Level with us

When he appointed Dean Heller to replace John Ensign in the U.S. Senate, Gov. Brian Sandoval sought to address the concerns of those who felt he should not give an advantage to one candidate in the Senate election next year.

There were those who hoped he would choose a caretaker, someone with experience and capability who would not, however, run for a full term, keeping a level playing field in the campaign. We don’t happen to agree that the governor should have been restricted in that way, but his statement on appointing Heller gave us pause.

“The people of Nevada deserve a new senator who can begin work immediately,” Sandoval said in a prepared statement. “Too many important issues face our state and our nation to name a caretaker to this important position; Nevada needs an experienced voice in Washington, D.C.”

Few would have faulted the governor if he had in straightforward fashion asserted his prerogative to appoint who he chose. Instead, he tried to spin his choice of Heller his way in glib and deceptive fashion.

For instance, if he was so concerned with the public being represented, why did he make a choice that leaves the northern House seat formerly occupied by Heller vacant for five months, until a special election can be held?

Moreover, the rules and procedures of the House are dramatically different from those of the Senate. Heller will need to learn the Senate’s practices just as a caretaker would.

This kind of slickness has characterized too much of what the governor has said and done since his election and has disappointed those who saw him as a tonic after the somnolent and pandering governorship of Jim Gibbons.

Another example of the governor’s glibness came this week when the Nevada Economic Forum produced its predictions of state revenue for the next two years, predictions that are binding on the legislature and governor in writing the state budget.

“Today’s news from the Economic Forum is a strong signal that our economy is continuing on the road to recovery,” Sandoval said.

It is no such thing. The governor is mostly alone in that view. As economists have pointed out, momentary fluctuations in tax revenue do not overcome the basic weakness of the state’s economic infrastructure. The state still faces a troubled future that its leaders refuse to acknowledge.

The statement was characteristic of the way the governor incessantly puts an upbeat spin on every piece of bad news the state faces, as when he keeps describing a limping and resource-poor state economic development effort as strong and promising.

The public needs candid delivery of the unfavorable news about Nevada, unsettling as it may be. Sandoval’s approach is similar to that of Bill Clinton’s first year as president, when he tried to sugarcoat the deficit and other disturbing economic indicators. A better model would be John Kennedy’s first State of the Union: “Our problems are critical. The tide is unfavorable. The news will be worse before it is better.”

The public understands bad news. Spin goes down harder. Gov. Sandoval seems inherently unable to perform one of the basic functions of a leader—telling the members of the public what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.