The following events are related because they reflect misplaced priorities and evolving politics:
• State Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, retired for health reasons. He may just be sick of his caucus, which deposed him as leader when Southern Nevada Republicans decided to punish him for endorsing Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election, because he’s saner than they are, and partly (no doubt) because Sharron Angle challenged his re-election in 2008, lost 53-47 percent and still thinks she won.
• A lunatic killed at least six and shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., his apparent target, through the head. The blogosphere, including the left, focused on incendiary rhetoric from the likes of Sarah Palin and the aforementioned Angle, rather than immediately pointing out the need for gun-control legislation, which they have largely ignored as an issue in recent years. Also killed in Tucson was a federal judge, barely a year after a similar shooting in the lobby of the Lloyd George Federal Building here.
If Raggio’s health is an issue, his desire to get out is understandable. But would he retire if he had remained leader? No one, probably including Raggio, can be sure. If he quit in a snit rather than staying around to help his state through a crisis his caucus could exacerbate and his ability to compromise could help solve, he has tarnished himself.
But he understandably received praise for his legislative mastery and ability to deliver for constituents, especially the University of Nevada, Reno. Indeed, one local political observer once said privately that if he lived in Reno he would worship Raggio, but since he was a Las Vegan he considered him the devil.
That long-ago comment and Raggio’s retirement tie into the horrific events in Tucson. Whatever motivated the killer, he reflects the increasing and hateful lunacy coming almost entirely from the far right, and far less from the far left. Las Vegas hasn’t been immune to it. Last year, when Landra Reid was seriously injured in an auto accident, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Sun shut down the comments sections on their websites because of posters, encouraged in their anti-Reid hatred by one of those two publications, lamenting that her husband wasn’t killed.
Raggio exits partly because some state Senate Republicans cared more about hating Reid than good candidates or good governance. In Reno, some longtime friends who owed Raggio their livelihoods literally crossed the street when they saw him, saying more about themselves than him.
But Raggio’s hands aren’t entirely clean. Once he was too conservative for some mainstream Republicans, and now he’s called a Republican in Name Only (RINO), suggesting how his party and the center have moved to the right. Some of his former colleagues recall tongue-lashings and snideness, which suggest that Raggio is a human being.
In a column on Raggio’s retirement, Jon Ralston recalled when the state senator reamed him for accusing Raggio of lying in connection with a smear that ultimately prompted a slander suit. In 1994, a campaign mailer accused then-Democratic state Sen. Lori Lipman Brown of being unpatriotic because she left the chamber during the Pledge of Allegiance—which she did because it came with an overtly Christian prayer. Brown, a teacher and Jew who regularly led her students in the Pledge, would go outside and pray by herself. She sued the candidate behind the mailer—the late Kathy Augustine—and three state senators, including Raggio, for signing onto the mailer. When the Supreme Court sided with Brown, Raggio, himself a well-regarded attorney, had to recant.
More recent rhetoric makes that seem quaint. But how many Republicans condemned their colleagues’ behavior then? How many Republicans condemned Palin for a website with gunsights on Democrats who voted for health care reform, or Angle for her statements?
Not that the left never sounds ridiculous or even violent. But how often do Democrats point out the need for better gun laws, or that some of these so-called Christians exemplify the opposite of the family values they invoke? Not enough. So, let’s learn from the victims in Arizona and the trashing of a legislator who served for two generations. They deserved better. All of us can do better.