No special session

There is consideration underway of a special session of the Nevada Legislature to deal with State Controller Kathy Augustine. It would be a mistake.

Augustine used some of her office’s publicly paid staff members for political work. As a result, she was found guilty by the Nevada Ethics Commission of three charges and was fined $15,000, the largest fine ever imposed by the commission.

Augustine has long been an embarrassment in Nevada politics. Her election to the Nevada Senate, with her use of religion against her Jewish opponent, was particularly offensive. She is exactly what has gone wrong with our nation’s politics—a candidate willing to do anything to get elected.

But fair is fair. The voters elected her, and the bar should always be set very high for tampering with their choice. This case does not clear that threshold; her voters are entitled to consideration.

Civil libertarians should be outraged by the idea of the double jeopardy Augustine is facing—being penalized twice for the same offense, first by the ethics commission and then by the legislature.

Moreover, Augustine handled her hearing before the ethics commission exactly as she should have. She was contrite, admitted her mistakes, took “full responsibility for the actions that occurred,” apologized, and accepted the penalty. There has been no evidence or indication that her misconduct did anything to undermine the performance of the controller’s office.

Her performance is in sharp contrast with the state lawmakers who have long mixed their political and public activities and who, drawing themselves up to their full height and putting on their best outraged demeanors, have called for Augustine’s resignation.

State officials have faced impeachment in Nevada before, but none has ever actually been impeached, much less convicted. Even Surveyor General Louis Ferrari, who probably should have been impeached (he used his office to enrich his friends and himself with inside knowledge of a land deal), was allowed to serve out his term of office and leave.

Impeachment and conviction would be an extreme penalty for an offense that doesn’t meet the standards that should be met before the voters’ choice can be overturned.

Augustine is term-limited, her office performs well, and her political career is clearly at an end. Let her finish out her term and depart under the cloud she placed over her own head.