MY COLUMN: The LG's race was one huge flop

The lieutenant governor’s race has been the big disappointment of the general election season.

Buoyed by the name recognition he received in his spirited primary with Sue Lowden and possessing a huge financial advantage, GOP state Sen. Mark Hutchison has run a “No Apologies” general election. Hutchison regularly says he “won’t apologize” for living the American Dream or for being supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

As if anyone asked him to be contrite.

He has used his money edge -- it will end up being 2- or 3-to-1 -- to pound Democratic Assemblywoman Lucy Flores on television,  making it seem as if a dispute over a disclosure law was tantamount to her being a female version of Charles Manson.  But the spot has been effective (perhaps because Flores' reaction to the non-scandal was so telling), Flores has not raised much money despite being seeded by Team Reid while showing no desire to really do what it takes to be competitive and no credible poll shows her within striking distance, with a building Republican wave probably ensuring her defeat.

The Great Proxy War between Gov. Brian Sandoval, who will never apologize for supporting Hutchison, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was a little distracted trying to save his title, never really materialized. Indeed, Team Reid’s current mantra is, “Proxy war? What proxy war?”

So be it. The race fizzled.

But before we let it completely peter out, it’s worth revisiting just how small the contest has been with a dissection of the only lengthy televised debate between the candidates, which aired 10 days ago on Vegas PBS and was hosted by Steve Sebelius and Elizabeth Thompson.

The 45-minute to and fro showed just how insipid the race has been and how talented both candidates are at revisionist history. To wit:

►Hutchison made the lieutenant governor out to be some kind of partner with the governor, which has, you know, never happened. This is just laughable:

Well, I have a lot of confidence in Brian Sandoval.  I’m grateful to have his endorsement.  I’m grateful to be somebody who he has confidence in as well and wants to be his partner.  I think one of the things that give you an opportunity to do some of the stuff that you’re talking about, Steve, and to make the office important, make the office consequential, is the trust and the confidence of the governor, and I’ve got the trust and confidence of the governor and I’m proud to have it.  I won’t apologize for a second about that… Brian Sandoval and I will be a great team together.  I’ll never apologize for working closely with the governor.

Why, I ask again, would he apologize? And what does that even mean?

Flores was asked if she should have first reported those campaign expenses that resulted in a fine. The exchange (slightly edited) that followed was remarkable; it would have made Lincoln and Douglas cringe.

Flores: Absolutely, and that’s exactly what I did.  Once that came to light that there was a different interpretation of the requirements, I amended that report.  I actually provided more information that was asked for and ultimately this attack ad is nothing more than my opponents going back to the status quo of trying to distract voters from the issues that matter. 

Hutchison: The secretary of state found her to be in violation of state law and fined her for that, and I’ll take her at her word for saying that she wants to be more transparent.  I think I’d say that’s a good thing.  It’s not a matter of spending the money; it’s a matter of reporting it.  So you can spend the money on various matters, including some of the things that she spent her money on.  You can certainly spend it on travel.  You can certainly spend it on campaign expenses, but the point of the violation that the Secretary of State found was that there was an effort to hide that and not to properly report it.

Flores: What I think is still incredibly hypocritical is that my opponent actually violated the law himself.  There was already an understanding that we were supposed to report gifts and yet he failed to report a $15,000 all expense paid trip on his gift disclosure and did not report that until it came to light earlier this year.  So, if we’re going to talk about a kettle trying to call the pot black, I think it’s incredibly hypocritical.

Hutchison:  My opponent brings up this $15,000 issue which I reported immediately when that became an issue.  She took the same trip.  She didn’t tell you that, but she took the same trip to Israel.  This is the American/Israeli Political Action Committee that sends you to Israel.  It gives legislators an opportunity to see the geopolitical issues that are going on in Israel as well as the business and professional matters that are happening there that can be applied to Nevada.  She took the same trip.  As a matter of fact, my first session, last session, she got up and gave a speech about that.  You know what?  I gave a speech about that. 
We’re very transparent in terms of taking that trip.  We think it was a good thing.  We both took it, and yet there’s some effort here to suggest that there was wrongdoing.  I disclosed that immediately once that became an issue, but I wasn’t ever fined by the Secretary of the State.  I was never ever found in violation of state law unlike my opponent.

Really, folks? These are the choices for governor-in-waiting arguing about the most inane matters.

First, Flores and other Democrats relied on their attorney’s advice to not disclose certain items. But they shouldn’t have asked and should have just disclosed everything, if they, as politicians always claim, care so much about transparency.

Second, of course Hutchison and the other lawmakers should have disclosed the AIPAC trip. Why wouldn’t they?

Third, the secretary of state did not say Flores et. al. were trying to intentionally hide anything. The finding was that the law mandated reporting. That’s the kind of hyperventilating rhetoric he uses in that attack ad. It’s just silly.

Flores was asked why she didn’t support the Teach for America money ($2 million) that was in the governor’s budget. What she said was ridiculous and false.

Well, that’s a great question and unfortunately that topic came up literally on the very last day of session and it died not because there was a no vote on it, it did not get through the legislative process in time before we ended our legislative session.  My no vote on it out of the budget committee was because as a legislator it’s my job again to provide accountability to ask questions, to make sure that taxpayers are getting the best return on their tax dollar and in an environment where we have

Well, Flores, who would later brag about being on the Ways and Means Committee, knows that Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed that Teach for America money in his State of the State before the session began. Democrats were intent on entombing it from Day One, whether out of disdain for the reform or because they thought the money should be spent elsewhere. But this was no deus ex machina on the session's last day.

