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April 23, 2014

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The Policy Racket

John Ensign poses for pictures, keeps low profile as 16-year run nears end

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Karoun Demirjian

Sen. John Ensign and his staff share a laugh between office photographs on the steps of the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 28, 2011.

Ensign's Final Days in Office

Sen. John Ensign has some fun with a staff member while taking office photographs on the steps of the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 28, 2011. Launch slideshow »

WASHINGTON - Sen. John Ensign has been keeping an exceptionally low profile for his last days in office, which he’s been spending in and around the Capitol complex while packing up a congressional career that’s spanned 16 years, the last decade’s worth in the Senate.

When Ensign announced his resignation, effective May 3, last week, it was a final act of defeat for a man whose political promise became the victim of an affair of his own creation.

But on Thursday, his departure only five days off, Ensign seemed like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders as he smiled and joked with staff, and evaded the Sun’s requests for an exit interview with a jovial shrug: “I’m not answering your questions -- I don’t have to anymore!”

Media scrutiny of Ensign has been fierce since he publicly announced and apologized for his affair with staffer Cynthia Hampton, the wife of his former best friend and chief of staff Doug Hampton, in the summer of 2009. Ensign’s avoided it like the plague, ducking and weaving his way around Congress to avoid the kleig lights.

While he appears to be maintaining that low public profile to the end of his truncated term, he’s doing it more out in the open and with a wider smile on his face, whether it’s packing up (he was overheard telling a staffer he invested in two big wardrobe packing boxes -- senators need to wear a lot of suits), taking office family photos with his staff on the Senate steps at the Capitol, or getting his former Senate credentials in the Senate ID office.

Ensign hasn’t said how long he plans to stay in D.C. or what he intends to do once he formally departs, past that he wants to stay in public life. But as his term as a public servant comes to a rather abrupt end, Ensign is valuing his privacy.

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  1. What a CLOWN.

    It must seem like something akin to a WAKE for the staff.

  2. 21 people in the photo not including Nevada's besmirched and disgraced Senator. It seems like a lot of staff that costs taxpayers plenty of $ and this is not the total members of staff for just one of Nevada's 2 Senators?

    Senator Ensign failed constituents and has now turned tail and is running away, taking federal retirement benefits that he does not deserve.

    Federal Congressional Retirement benefits are for honorable elected officials that are faithful to commitments and honor their pledges including finishing out elected term.

    Senator Ensign has not honored his commitments or pledges made to constituents.

    Mr. John Ensign, renounce the federal benefits that you clearly DO NOT DESERVE and LOST by your show of tawdry tainted ways!

    PRupp B125 SP NV 89047

  3. Dear PaulRupp,

    I'm not sure that the people pictured are the full extent of Sen. Ensign's office, but if they are, 21 is actually a rather small number/size for a D.C. Senate office staff. Senators' office budgets are set by statute across the board, and while's it's up to the individual lawmaker to determine how to spend that money, it's pretty normalized across the board, with slight differences in totals for the Senators who have extra responsibilities (like if certain Senators also have to manage the staff of a committee they chair, or are in party leadership positions).

    Any Senator's staff though, has to include policy staffers, who have specific expertise/focus in the various issue areas that matter to the home state and the country and do the research and analysis to advise the Senator on which votes s/he should take; the constituent services staff, who do everything from answer mail to handling complex casework for state residents in need of assistive intervention, schedulers, to make sure the Senator gets everywhere s/he's supposed to be, press/media officers, and several offices round out those positions with a rotating crop of unpaid interns (which is where many Hill staffers get their start). It all adds up to a lot of faces -- though some would agree with you, that it also adds up to a lot of money.

    In the last few months, both Republican and Democratic Senators have submitted bills seeking to either officially reduce the annual budgets allotted per Senate office, or to compel Senators to return whatever money they don't spend by year's end to a general coffer. Most offices budget so they've got at least a bit of a cushion to contend with unexpected surprises at the year's end (last year, for example, lawmakers had to spend a lot more time in D.C. than they were planning to for an extended lame duck session). Some of them hand out what's left over at the end of the year as bonuses for their staff -- and there there's no predictable rhyme or reason; depending on the office, the staffer, and the year, they can be token gestures or quite hefty. The Senators can't award any bonuses to themselves, because their salary is set by law (though they can turn down part or all of a salary).

    The Senators calling for such changes make the argument that in this era of cutting spending that's going to be felt by the taxpayers, the congressional offices should be sharing in the spirit of austerity by doing some belt-tightening along with the rest of the country. Figuring out how to do that though, so that the change will have the greatest possible effect without compromising the work of those offices, is the political and practical challenge of those proposals.

    thanks for reading,
    Karoun
    (the LVSun's D.C. Correspondent)

  4. @ Karoun Demirjian- it seems like a lot of staff on the taxpayers dime. I'm sure this is the acceptable norm in Washington D.C. Perhaps why the country is going broke and congress enjoys the lowest ratings for non-performance. I am against the soon to be ex-Senator Ensign receiving any compensation for life. . .his deeds do not added up and his account with most Nevadans is at $0.00

    Unfortunately for this constituent, Sen. Ensigns staff ability to "answer mail to handling complex casework for state residents in need of assistive intervention" is called into question as Senator Ensign and staff failed to honor a written pledge miserably. . . when help was requested for problems in the Nevada Mining Industry for a cover-up by MSHA and Nevada Mine Safety Training Section individuals for timely reported safety, health and harassment violations on a large mine in Central Nevada. A miner has a right to a walk on mine inspection to examine the facts and the record. Senator Ensign dropped the ball and aided the mine industry and safety regulators in a cover-up. A miner is expected to follow rules. . . what good are safety oversight regulators when they do not?

    PRupp B125 SP NV