Reality bites

The joint appearance Sunday between candidates for governor Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval was a disappointment in every possible way. It was almost as though Jim Gibbons was never defeated—and was on that stage representing both parties.

It’s fair to ask why Democrat Reid and Republican Sandoval ever got into the race at all, and especially why Sandoval gave up a lifetime judgeship for the race. What was the point, if they only want to provide the same style of “leadership” as the incumbent? The two men told us what they think we want to hear, the very definition of a lack of leadership.

In a forum limited to discussion of education, they prattled on about sweeping plans and reforms, mentioning but failing to address the elephant in the room—the state’s deepening shortfall and faltering tax system make quality education nearly impossible. (Reporter Jon Ralston noted that the forum took place in a school—Agassi Prep—that has gotten “remarkable results” with per-pupil spending twice that of our stingy state government.) The candidates slighted higher education, which is so crippled that it is undercutting state economic diversification efforts. They managed to get in cheap shots at teachers, holding some of the victims of Nevada’s crappy system responsible for its failings. Reid seemed to glory in going against the grain of expectations of Democrats by beating up on teachers while telling anecdotes about individual teachers.

Where were the hard truths the public needs to hear? It has been a long time in state history since Nevada has faced more difficult times, and the public needs to hear the bad news. Upbeat pablum is for some other year.

Not surprisingly, news coverage of the forum was just as unsatisfactory, describing the candidates’ stances mostly in terms of their campaign impact—whether candidates gained or lost with voters. More journalists should have subjected the candidates’ claims to scrutiny, checking with experts on whether those claims make sense and what the impact of their programs will have on students and the state’s economic development prospects. Who cares whether the forum “gave the edge” to one candidate or the other? That’s not what’s at stake. The future for our current and upcoming students and our state are. Who gained or lost will be answered conclusively soon enough.

Before the forum, there was considerable discussion of the decision by sponsors to exclude third-party and non-partisan candidates. In retrospect, it was a grievous mistake. Those other candidates could have served the purpose of pushing Reid and Sandoval to get more specific and more realistic. It’s especially disappointing that public broadcasting stations—created to provide the kind of programming that commercial stations do not—were willing to go along with the exclusion of the other candidates and carry this incomplete forum.

The principal fault, though, lies with the two candidates, who keep campaigning in a Nevada that we wish existed instead of Nevada as it is—bruised and wounded. They timidly talked around all hard issues of money. The people of this state have had to live for four years with a governor who is out of touch with reality. Sunday’s forum offered little encouragement that things will change in the next administration.