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Thursday, July 15, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Backstory: Nader and nadirs

By Michael Green

The past week offered several events with good and bad signs for Nevada:

• Ralph Nader supporters deposited signatures with the secretary of state's office in hopes of getting him on the November ballot. One of his big backers, it turns out, is Steve Wark, once Pat Robertson's local acolyte and now a top Republican consultant. At least Wark is honest about wanting to help his party, and he's hardly the first on either side to engage in such shenanigans.

When Howard Dean, famed for overheated and overrated screams, pointed out that many of his petitioners around the country are Republicans who oppose everything Nader has stood for, Nader called his comments "a desperate attempt to smear our campaign." No, Nader did that himself.

In 2000, Nader didn't affect the outcome here, but he did elsewhere. Despite that, he never deserved blame for the national result. Without him, Al Gore would have carried several other states and won the White House without Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris mounting a coup in Florida. And despite its success--he won, remember--Gore's campaign was a textbook example of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But if Gore had won Nevada, where voters fell for George W. Bush's lies about nuclear waste (and everything else), Florida and the other states wouldn't have mattered.

If he makes the ballot, Nader won't be alone, here or elsewhere. Most third-party candidates run because they correctly believe the two parties don't stand for their views--Greens on several progressive causes, Libertarians on government power and related matters, George Wallace in 1968 because the other parties considered African-Americans human, Ross Perot in the 1990s on the lack of Martians in government.

But Perot's old party endorsed Nader. How can he affiliate with them if he claims intellectual and financial integrity? How can he think aligning with them and helping Bush contributes to his causes? Because he really is what Democrats accused him of being: a one-time consumer advocate and admirable public servant whose megalomania has destroyed his principles.

Since Nevada is a battleground state and independent voters could affect the result, Nader could matter. But Bush inspires such devotion or hatred that the winner is likely to have a large enough margin to leave no doubt, at least in Nevada. Now, as for Florida...

• When Nader loved the environment, he would have found Yucca Mountain horrifying. It remains popular with most politicians, especially Bush and other sound scientists, but Nevada just received two bits of good news.

A federal court ruled that the feds must do better than claim the nuclear waste they want to put there will be safe for 10,000 years. Obviously, the judges are optimists. But so are Nevada Republicans. Attorney General Brian Sandoval was quick to say the dump is dead. He should hope so. The decision gives the GOP the chance to say it all worked out in the end and hope voters don't notice Bush's lies--and that Sandoval and other Bush lackeys (Gov. Kenny Guinn, Rep. Jim Gibbons and Sen. John Ensign) went along.

Meanwhile, another good sign was Kerry's selection of John Edwards as running mate. Edwards had voted for the dump, but said he would defer to Kerry. Nevada Republicans pooh-poohed that, which prompts two key points. One, when Republicans change their mind about making Nevada the nation's nuclear graveyard, it's in favor of it. Two, contrary to Bush's White House, in a Kerry administration the vice president's views wouldn't matter more than the president's. And as his policies demonstrate, Bush will ignore the law when it suits his purposes. If he can claim the right to torture, why not the right to rid 49 states of nuclear waste?

When the Yucca decision came down last week, its meaning was unclear at first. Actually, Nevada lost on most of what it argued. But the court ultimately saw through the claims of scientific care and caution. That gives Democrats another point to argue against Bush, too.

• State Controller Kathy Augustine may be impeached if she doesn't resign for using state employees to campaign for her re-election in 2002. Of course, Augustine has a history. Not only did she accuse one-time state Sen. Lori Lipman Brown of refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but state Sens. Bill Raggio (still aiding Reno at Las Vegas' expense), Ray Rawson (probably about to lose to the more dubious Bob Beers) and Sue Lowden (long since defeated) went along.

Granting that Brown once attacked a fellow Democrat's views without bothering to talk to him to find out what they were, playing politics and encouraging corruption are different. But Augustine's problems beg a question about democracy: Why do we elect someone to oversee state debt collections and accounting? It's like electing university regents: Shouldn't they demonstrate some knowledge of higher education before they try to run it?

More to the point, Augustine had the support of Republican leaders who should have figured out that something was wrong--some of the same leaders who follow Bush with looks usually seen only in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Can Democrats make something of that corruption, especially when questioned about their own--like Wendell Williams, whom Jim Rogers recently succeeded as chancellor of Nevada's higher education system?

You know politics is strange when Williams and Augustine end up looking more principled than Ralph Nader. It almost makes the idea of four more years of Bush look less scary...nah.


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