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Recall campaign propaganda is false, hypocritical and dangerous

Jon Ralston
Jon Ralston

If a lawmaker promised not to raise taxes and then pushed through the largest one in history, that might be grounds for a recall.

If a lawmaker took a job with a lobbying firm that has three dozen clients covering a wide spectrum of interests he has to vote on, that might be grounds for a recall.

If a lawmaker held onto a six-figure, taxpayer-funded sinecure at an institution overseen by the Legislature, that might be grounds for a recall.

I say might be because those are all fairly egregious actions by elected officials, and many voters might well sign petitions to recall them. I happen to think recalls based on those facts would be an abuse of the recall process, which should be reserved for blatant malfeasance or unethical behavior.

But each of the legislators described above -- GOP state Sens. Michael Roberson, Ben Kieckhefer and Heidi Gansert -- are more worthy of recall petitions than the lawmakers that partisan trio and their supporters are going after in an attempt to overturn the results of past elections.

I was reminded of this ongoing travesty, concomitant cowardice and sad hypocrisy as a new mail piece surfaced in the effort overseen by one or more attorneys at GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison’s law firm. The mailer is not only redolent with distortions, but it also is synecdoche for Roberson & Co’s. overall 2018 plan to scare white voters with visions of marauding undocumented residents threatening their very lives -- and defeat the Democrats who would enable them.

If the recalls succeed, it will be a sad precedent that surely will cause Democrats to dismount their high horses and redirect their high dudgeon to employ the same noxious tactic. There but for the grace of timing goes your recall.

If the strategy prevails to drive up the white vote by using “sanctuary cities” and “criminal aliens” the same way Donald Trump did in 2016, to dog-whistle to racist ears with execrable tactics and thus elect The Three Amigos (Roberson for lieutenant governor, Adam Laxalt for governor and Dean Heller for Senate) in a GOP wave, Nevada will have sunk to a new nadir.

As I have pointed out, the only reason these recall petitions against state Sens. Joyce Woodhouse, Patty Farley and Nicole Cannizzaro have been filed is because the 2018 map is so unfavorable to the GOP Senate caucus. That is, they cannot take control of a house the Democrats hold, 12-9, without using this (or some other) outrageous ploy, so hypocritical mail pieces flood those three districts. They are but rhetorical masks designed to confuse, frighten or anger voters.

Let’s take the latest mailer against Cannizzaro.

First, Roberson & Co. telegraph their unseriousness by including a picture of the senator in a baseball cap. (Psst, she’s frivolous.) Really?

Second, they raise an issue about her husband being a lobbyist (for labor), which repeats a campaign attack from 2016 that did not work. This also is laughable because her husband is virtually unknown as an advocate while Kieckhefer works for one of the state’s most influential lobbying firms (McDonald Carano), Gansert is employed by UNR and Roberson’s Carson City office is a sanctuary for Las Vegas Sands lobbyists. Now those are some eyebrow-raising conflicts.

Third, the piece appeals to voters who Roberson & Co. evidently consider to be morons by telling them the Constitution “gives citizens the right to remove elected officials for any reason.” Indeed, recalls in Nevada do not have a malfeasance test (they should). But this argument that “just because it’s constitutional, it is right” is misleading and mendacious. It’s also perfectly legal for a lawmaker to be employed by a lobbying firm or a university (although this has yet to be adjudicated), but does that make it kosher?

Fourth, the piece cherry picks one bill to accuse Cannizzaro, known as a tough prosecutor, to be soft on crime, and then this: “When her liberal colleagues proposed legislation to create sanctuary cities for criminal aliens, Cannizzaro failed to join law enforcement in publicly opposing this dangerous legislation.”

There is so much wrong with that beyond the obvious attempt to sensationalize “sanctuary cities,” which the Department of Justice and Gov. Brian Sandoval have said is a non-issue in Nevada.

