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March 3, 2015

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The Policy Racket

Sen. John Ensign to resign, Dean Heller likely replacement


Steve Marcus

Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011.

Updated Thursday, April 21, 2011 | 11:35 p.m.

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Ensign Announcement

U.S. Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011. Ensign's wife, Darlene, stands by him at left. Launch slideshow »

Face to Face: Ensign Resignation

Face to Face: Ensign's Resignation

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  • Face to Face: Ensign's Resignation
  • Face to Face: Ensign Resignation

Ensign resigns

KSNV coverage of Sen. John Ensign resignation, April 21, 2011.

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Dean Heller

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Shelley Berkley

At first he stood firm: the embattled Sen. John Ensign saying that, despite investigations into his conduct, he would stand for re-election. And then, just last month, he said he would complete his term, but not seek re-election.

And Thursday he packed it in. Saying the personal cost of staying in office was too much to bear, the man who once was considered possible presidential material announced his resignation, effective May 3.

Ensign made his plans known not in a news conference but through a statement: “It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years. The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada. I can honestly say that being a United States Senator has been the honor of my life.”

The move opens the door for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to appoint Republican Rep. Dean Heller to complete Ensign’s term through 2012, at which time Heller could then seek election to the seat as an incumbent, getting a strategic advantage over his presumed opponent, Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley.

Ensign’s political star fell two years ago when he revealed he had an affair with a campaign aide, a scandal for which he remains under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee’s investigation is the only one remaining of the three Ensign found himself in after his affair; the other two, by the Justice Department and the Federal Elections Commission, were dropped last year.

The investigations of Ensign focused on the sordid details of Ensign’s affair with the wife of his best friend and former chief of staff and on whether Ensign unduly used his influence as a senator to get Doug Hampton, his former chief of staff, employed elsewhere, and whether a $96,000 gift made from Ensign’s parents to Hampton; his wife, Cynthia Hampton; and their children, was made in violation of finance rules.

Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, chairwoman of the Ethics Committee, and Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, its vice chairman, said in a joint statement that Ensign “had made the appropriate decision” in quitting.

“The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion,” they said.

Ensign said the stresses of the investigations had taken their toll.

“While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly,” he said, “I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings. For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great.”

Heller stood as the party’s presumptive nominee for 2012. He released a statement saying “Governor Sandoval has the authority to appoint individuals to the U.S. Senate, and I will respect whatever decisions that he makes.”

Heller is serving his third term as Nevada’s congressman from the 2nd District. Although his voting record has not been perfectly aligned with Ensign’s, they are both considered conservative.

But the question remains as to why Ensign is quitting now. Heller and Ensign are not particularly close, and although Ensign’s resignation appears to give the GOP a leg up on the next election, the announcement caught most in both parties off-guard.

Lurking in the not-too-distant background, of course, is the ongoing ethics investigation against Ensign, for which the Senate Ethics Committee secured a special counsel in February. Since then, Hampton has been indicted on charges that are at least topically related: lobbying the senator within a year of his having left the office after the disclosure of the affair.

Although there’s been no indictment from the Ethics Committee, there are potentially several more pitfalls along the way to be navigated if the investigation progresses. They include a sworn deposition from the senator and potentially a series of public hearings — all of which could bring more bad press to Ensign that could reflect badly on the Nevada GOP.

Ensign seemed concerned about the Senate Ethics Committee’s proceedings, devoting ample space in his statement to clearing his name.

“I am gratified that, after extended investigations, both the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission saw no grounds on which to charge me with improper conduct,” he continued. “I was hopeful that, with the closure of these investigations against me the wear and tear on my family and me would soon be over. This was not the case.”

Although there’s little point in the Ethics Committee pursuing its investigation of Ensign once he resigns, the Ethics Committee has released no word on how it may proceed — nor has Ensign disclosed what steps remain on his end to conclude his legal obligations, namely, the financial ones. Ensign reported $190,137 in cash on hand, less about $45,574 in debt, in his now-disbanded campaign’s war chest at the end of March. It’s not clear how much of that, or more, is owed his legal team.

