Leaderless Nevada

Imagine a corporate executive in Chicago or Seattle sitting in his office working on where to locate the company’s new facility. On his desks are the files on a half-dozen states, including Nevada.

He begins his day reading the New York Times, in which there is a story about a group of people—some of them with guns—gathering in Nevada to support a rancher who doesn’t want to pay his bills. Then he turns to the Wall Street Journal, where he learns that Nevada’s governor and one of its U.S. senators are supporting the rancher and his followers.

But that wasn’t the worst part of Brian Sandoval and Dean Heller’s behavior in this episode. They deftly put themselves on Bundy’s side without actually endorsing his lawbreaking, signaling to the GOP’s fringe their support for a reckless extremist while staying inside the lines. Sandoval attacked the BLM for creating free speech areas where members of the public could be heard by reporters without wandering into what easily could be the line of activist fire, a step frequently taken to protect the public in crisis situations from campus disorders to forest fires.

Heller—plus GOP attorney general candidate Adam Laxalt—attacked Bureau of Land Management officials for going in armed when they confiscated the scofflaw’s cattle. Remember that rancher Cliven Bundy’s disciples had been posting all kinds of inflammatory stuff online about Ruby Ridge and Waco, that some of them were armed, and that in the course of this loony 20-year old movement, BLM and Forest Services offices have been bombed three times in Nevada. Police organizations, keep this in mind when Laxalt comes around seeking endorsements.

Keep in mind, too, that Heller as senator is supposed to help pass laws, Sandoval as governor is supposed to implement laws, and Laxalt as attorney general would sometimes be expected to enforce laws, yet all of them were supporting a rancher who considers abiding by the law to be optional, who picks and chooses which laws he obeys. And Sandoval, a former federal judge, sided with those ignoring a federal judge’s orders. Pandering won out over law. Again, police groups take note.

But the conduct of these figures was not the worst part of the episode. That fell to the Democrats. While Republicans were lining up behind Bundy’s lawbreaking, Democrats said nothing at all. The extreme rhetoric of Bundy’s supporters—the three local Republicans included—dominated news coverage in the early days of the dispute. This was a time when public opinion was being formed, and law enforcement needed support. Moreover, with Heller, Laxalt, Sandoval and other Republicans undercutting law enforcement at a time when Bundy supporters were urging deputies (who were in the sights of hunting rifles) not to do their jobs, it became even more important for the Democrats to stand up. It was exactly the time for leadership. But few familiar figures spoke for law enforcement. Where was U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who waited until after the matter was settled to comment? U.S. House members Dina Titus and Steven Horsford waited until late in the game. Democratic state legislators, Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Senate leader Mo Denis were silent. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto was reportedly in negotiations to try to calm the situation but never spoke publicly.

Former Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan was one of the few Democrats to speak out for law and sanity. Otherwise, in a time that cried out for leadership, Nevada Democrats failed us. Again.