The Irony and the Ecstasy

Nevada is known for tourism and mining, but it may be the world’s leading irony producer.

Consider the Senate Ethics Committee’s report on former Sen. John Ensign. If you haven’t read it, you should, but be prepared to feel the need for a bath. Ensign’s actions seem to have verged on stalking, combined with teenage-style lovesickness (apologies to teenagers) and threats and intimidation.

Ironies abounded. One was that Ensign, the devout Christian, didn’t just have an extramarital affair (nor, rumor has it, only one extramarital affair), but such friends as Sen. Tom Coburn and former Sen. Rick Santorum helped enable his sanctimony. Another was when Ensign wanted uber-consultant Sig Rogich to help his cuckolded former aide Doug Hampton, and Rogich replied that he could do nothing. Then Ensign, through an intermediary, told Rogich to expect no further help from him.

Now, few backroom politicos are better connected, especially to the Republican Party, than Rogich, who worked on campaigns for Ronald Reagan and the Bushes. Since Rogich led “Republicans for Reid,” as in Harry, he hardly needed Ensign for entrée into the Senate. But since starting his political career by winning a House seat in the Republican sweep of 1994, Ensign has benefited handsomely from connections. He wasn’t his party’s choice in ’94 just because he was a handsome young veterinarian; he was the son of a leading gaming executive. So for Ensign (the perennial beneficiary of connections) to deny Rogich (the ultimate Mr. Inside) access was ironic, indeed.

Ironic, too, that Gov. Brian Sandoval visited Sandoville, as the campers outside the legislature called their tent town, erected as part of a lobbying effort on behalf of saving Nevada from its governor. Sandoval brought them doughnuts, which was appropriate, since doughnuts are like cake, which another ideologue of the elite bade her subjects eat in France.

Another irony is the difference from how a previous governor received unhappy citizens. The late Gov. Mike O’Callaghan wasn’t thrilled when Ruby Duncan led a group of welfare mothers to the governor’s mansion four decades ago, and he later talked about how he wanted to remove them from the grounds but then saw his wife Carolyn giving them coffee and inviting them in. It helped foster a solution that gave both sides some of what they wanted. Of course, O’Callaghan had a social conscience.

Another irony is that one of the donut-eaters was my former student, J.T. Creedon. A recent Las Vegas Review-Journal story discussed the effects that Sandogibbons’ budget would have on the College of Southern Nevada, where I teach. The article opened by informing readers that Creedon, 28, has been sleeping on people’s couches while finishing his associate’s degree and serving as CSN’s student body president. The piece later noted that he has been accepted to an out-of-state four-year degree program. (It happens to be a really good one—the University of Texas).

The article also tells us why Creedon is homeless: He isn’t working right now.

Why not? Well, he’s dedicating all of his spare time to trying to avert a disastrous higher-education budget by organizing and lobbying. It’s hard work, and a lot of sacrifice, but Creedon felt it was his duty. We should be thrilled that he is true to the history of student involvement in major issues, rather than taking a pass, as he could. If you read the comments on the R-J website, you’d find his critics, obviously incapable of reading an entire news story, deriding him as a slacker—a 10-year-student who wants others to pay for his education. But the reason Creedon’s been in and out of school through the years is precisely that, like so many CSN students, he’s been struggling to work his way through.

Sandoval was courteous when he spoke with Creedon at the protest. But when he says that he can’t abide new taxes even after Barrick Gold announced it’s buying a Canadian mining company for $7.8 billion, he actively promotes a peculiar Nevada disrespect for education. Thus may Sandoval savor the irony of history: a 21st-century governor and would-be, wannabe, Republican vice-presidential candidate following in the footsteps of 19th-century Nevada politicians who toadied to the mining industry at the expense of those they took an oath to serve.