“It’s probably going to save him a lot of continuing difficulty and it allows the party to move on,” former Nevada Gov. Bob List said. “In the end, it’s probably best for everyone.”

An adviser to Sandoval said it is unlikely the governor would settle on a replacement for Ensign other than Heller. When Heller announced his Senate bid, Sandoval quickly endorsed him, and no other Republicans have ventured into the Senate race.

Such an appointment will trigger a chain reaction in Silver State representation that could also claim another casualty who’s been on the outs with the local GOP: Sharron Angle.

Under electoral rules, if the governor appoints Heller, Heller’s seat has to be filled by a special election, in which the state GOP’s Central Committee will handpick a Republican, and state Democrats will handpick one of their own, to face each other.

“At this point, it’s hard to say, but I think three or four candidates could emerge and compete for it,” List said, listing Angle, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and current state GOP Chairman Mark Amodei as likely vying for the post. It’s a race in which the Tea Party is less likely to play such a dominant role as it did in 2010: Each congressional hopeful will only have to convince members of the Central Committee that they’re the best pick.

Still, state and federal laws governing special elections are murky at best and Nevada has no experience in running a federal special election.

Some lawyers argue the law allows multiple major party candidates to file for the election, instead of putting the nominating decision to the parties’ central committees. In that case, several Republicans and several Democrats could vie for the seat on the same ballot.

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller said he will make a decision on the process after reviewing all of the applicable laws if Heller is appointed.

If appointed Heller assumes the part of a senator. He will begin serving on Senate committees, be tapped into a national fundraising network through the Republican senatorial committees, and build up a rapport with lobbyists as the sitting junior senator from Nevada — a seat he’ll have gained 18 months’ experience in by the time he has to face a public ballot.

That has certainly changed the stakes for Democrats, who had identified Nevada as their No. 1 pickup opportunity with much pomp and circumstance a week ago, when Berkley announced she’d be making a run for the seat. Berkley is expected to stay in the race.

“Nevada will remain a top target for Senate Democrats,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil said. “There will be a very clear choice for Nevadans between an uncompromising extremist like Dean Heller, who wants to end Medicare and cut loans for small businesses to give more tax breaks for the very rich, and Shelley Berkley, a true fighter for Nevada’s economy and middle class.”

But the stakes are now much higher for Democrats, who only hold a 53-47 lead in the Senate — and for their Nevada leader, Harry Reid.

Reid’s fate rests on the ability of his caucus to hold on to almost all the seats it’s got, and likely pick up some replacements, as several Democrats from swing and/or Republican-leaning states have announced they plan to retire at the end of their terms in 2012. Several more moderate Democrats who came to Washington on the party’s 2006 wave of victories are facing close fights once again, but in a year when political winds won’t be blowing so strongly in their favor.

Some analysts had casually predicted that Reid’s continued occupancy of the majority leader position might be determined by who won the other Senate seat in Nevada. But on Thursday, Reid, who is traveling with a congressional delegation in China, didn’t reference his own interests, or even utter a word about elections in 2012.

“From fighting Yucca Mountain in Southern Nevada to protecting Lake Tahoe in the north, I have appreciated John’s partnership in working with me to address our state’s needs. He was a strong advocate for Nevada, and worked for many years to improve our state,” Reid said of his colleague in the Senate for the last decade. “My relationship with the Ensign family began many years ago with his father, Mike, a pioneer who has been a force in Nevada gaming and tourism for decades. I know this is a difficult time for the family and I wish them all well as they work through it.”

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  1. This is big news,

    Sandoval should not be allowed to appoint anyone, because he is not a USA citizen, he was born in Mexico and has never posted his birth certificate.

  2. A more cynical person would say this looks like the NVGOP is panicking and has hatched a plot to give Heller and the eventual CD2 replacement candidate a leg up in 2012.

