of a gaffe, but it happened twice during 2005:

      Talking to a classroom of fourth-graders at Mackey Elementary, Goodman was asked what he would want if stranded on a desert island. He told the class he’d want a bottle of gin. He doubled down moments later, telling the children that his hobby was drinking alcohol.

      Parents — content for a few years to pass before their 10-year-olds started imbibing — were less than thrilled.

      Goodman told the Sun afterward: “I’m the George Washington of mayors. I can’t tell a lie. If they didn’t want the answer, the kid shouldn’t have asked the question. It’s me, what can I do?”

      Later that year, Goodman proposed this punishment for individuals who deface property with graffiti: “These punks come along and deface (property). I’m saying maybe you put them on TV and cut off a thumb. … That may be the right thing to do.”

    • Hispanic or Asian?

      Sharron Angle was challenging Harry Reid in the 2010 Senate race. Her campaign was taking heat for its portrayal of Hispanics, including ads featuring sinister-looking men next to a border fence. Angle went to Rancho High to address the school’s Hispanic Student Union. There she told the students:

      “So that’s what we want is a secure and sovereign nation and, you know, I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don’t know that. What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I’m evidence of that. I’ve been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly.”

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