Hutchison was asked about supporting a $600 million mining tax increase during the 2013 session but during the campaign saying he would support it only if the industry agreed to it. Was it a flip flop?

His answer was priceless – pricelessly disingenuous:

I left the session and toured Nevada.  And I think I’ve had 600 campaign events.  I’ve been doing this for almost 16 months now.  I’ve had five or six different tours specifically of mines.  I’ve gone to Elko, Winnemucca, those communities—I’ve learned a lot about mining.  Mining is one of the most important industries in our state.  We got to make sure that we keep mining strong, and mining is supporting me in this election, not supporting my opponent, because mining knows that when we proposed that tax reform measure, it was largely as a response to the margins tax….We at least provided an alternative to say let’s at least get the discussion moving here.  We got nothing from our friends in the legislature who we thought would at least start a discussion, and as a result, it dropped.  There was never a vote taken on it, but I believe that mining is a strong industry and it needs to remain strong.  It’s vital to rural Nevada and my philosophy on taxation and particularly upon businesses is look; let’s make sure that we don’t crush them.  Let’s make sure that we don’t hurt them, and mining has been very good about prepaying their taxes, finding ways to help pay the freight here in Nevada and I want to make sure that they remain strong.  So, my promise to them is look, you’re going to have a seat at the table with me.  And if that’s discussed then we’ll have a conversation about that and we’ll make sure we do it the right way. 

That is simply spectacular. Eighteen months ago, he stood up and said mining should pay $600 million more in taxes, not that they should be at the table, etc.

Flores: I do not support single industry taxation.  What we need here in Nevada is reform to our entire tax structure that’s broad-based, that’s fair, that’s equitable, and that’s sustainable long-term, so that we’re not dependent on the ebb and flow of the economy, because our tax structure is right now just getting revenue from tourism and gaming, etc.  It needs to be reformed.  It hasn’t been done so in 30/40 years. 

Fair enough. But she and her colleagues snubbed the Republicans and should have used the mining tax discussion as a springboard to get to where she claims she wants to go.

Hutchison was asked about education funding and standards and what he did during the session. Part of his response:

Another way was through the ELL funding.  You know we historically provided in this legislative session $50 million per ELL funding, where we can provide greater opportunities to those who don’t speak English as their first language.  Those are higher standards that are allowed down to see those students flourish.  And then I fought for education funding with Governor Sandoval—stood side by side with him.  We increased education funding by about $50 million and I was very proud of that.  Now, my opponent says that’s not real funding increases, but you know she controlled—and her party controlled—both houses of the legislature.  I never saw anything from her.  I never saw a bill proposed by her.  If she’s so effective, why criticize the governor and his budget, which by the way she voted for, which provided another $500 million, yet not offer an alternative or offer a solution rather than just criticize. 

Really? He and the governor proposed the $50 million? Really? That was all Sandoval and the good senator had nothing to do with it. And that $500 million is one of the larger canards of the campaign year – 80 percent of it is roll-up costs, that is money mandated by law for additional students, etc.

Flores responded by talking about the lack of GOP support for the Democratic plan, which is equally misleading because there wasn’t one until very late in the session and then it was withdrawn. And it did not, as she claimed, include a services tax and

a number of other alternatives that was broad-based.  It was different from the plan that I currently support, but there was an alternative.  My opponent was there last session.  Perhaps he doesn’t remember the hours and hours and hours of discussion on this.  But what I do support is something that is broad-based that is sustainable.  There was a plan that was introduced in 2011.  It would have taken away completely the payroll tax, and would have replaced it with a comprehensive solution that was broad-based that was a much lower tax rate.  It was at .08%.  It would have been on a net profit and it also would have included a component of services tax.  That is what I supported.  That was what industry leaders supported.  It was what education advocates supported, parent supported.  For the first time in many years, we had a coalition of people who were ready to support this in 2011, and unfortunately that was the year that a number of republicans were elected and they were just completely not open to having a conversation about it, and so it did not pass.

Yes, in 2011 there was a broad-based plan, which Flores has said she would back again. But not in 2013, when she and the Democrats took a powder.

Then, Hutchison, who once proposed a $600 million tax increase, suddenly got amnesia when asked his solution:

Well, I think that the first thing we got to do is get to December to see what the Economic Forum says, because you know the Economic Forum is going to tell us how much revenue we’re going to have, what’s available for funding.  The first and best way to fund government is through growth, and economic opportunities for there to be increases in sales revenues; for there to be increases in gaming revenues; for there to be increases in property values.  All of which add to the revenues that are available to the government.  So the best way to fund the government at the state level is through growth and a robust economy.  That’s why it’s so important that we focus on economic development.  So you want to take a look at those numbers and see where we’re at.  Then what I’d want to do is have a big discussion, like I said before, with business, with industry, with all the interests that are going to be at the legislature and we’re going to say, look how are we going to solve this tax issues in the State of Nevada?  The governor, who I saw recently, said that he plans to lead out on that, and I think with his leadership that we’ll get some very constructive tax reforms done.  But, everybody who looks at this—has evaluated this knows what to do.  You have to broaden the base for the most part and you lower the rates and what those base looks like and what those rates look like is what the discussion needs to be about in the legislature.  We didn’t have a whole lot of that last time….


There was more, but you get the picture. They argued over who represents the status quo – the one elected two cycles ago (Flores) or the one not even halfway through his first term (Hutchison). Neither made a compelling case why he or she should be the proverbial heartbeat away, much less be the governor’s – cue the laugh track – partner.

This is the race that could have been but never was, the proxy war that fizzled, the race to excite the pundits and voters that, in the end, has been eminently forgettable.