Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Of all the issues the Nevada Legislature will take up in 2013, Medicare, the health care program for seniors, isn’t one of them. That’s because it’s purely a federally run, federally funded system that state lawmakers have no control over.
But that hasn’t stopped Democrat-aligned groups from launching attacks on at least four Republican candidates for the Legislature, accusing them of wanting to end or cut Medicare.
Neither party holds a monopoly on factually challenged or intellectually dishonest attacks in the final days before a campaign. And indeed, Democrats say their candidates have been unfairly attacked for clients they never represented, things they never said and positions they never took.
But the Medicare attacks appear to be part of a coordinated effort — at least three candidates for the state Senate and one assemblyman in a competitive seat have been attacked on Medicare, often by mailers paid for by unions and political action committees, including the Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
State Republicans call the attacks “disingenuous and shameful,” adding that they insult the intelligence of Nevada voters.
“The folks doing these ads don’t think much of Nevada voters,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who has headed GOP campaign efforts to take control of the state Senate. “It’s a complete fabrication. They’re making stuff up out of whole cloth.”
Democrats have accused Republicans of wanting to cut Medicare for years — it’s known in political circles as “Medi-scare.” But the attack usually is reserved for federal races, where the candidates actually might get to vote on a bill that affects the program.
The latest attacks mirror a strategy by Democrats to use national issues against state-level candidates. In 2008, they used a similar tactic to defeat former Sen. Bob Beers and then-Sen. Joe Heck, now a congressman.
Wes Duncan, a Republican candidate for Assembly, said mailers in his district accuse him of wanting to end Medicare and give “tax breaks to millionaires,” another national Democratic attack line.
“I don’t have any power over Medicare,” he said in exasperation. “And apparently, I want to give tax breaks to millionaires, which is funny to me. I think voters are numb to it.”
Leaders of the SEIU and AFSCME in Nevada did not return calls for comment Friday. But Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, heading the caucus’ campaign efforts, said Medicare attacks are legitimate.
“What we’re trying to do is get people to understand what they’re thinking,” Denis said. “On these types of issues, that’s where their thoughts are.
“Their rhetoric is as empty as their hollow shell of a ground game.”
Denis said the positions come from statements the candidates made.
In the case of Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, opponents cherry-picked comments he made when he ran for Congress. Mari Nakashima St. Martin, as spokeswoman for the Nevada Republican Party, sent out a press release praising the Ryan budget.
But Steve Kirk, a former Henderson city councilman, has never come close to the Medicare issue. Mailers from the AFSCME accuse him of wanting to join the “team” that wants to “end Medicare” and attributing the position on Medicare to his “allies and donors.”
“We’re not going to pay $6,400 more per year,” the mailer reads above a picture of a stern elderly lady. “We’re voting against Steve Kirk.”
But vote for Kirk or not, it won’t change Medicare.