Roberson & Co. were hamstrung because Cannizzaro did not sign onto the measure, which never got a hearing after future attorney general hopeful Aaron Ford, the Senate Democratic leader, killed it, even though it did not do what the Republicans said it did. So the GOP Three can now only accuse her of not loudly bleating about it the way Roberson (no other lawmaker engaged in hysterics) on an almost daily basis as part of his session-long campaign to make people forget he acted like a tax-happy Democrat in 2015.

What’s more, the history cited in the mailer is false: Law enforcement repeatedly said officers routinely, as a matter of policy, were not used by ICE to find undocumented residents; they simply worried about the feds using the proposed law to cut off millions in funding. Period.

The description also is incendiary by using the term “criminal aliens,” which is not what the measure was about at all. But Roberson & Co. are counting on voters not doing what most lawmakers did not do: Read the bill.

The problem for Democrats here and elsewhere is their messaging on so-called sanctuary cities has been awful or inept. The term has become generally accepted and is code for the worst Trumpian portraits of undocumented residents, as if most are lawbreakers.

Even though their “Decline to Sign” campaign has mobilized local and national resources, the Democrats also have to be worried that they are only drawing more attention to a well-organized and well-funded trio of recall campaigns. They didn’t have much choice, but it still may not be a cure for what is happening.

Roberson & Co. know this, which is why as recently as Saturday the senator tweeted about a California bill limiting local police cooperation with federal officers and commented: “Will Nevada be next? Not if I have anything to say about it.” He then linked to the initiative that he announced during the session, which no one except political opportunists and ignorant voters believe is necessary. (The argument that it is needed because “the Democrats might try to pass a law again” is easily debunked by the reductio ad absurdum that such propositions are nearly infinite on both sides.)

Of course, if Roberson really cared about doing something about the clear and present danger of “sanctuary cities,” I doubt he would be running for the clear and useless job of lieutenant governor. But he and Laxalt and Heller (and, I fear, others) know it is a voter-mobilization issue, one that will potentially increase white voter turnout.

Roberson & Co. are being aided and abetted by the likes of Stephen Silberkraus, an ex-assemblyman who was like the high schooler ousted from the cool kids group in 2016 and who spent the 2017 session dolefully wandering the hallways looking for a way back into the club. His decision to front the Woodhouse recall, attack her on tax increases after he voted for the largest one in history and hide from the media shows just how desperate he is for the powers that be to let him play in the GOP sandbox again.

The other collaborator is Carrie Buck, a charter school principal who lost fair and square to Woodhouse and now is trying to use the recall to reverse that election. Setting a fine example for her students, she, too, is hiding from questions about her role in subverting this process.

Indeed this entire episode, whether or not the recalls work, will tarnish anyone involved and blackening will be indelible. This is not about “sanctuary cities” or tax increases; it is about setting a dangerous precedent and a permanent campaign.

We should learn before the end of the year who is funding these efforts. If they are honest on the disclosure forms -- and they are all honorable men and women -- it will be interesting to see who has donated.

I would be surprised if the usual GOP major donor suspects are directly involved because they must realize how quixotic these are and that hell hath no fury like a Democratic senator not recalled. (My guess is national groups that received contributions from GOP donors with Las Vegas Boulevard South addresses will show up on the donation forms.)

The real tell, to use poker argot, is that Roberson & Co. have lurked in the shadows and some GOP senators still haven’t talked about the recalls.  Ask yourself this: If the cause is so righteous, why are these paragons of virtue so reluctant to talk about it?

Cowardice is nothing new in politics, just as familiar as the dissembling in these campaigns. But there is a lot more at stake here than a few legislative seats or even control of Carson City.

This is about whether a group of ruthless hypocrites are going to be rewarded for perverting the recall process and employing racist and phony appeals to execute their plan. No matter what the outcome, they should be offered no sanctuary.

Jon Ralston is the editor of The Nevada Independent. He has been covering Nevada politics for more than 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @ralstonreports


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