Commentary

Only in District 1

December 19, 2021 6:06 am

More than any other successful Nevada Democratic politician of the last 25 years, Dina Titus carved out her career largely independent of, and sometimes in defiance of, Harry Reid and the Reid Machine. (Nevada Current file photo)

Sometimes members of Congress or other public persons might accidentally “drop the F bomb,” as the kids used to say, in public.

That’s not what Dina Titus, the Democrat who represents Nevada’s first congressional district, did at an AFL-CIO meeting Wednesday. She didn’t inadvertently drop the word. Titus deliberately deployed it.

The congresswoman’s colorful language (if you missed it, go to Nevada Current reporter Michael Lyle’s article for the profanity, stay for the fascinating story) was prompted in particular by the way legislative Democrats diluted Titus’s historically safe district – Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak (a long-time staunch Titus ally) happily going along for the ride. 

But her critique didn’t stop at the wisdom, or lack thereof, of creating three districts that Republicans could conceivably win instead of two that were safely Democratic. In her remarks Wednesday, Titus also rendered multiple unusually direct and candid (for a politician) observations about the political lay of the land in the 2022 cycle, as well as the Manchinema travesty in D.C.

National and Nevada Republicans crowed with glee. The congresswoman’s remarks were yet another sign that the radical socialist Democrats are doomed and the upstanding and always earnest and sensible Republicans will win All The Things in 2022 so neener neener.

National media outlets jumped on the remarks as well, albeit their coverage was thinly focused on the man-bites-dog quality of a member of Congress saying a naughty word on the record.

Profanity? From an elected official? In a congressional district that includes the Las Vegas Strip? Goodness, how shocking.

Titus can be, let’s say, feisty. She can also be a bit of an iconoclast. More than any other successful Nevada Democratic politician of the last 25 years (which is to say since I’ve been here and watching), she’s carved out her career largely independent of, and sometimes in defiance of, the Great and Powerful Harry Reid and his (overhyped) Reid Machine. Her aggressive dismissal of requests from Reid and fellow white male grownups Richard Bryan and Bob Miller to play nice on her way to winning the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary comes to mind. So does her quick disposal of erstwhile Reid Machine golden boy Ruben Kihuen early on in the 2012 contest for the seat she has now.

Next year threatens to be a bloodbath for Democrats. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, along with Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford – and Sisolak, for that matter – are all nervous. So they’re acting nervously. They’re taking an offend-as-few-swing-voters-as-possible approach, and hoping that the economy and other fundamentals (something Trumpian, perhaps) break in the right direction at the right time in sufficient manner to allow them to navigate their way to victory. In other words, they’re defaulting to the same walking-on-egg-shells strategy that has characterized most Democratic Party candidates since the painfully pernicious model of moderation established by Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council toward the end of the last century.

Titus can do that too. The practice isn’t foreign to her. 

But that’s not what she was doing Wednesday. Which brings us to one of the many observations she rendered out loud to the AFL-CIO, as reported in Michael’s story: There is “no chance a progressive can hold this seat after I’m gone.”

Progressives can and do differ over the degree to which Titus herself is one.

It’s not yet clear whether the first congressional district will just be competitive in a 2022 cycle that is shaping up to be Kafkaesque, or if a newly drawn CD1 is destined to be swingy for the rest of the decade, until maps are redrawn again after the 2030 census. In either case, what sort of Democrat will get the money, the help and the nod from the party’s most powerful insiders, currently operating through an organization called “Nevada Democratic Victory,” when Titus is gone, whenever that is?

The two most recent politicians plucked from obscurity and plopped into national office by that political structure are Lee and Sen. Jacky Rosen. 

Lee’s most notable contribution to the Biden legislative agenda involved bonding with her beloved bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and urging her fellow House Democrats to vote for a stand-alone infrastructure bill, thus assuring Joe Manchin would be free to hold up and further gut the most ambitious and needed provisions in Build Back Better, or scuttle the bill altogether. Which is precisely what Manchin is doing now. 

Rosen’s most notable contribution to the Biden legislative agenda was proudly hopping on the bipartisan Senate infrastructure committee after it had already reached a deal, so she could say her favorite word: bipartisan. Rosen is in the Senate because after saying “bipartisan” a lot in her single term in the House, she was anointed by Reidians in search of the most generic candidate they could find to beat Dean Heller.

The rise of Lee and Rosen, packaged products of Nevada’s most powerful Democratic inner circles, suggests Titus is exactly right: Once she’s gone, there won’t be a progressive Democratic nominee in Nevada’s first congressional district.

Then again, Titus could also be exactly wrong. After all, the inner circle crowd has to operate as “Nevada Democratic Victory” because they couldn’t even competently organize leadership elections during a state party central committee meeting, and lost control of their party to a slate of upstart Democratic Socialists.

It’s hard to know which is the most damning scenario though: That the Nevada Democratic Victory poohbahs played a heavy hand in redrawing those congressional maps, in which case they’re responsible, or they didn’t, in which case they’re irresponsible.

***

Our long Nevada nightmare is over. Nevadans from border to border could finally breathe a heavy sigh of relief Thursday as Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed someone to be the state’s lieutenant governor. That very important office had been vacant ever since its previous occupant thought the role of Nevada lieutenant governor was so crucial to the state, and its future, she abandoned it to take a mid-level at best post with a political outreach arm of the White House.

Look, being Nevada’s lieutenant governor is a part-time job with, as a practical matter, no inbox or duties – unless of course the actual governor is abducted by beings from outer space or otherwise can’t serve.

The newly appointed LG of course will be running for election to the job next year, in a spirited contest which I have every intention of ignoring whenever possible, which presumably will be almost always.

***

Red Rock Video Poker Warehouses, or whatever the name is that Station Casinos trades under on Wall Street, is further enriching powerful shareholders by purchasing $350 million in stock buybacks. Now, clearly, is no time to raise the gaming tax.

(The above items are excerpts, some lightly massaged, others more heavily, of material published over the last week in the Daily Current newsletter, the editor’s opinionated morning news roundup, which you can subscribe to here.)

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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