Sandoval Sings the Blues and Reds

The ancient curse/proverb says, “May you live in interesting times.” If you’re the governor of Nevada, the times always are interesting. Even more so lately for Brian Sandoval. Interestingly (unintended pun) enough, not all of it is his doing.

To start with, Sandoval has been trying to rebuild the Nevada Republican Party and head Sharron Angle off at the pass. The former issue may seem strange, considering that Republicans have controlled the governor’s office since 1999, one of the U.S. Senate seats since 2001, and two of the three House seats, and stand a chance of regaining the state Senate after having held it until 2009.

But the Nevada GOP has been something of a disorganized mess for several years. The recent caucuses, which included several dustups and took more than a day before the count was complete, merely underscored the point. Most Republican success has been independent of the party apparatus. Sandoval started trying to change that when Sen. John Ensign resigned and the governor quickly appointed Rep. Dean Heller to replace him—thus the point about blocking Angle from repeating her performance in 2010, when she became a national laughingstock while running against Sen. Harry Reid.

So, here’s how it’s going:

Sandoval announced that he wants to continue the $620 million in tax hikes the Legislature passed in 2009 and he agreed to support in 2011 only when a Nevada Supreme Court ruling eliminated a key revenue source. This poses two problems.

One is that Grover Norquist, who runs for Americans for Tax Reform and has cowed almost every Republican in Congress and with national ambitions into signing an anti-tax pledge, reportedly referred to Sandoval as a “rat” for agreeing to those taxes in 2011. Norquist says he doesn’t remember calling Sandoval that, but now it’s on the Internet, to live forever, whenever anyone thinks about Sandoval as a potential vice-presidential candidate or, as is more likely, the great GOP hope for the Senate in 2016.

The other is that when he switched on the taxes that were due to sunset in 2011, and gaming and mining lobbyists even endorsed the taxes, several members of the GOP caucus still voted against them—including Michael Roberson, who apparently will be the Republican state Senate leader in the next session.

Heller is in a tough race against Rep. Shelley Berkley—no surprise there.  And he may run into some unexpected trouble, thanks to one of Norquist’s colleagues in the national Republican leadership, Rush Limbaugh. After Limbaugh called a Georgetown law student a “slut” and “prostitute,” and said he wanted her to make sex tapes, Berkley blasted Limbaugh, introduced a petition to Clear Channel to take him off the air, and accused Heller of trying “to push Rush Limbaugh’s agenda.”

Heller’s office replied that he found Limbaugh’s comments “offensive,” and that they have “no place in public discourse.” Not that Heller jumped to say that right after Limbaugh said that. Come to think of it, the best the Republican congressional leadership did was to call Limbaugh’s words “inappropriate.”

Berkley needs to make inroads against Heller in Northern Nevada, unless she chooses to run an almost entirely South vs. North Senate campaign. She doesn’t benefit from being a Las Vegan. But Reno women have been known to turn out strong, especially when they feel there’s a war on women. Heller didn’t help himself on this go-around.

At the Clark County Republican convention, Ron Paul supporters won two-thirds of the seats on the local party’s executive board and about half of the delegates to the state party convention. They almost did the same at the 2008 state convention, but procedural maneuvers stopped them, thanks to the savvy of the convention chair, Bob Beers—then a state senator, now a candidate for Las Vegas City Council Ward 2. If Paul supporters flood the polls in Summerlin, Beers could suffer a bit, because Paul backers seem to be truly the Republican symbol:  the elephants who don’t forget.

Meanwhile, at the Washoe County GOP convention, Angle popped up to say she might run for something in 2012. Meaning that the problem that won’t go away still won’t go away, and the Clark County party is in the hands of people who out-Norquist Norquist.

But Sandoval can take heart: Whatever he does, life always is better for him than it was for his predecessor. As long as he stays away from cocktail waitresses.