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November 1, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Solutions elude state Senate candidate

Democrat knows what’s important, but can’t

I ran into Shirley Breeden recently at a Democratic picnic in Henderson. She’s the Democrats’ choice to run in Senate District 5 in Henderson against incumbent Joe Heck, the Iraq war vet and physician with the good hair.

(The point being, this is going to be a tough race for Democrats.)

I asked Breeden, a longtime Clark County School District administrator, how she was different from Heck and what she’d bring to the office.

Maybe she was nervous. I’ve been nervous in job interviews and frozen up. I’ve frozen up when being interviewed on the radio and on TV. I’ve even frozen up when I was interviewing a presidential candidate, weirdly unable to come up with anything else to ask after eight minutes. The helplessness you feel at that moment is impossible to describe.

Perhaps this happened to Breeden, and in that case, I empathize. (She’s also been dealing with some tough family issues.)

After telling me the chief difference between her and Heck is that she’s a “people person” — he’s not? — she listed issues important to her, including education, health care and the housing crisis. But she didn’t elaborate. She didn’t offer her opinions about these issues.

Nor did she say what she brings to the issues, even though clearly she brings education expertise to the table. She didn’t say what fundamentally ails the state, and what vision she has to restore it.

This is the second Democratic candidate to be reticent about public policy views. The other is Allison Copening, who’s running against state Sen. Bob Beers in Senate District 6 in Summerlin.

From this, there can be only three possibilities:

A. She has no opinions on these issues because she’s a hard-core empiricist who demands to see all available data before making any determination about public policy issues;

B. She has no opinions on these issues because she doesn’t follow public policy fights or politics and knows very little about them;

C. This is some preconceived political strategy, a way to avoid being attacked for expressing the wrong opinion.

Choice A is admirable in some ways.

The other two are highly problematic. Choice C is so transparently political that voters will reject it. Yes, smart politicians know how to play both sides, they know how to bob and weave on tough issues.

But Breeden wasn’t asked about a pipeline through Kazakhstan. She was asked how she’d be different from Heck.

If Breeden can’t express what sets her apart from Heck, why would voters replace the Iraq war vet and physician, the guy with the good hair? Because he’s a Republican? The Democrats’ advantage is too small for that. Heck is an incumbent with a lot of appeal to unaffiliated voters.

Here’s why it’s all the stranger: The Republicans control the Senate by one vote. Theoretically, Breeden and Copening, both of whose districts are now narrowly Democratic, have a shot at flipping the Senate.

Control of the state Senate is a huge, huge deal. Democrats have a lock on the Assembly. Control of the Senate would let them set the legislative agenda during the 2009 session, riding roughshod over the governor. And if they can hold on through 2010, they’ll be the ones redrawing legislative and congressional maps after the next census.

To voters, who are putting candidates through what amounts to a job interview process, the lack of anything substantive from Breeden and Copening must seem rather baffling.

It would be like a chef interviewing for a restaurant job and declining to explain what cuisine he’d be bringing to the kitchen.

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