Las Vegas Sun

December 20, 2014

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LETTER FROM WASHINGTON:

Don’t expect GOP to call out their own

But the party is hounding Reid, a Democrat, to host live meeting on health care

Click to enlarge photo

Harry Reid

Berkley confrontation

John Ensign

John Ensign

Rep. Dean Heller

Rep. Dean Heller

There apparently will be no Republican elected officials featured as “missing” on milk carton news releases in Nevada this summer.

Even though none of Nevada’s elected officials in Washington is holding a town-hall meeting on health care, only one — the top Democrat — is featured on the milk carton photos.

Nevada’s five lawmakers have chosen to sidestep the raucous meetings that have turned public officials across the country into YouTube sensations.

Frightened, angry voters have been converging on town-hall meetings and hurling pointed questions about health care reform to dismayed lawmakers. The uncomfortable exchanges are captured on videos and quickly posted online.

One Democratic pol compares it to the local summer stage productions of “Hamlet” — a formulaic undertaking that is being repeated over and over across the country.

Conservative groups in Washington have taken credit for the crowds, which have succeeded in altering public opinion: New polling shows a growing number, 50 percent, now oppose the health care proposal before Congress.

Nevada’s elected officials have mostly opted for telephone town-hall meetings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will do one on Friday and is inviting Nevadans to sign up. Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley has been passing out cards with the number for her tele-town hall Wednesday. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus will host a Congress on the Corner event.

Republican Sen. John Ensign will be holding several telephone town halls, too, but has declined to release further information. Republican Rep. Dean Heller told a Reno TV station that he doesn’t need to hold a town-hall meeting on health care because he is against the bill.

Five elected officials. No town-hall meetings.

But only Reid gets his picture plastered on the side of a milk carton on a news release by Republican Party officials in Nevada demanding an in-person meeting. Only Berkley gets surrounded by a crowd trying to crash her appearance at a local event to demand a meeting. (Her office notes that after emerging from the crowd, Berkley went on to talk for two hours about health care and other topics, answering dozens of questions at a very civil forum.)

The question that arises: Why is no one asking Nevada’s two Republican elected officials for town-hall meetings? Why aren’t Ensign or Heller on milk cartons stamped “missing”?

Conservative blogger Chuck Muth suggests Ensign gets a break after having recently disclosed his affair with a staffer, whose husband was one of the senator’s best friends and top aides. Ensign’s parents paid the couple and their family a $96,000 gift that an ethics group wants investigated as a possible felony campaign violation.

“We know why Ensign’s hiding,” Muth said.

Ensign declined to take further questions about the affair from reporters last week after telling the Associated Press that he doesn’t need to resign, as he once called on Bill Clinton to do after the former president’s affair, because his situation is different.

Nevada Democratic Party spokeswoman Phoebe Sweet said Republicans’ refusal to go after their own and demand town-hall meetings from Ensign and Heller is “classic Republican hypocrisy.”

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise — they don’t want to answer tough questions,” Sweet said.

State Republican Party official Robert Uithoven said Nevada’s elected officials should use their recess from Washington to meet with Nevadans.

“It’s part of the job — Republicans, Democrats, Independents — to have town-hall meetings,” said Uithoven, who sent out the release last week with Reid’s photo on the milk carton.

But Reid should be especially available, he said, because as majority leader “he, more than anyone, determines what lands on President Obama’s desk.”

“He ought to be able to answer to it — not on ‘Meet the Press’ — but to his constituents,” Uithoven said.

So any milk carton photos of Ensign or Heller coming any time soon?

“No milk cartons,” he said.

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