  3. Any takers for Dean Heller? That would sure give him a lead in the election unless he totally blows it.

  4. I got the impression that Ensign would face bigger problems with the ethics panel if he doesn't leave now, but this would seem to maybe help Heller, and also take some wind out of Angle's sails at the same time.

    I say that about Angle because I think she needed a lot of time to try to get rid of the negatives that have carried over from last year, especially if she is up against only one or two well known opponents.

  5. According to statute, the parties get to nominate the candidates for a CD2 special election in this circumstance.

  6. GOP posturing, nothing more, nothing less

  7. mred - How do we know is name is really Brian Sandoval?

  8. About a year too late.

    Sandoval has two paths--pick an elder statesman to fill out the term. Someone who would be acceptable to both a parties and not tilt the election in November.

    Alternatively, he could pick a viable choice, such as Heller that would make it a bit tougher for the opposition of either party.

  9. This is wonderful news.

    I just went out in the street and started dancing.

    One thing I hope for is they keep investigating Ensign.

    I sound vindictive. If I do? IT'S BECAUSE I AM! Go for the throat and don't let this idiot get away with anything. If Ensign has done anything criminal, they need to prosecute. If he did anything inappropriate, they need to censure him or muss up his hair or something. If he was involved with corruption, slap him hard.

    Anyways, I don't care who replaces Ensign. Because it won't be for long.

    This Senate Seat belongs to the Democrats.

    We've had enough of Republican shenanigans. They can't shirk the responsibility that they blew it.

    We're taking this Senate Seat in the next election.

    Tired of the crap we have to put up with immersed in a Republican Party hell. Nevada deserves better.

  10. ksand, can you post a link to the statute? I was just going to look up the procedure myself, and it I would appreciate a head-start as it were. It's something I need to know anyway.

    With regard to unlv702's comment: If it can be presumed that Heller would not face a primary challenge, this gives him a chance to move away from the TEA Party a little bit and try to impress independents in the process.

    By the way, CNN just reported on this, they are saying Ensign is doing this to avoid the ethics investigation getting even nastier.

  11. Ensign just acknowledged this via press release. His days were numbered after Hampton was indicted... too bad Doug didn't get a chance to testify against him for immunity.

    Ensign is vile.

    The bright side for Democrats: being appointed doesn't carry the same weight as incumbency.


  12. Thanks, Kevin.

  13. A horse is a horse, of course of course,
    and no one can talk to a horse of course,
    that is of course, unless the horse,
    Is the famous Mister Ed!

    Go right to the source and ask the horse.
    He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse.
    He's always on a steady course.
    Talk to Mister Ed.

    People yak-it-ti-yak a streak
    and waste your time of day,
    but Mister Ed will never speak,
    unless he has something to say...

    A horse is a horse, of course of course,
    And this one will talk 'til his voice is hoarse.
    You never heard of a talking horse?
    Well, listen to this...

    I am Mister Ed

  14. So who gets appointed to Hellers seat

  15. This is an evil back room plot hatched by the Koch Brothers, talk radio, Glen Buck and the Birthers, Birchers ET AL. Obama should declare a state of emergency and have Sandoval sent to Gitmo before he can make the appointment. Rory Reid should be appointed instead.

  16. Franking privileges for Heller now? Pffft!

    Recall Brian Sandoval

  17. Colin acting like the petty dictator. The seat belongs to the citizens of Nevada, not Democrats. This is the new Democratic "civility" on display above.

  18. Will be interesting to see who takes the race to the gutter first. Looks like some broad general shots have already been fired both ways.

  19. "The seat belongs to the citizens of Nevada, not Democrats."

    So you think Brian Sandoval should hold a special election for the seat, rather than unilaterally proclaiming Heller as the replacement?

    No? Didn't think so.

  20. This is a totally predictable, totally MAPPED OUT IN ADVANCE "plan" by Repub's to give Hobo Heller a leg up. Nothing more, nothing less.
    This has been in the works for a LONG TIME.
    Many of us will not be happy about it, but I must say;
    If a Dem had done what johnny did (resign in DISGRACE), and we had a Dem Gov, they'd appoint a Dem.
    Politics as usual.
    I find Ensign's cop-out statement today TOTALLY IN KEEPING with his lack of character.
    Don't let the door hitcha, John.

