NEVADA — Here in the Silver State, John Oceguera isn’t a household name—although, as the Democratic nominee for the House of Representatives in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, he’d like to be.
Sure, Oceguera’s the Speaker of the state Assembly—but the legislature hasn’t been in session since June of 2011, so he’s not making any headlines in that role. And while his campaign for Congress is getting some attention from journalists, much of it has been unflattering at best.
I first blogged about Oceguera’s trouble with the local media corps in May. In two separate TV interviews in the Las Vegas market, Oceguera, a retired-firefighter-turned-politician, was tongue-tied and unprepared when asked whether he—a Democrat, remember—would have voted for the Affordable Care Act.
Since that episode, Oceguera went on to win his party’s primary, and he’s now trying to unseat the first-term incumbent, Republican Joe Heck, an osteopath and Army reservist who served in Iraq. Though some campaign-watchers consider the race a toss-up, a September poll found Heck up by double digits.
It remains to be seen how Oceguera will do with voters, but he was pilloried again by Nevada journalists last week. The occasion was the release on Oct. 8 of an attack ad in which an Oceguera surrogate—a woman who describes herself as a victim of sexual violence—levels allegations against Heck:
I see the fear in their eyes For many victims of rape or abuse, it’s a matter of life and death. I know because I was a victim myself.
I don’t know why Joe Heck would vote against funding for a rape crisis center, try to restrict rape victims’ access to abortion and opposed funding to help victims of domestic violence. Maybe he’s never had to look in their eyes.
But if Joe Heck doesn’t stand up for them—just who is he standing up for?
Condemnation of the ad has been loud and clear from virtually every major political news outlet in Las Vegas, and from both journalists who wear their political views on their sleeve and those who play it straight.
On Oct. 9, libertarian commentator Elizabeth Crum, co-host of the “The Agenda” on KSNV-Las Vegas, blasted the ad as “one of the most dishonest, despicable political ads I have ever seen.” (The discussion starts at the 7:28 mark of this clip.) The same day, David McGrath Schwartz, writing the “Line of Attack” feature for the Las Vegas Sun, deemed the ad “outrageous.”
A couple of days later the state’s largest paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, weighed in, with columnist Steve Sebelius calling it “untrue.” Also on Oct. 10, Jon Ralston, whom many consider the dean of Nevada political journalists, took the Ocegeura campaign to task on his new Ralston Reports website, calling the ad “desperate and revolting.”
Ralston also, very helpfully, posted the Oceguera campaign’s fact sheet for the ad, and taking a look at it provides some clues about why journalists here were so upset. The claim against Heck voting against funds for a rape crisis center and support for domestic violence victims is narrowly true, but lacking important context. Here’s how McGrath Schwartz described the relevant history in the Sun:
At issue is a bill at the end of the 2007 [Nevada] legislative session. Like almost every other year, leftover money was bundled together in a big bill to fund special projects—sometimes referred to as pork. Among the 42 projects in Senate Bill 579—which included community centers, park projects, $150,000 for an “Online Nevada Encyclopedia”— was $250,000 for a rape crisis center and $200,000 for a nonprofit group’s domestic violence prevention program.
Heck was one of only two [state] senators to vote against the bill.
Heck, his campaign said in a statement, voted against the bill because it was introduced only a few hours before the Legislature ended.
“While there were a number of quality provisions,” Heck’s campaign said in a statement, “the truth is taxpayers have every right to expect a more substantial consideration of spending bills.”
Or, as the Review-Journal’s Sebelius put it, you could credibly argue that Heck voted against the crisis center funding. But “then again, one could credibly argue he voted no because he thought $200,000 was too much to spend on exhibits for the California Trail Interpretative Center, or that the Advisory Council for Organic Agricultural Projects was spending too much, or that an oral history of the Nevada Legislature just wasn’t worth $228,056.”