  21. mred, did your president post his birth certificate yet?
    The difference between Republicans and Democrats. When a Republican goed bad, he is forced to resign in disgrace, as he loses all support from party members and voters.
    It seems when a Democrat goes bad, the rules are changed to fit, or ignored (New Jersey), the voters blindly vote them back in, even if they're caught red handed with marked bribe money, or caught lying or caught with some girl named Monica.
    EVERYONE who goes bad SHOULD resign. Ensign did the right thing, finally, but I guess the detractors will still whip him agter he's gone, like they still do to Angle who has done nothing wrong.
    Why is it that democrats want prosecution, etc. when it's a republican, but constantly look the other way as their own violate the rules. You will never hear me defending a republican caught in a scandal, I certainly haven't ever defended Ensign.

  22. Desert_Vu,

    You might want to rethink your last sentence. The Kennedy's were lucky enough to live in a time when the press had a bit more respect for an office holder and were willing to overlook such things. Clinton wasn't so lucky.

    Republicans and Democrats both know that political power is a powerful aphrodisiac.

  23. gmag39 says: "This is a totally predictable, totally MAPPED OUT IN ADVANCE 'plan' by Repub's to give Hobo Heller a leg up. Nothing more, nothing less. This has been in the works for a LONG TIME."

    Enjoyed your comments, gmag39, and it may be true, but I say it is of absolutely no consequence when election time comes up in 2012.

    I say it won't make a difference if Heller fills this Senate Seat temporarily.

    For two reasons:

    (1) If Heller is appointed Senator to serve out the rest of this term, most people can clearly see the voting record of Heller is EXACTLY the same as Ensign's. Heller is a brainless Republican Party member. The only difference is he will switch from doing Speaker Boehner's bidding to explicitly following the Senator McConnell's brain dead Republican/TEA PARTY line of thinking. (NOTE: I purposely capitalized Tea Party in that last sentence. Because that IS indeed the emphasis.)


    (2) Don't matter it it's Heller or anyone else in the Republican Party. Nevada voters are completely, utterly and totally tired of the shenanigans and burned out on the Republican Party. Ensign has made us a laughing stock not only in Nevada, but in all of America as well. Just on the same level as the Tea Party candidate Angle in the last election. They own this reprehensible conduct by one of their supposedly untouchable members. I contend we CANNOT take the chance of another brain dead Republican who runs on family values but does whatever the hell he wants when voted in. We cannot and will not take the chance again with another Republican. They HAD their chance. They BLEW it. Totally. We have learned the hard way. No more.

    Anyways, whoever Governor Sandoval appoints better not settle in.

    Because it's only temporary.

    I support Congresswoman Berkley for this Senate Seat. She will serve us well.

  24. Man, you guys are missing the real secret deal here: Gov. Sandoval has realized he has zero appetite or aptitude for the Governor's role, so he is also going to resign, so he can be chosen Senator by Governor Krolicki. This will give better support for Heller in 2016 when he runs for the Democratic seat of Harry Reid.
    And don't let the State Constitution get in the way of my conspiracy theory!

  25. Garbage in,...garbage out, be replaced for a short time with,...more garbage.

  26. If Heller gets the nod, then Dean Heller can go to work for the 2010 NV senate candidate that he voted for. Why can't people see that both parties are in the same church and self serving? What corporate interests will Dean Heller be representing. . .does anyone really believe it will be NV voters? Picking an unknown person living under a bridge would be a better choice to represent Nevadans today and closer to the people and would probably do a hell of a lot more for the people of Nevada instead of the war mongers, wall street bankers, the military industrial complex supporter types that continue to disappoint and ruin America while stuffing their pockets and foreign banks accounts. Or do people believe that "our politicians" get rich by honorable means?

  27. I would accept the appointment...please write Gov. Sandoval and tell him to appoint me. I would promise not to be corrupted for at least two weeks.

  28. skerlahdee, you are a genius...Angle is a perfect choice.

  29. There are certain lines we don't cross as humans...

    You don't tug on Superman's cape
    You don't spit into the wind
    You don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger
    (apologies to Jim Croce)

    Not only did Johnny CROSS THAT LINE, he OBLITERATED IT.
    And then, he blamed others.
    Poor, poor "little" Johnny Ensign.

    "I'm not resigning because I am a CAD of the WORST ORDER. NAY! I resign today because OTHERS won't let me FORGET IT! So, I did the unthinkable. I boffed my best buddies wife. A WHOLE BUNCH! Yeah, yeah....they were our BEST FRIENDS and worked for me... SO WHAT! I had mommy & daddy pay them LOTS OF MONEY. And got HIM a job! Why couldn't they just SHUT UP and go count their money!?! Now my life is RUINED! The MEDIA, the SENATE ETHICS COMMITTEE, the FBI, why do they HATE ME?!?! Well, I WILL NOT let them do this to MY FAMILY! It's for ME to screw over my family and friends. MY JOB! NOT THEIRS! Oh, Lord, why do they hate me so?!? I never dun nuthin', Lord! It's ME, "little" Johnny! Don't you HEAR ME, Lord?"

  30. It is a sad day when a politician can include in his public statements that he has not violated and code of personal conduct and think that is the truth. Goodness, I suppose in the modern world making whoopee with your wife's best friend is not a problem. Sad day for all!


  32. Classy move and the end to a long and distinguished public career. Yes, he made some mistakes, but his overall record is stellar and he represented Nevada very well. Let's hope Dean Heller does a job that is just as good.

  33. Mr. Griffith wrote that The Zipper "had a long and distinguished career."

    Geez, I wish I could remember one piece of legislation bearing his name that was intended to help the working people of Nevada.

    I can think of dozens of pieces of legislation he supported that helped the rich and the powerful. Perhaps Mr. Griffith's in one of those folks.

    John "The Zipper" Ensign will go down (no pun intended) as one of the sleaziest politicians in the history of Nevada. Good riddance.

  34. He typifies the Glen Buck, Limbow, Newt Gingrich hypocrisy preaching family values as he pulls up his zipper.

    Heller (who must have some expensive habits because he lives in his Congressional office) carries the baggage of his car being parked at a major (265 acre) pot farmer's property.

  35. Now MRed, you are not being fair to Newt. He went on to marry every woman that he cheated with. And remember, Newt explained that his extra-curricula sexual activities were due to his love of country.

    "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate," Gingrich said.

    It was his love of country, not the Devil, that made him do it.

    And you are not being fair to Beck. After all, he is only on his second wife.

    Last, Rush "Four Wives" Limbaugh. Hmm. Did he get his first name before or after his oxycontin addiction? Mr. Hillbilly Heroin, hooked while he was urging that we lock up drug abusers and throw away the key.

    So lighten up on Rush, MRed, it was the drugs talking, not him!

    I suggest that Rush, Newt, and Glenn have a family values conference. Between them they have had 9 wives, so they must know a lot about family values.

  36. Comment removed by moderator.

  37. Wow...this can replace all of the soap operas that were canceled Maybe the network will pick this up as a new reality show. "Political Survivor" Maybe in the next episode John and Sharon will shack up in Lake Tahoe and make a baby.

    Coming episodes

    Making lemons out of lemonade (Sharon gets an abortion)

    My baby looks like an Asian

    John and Dean caught in Poolside Cabana at Aria

    Paternity Test shows that Brian is Sharon's Baby Daddy

    Spurned Shelly gets revenge on Brian.

  38. Richard Bruin---I agree with your sentiment that this is a case of "a big loser replacing a bigger loser".

    Ensign was/is sleazy (what really irks me about him is his self-righteousness) and Heller smells of "tea".

    God help us.