Thursday, April 25, 2013

Evolving Is Awfully Hard to Do.

OK, so Monday night was a very emotional one for many of us. SJR 13 passed the State Senate, and Nevada is the first state to begin repealing a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. We saw many profiles in courage emerge this week, including Senator Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno). He provided compelling testimony for SJR 13 and marriage equality at the first hearing last month, but he didn't speak on the floor Monday before casting the sole Senate Republican vote for equality.

On Tuesday, Kieckhefer broke his temporary silence when he spoke to the Reno Gazette Journal's Ray Hagar about this week's big civil rights moment in Carson City. Check it out below.

And what does the vote say about Kieckhefer? Rival Democratic Sen. Debbie Smith of Sparks, the north's most influential senator, called his vote “courageous.” It also shows Kieckhefer cares about marriage equality, not just what subject is and isn’t covered in the constitution.

It was a smart move for a young man who may have a career in state politics beyond the Legislature. Indeed, Kieckhefer represents a conservative district.

But he’s smart enough to see a shift in the way people think about marriage equality. Let people marry who they want, many now say. Besides, Nevada is losing millions by not catering to marriage equality in our tourism industry in general and the wedding sector in particular. Live and let live. That’s the new thinking. Kieckhefer has that figured out.

In the final days before SJR 13 reached the Senate floor, other Republican Senators who claimed to support the bill backed out and ultimately declared their opposition. Why? They're claiming they always wanted to remove the Question 2 marriage ban from the Nevada Constitution, but they just can't vote to allow marriage equality a place in the Nevada Constitution. So on Monday, the other 9 Republicans voted to keep marriage discrimination in the Nevada Constitution. How does any of this make sense?

What seems more likely is that there was some sort of backroom politicking happening behind the scenes. We do know Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) ultimately whipped against SJR 13. Yet despite all this political drama, Senator Kieckhefer stood by his principles and supported marriage equality. Going forward, I suspect his position will be remembered as the courageous one... And it may ultimately provide a bit of redemption for the Nevada Republican Party.

This is the problem for Nevada Republicans... And really, for Republicans nationwide. They're increasingly seen by the general electorate as anachronistic, narrow minded, and just a bit too fond of wrongful discrimination. Something must change if Republicans want to be competitive in future election cycles. Republican political mastermind Frank Luntz gets it...

But unfortunately for him and for other high-level establishment Republicans, the "TEA" powered base would rather stick with Rush Limbaugh than change their ways.

We're also seeing this tug-of-war dynamic at work on immigration reform. In Carson City, several Republican legislators were falling over each other in a rush to attach their names to SB 303. This is the bill to establish driver's privilege cards for undocumented immigrants. And after many years of railing against this very policy, several prominent Nevada Republicans are now embracing it. Oh, and of course, they're desperately trying to improve their numbers among Latin@ voters.

But again, establishment Republicans have a growing problem in their midst here. It's called their base. Even after initially jumping to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, US Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) has been refusing to commit to anything as of late. Why? The "tea party" has been (mis)using the Boston Marathon Attack to fuel opposition to the Gang of 8 CIR bill now active in Congress.

Not too long ago, "TEA" devotees across America had great hopes for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and saw him as their conservative fantasy. But now, they're turning on him. Why? He's showing willingness to back the Gang of 8 CIR bill.

On Tuesday, Breitbart reporter Joel Pollak grilled Ryan about why he appeared with [Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois)], “who has some very radical views on immigration,” [because he's been demanding CIR] and about a variety of conservative concerns about the Senate bill.

In one notable exchange, Ryan argued that the Boston marathon attack — currently a source of conflict for the Senate’s immigration efforts — was further evidence that Congress needed to pass reform.

“If anything, it shows that we need to modernize our immigration laws,” he said. “We don’t know who is overstaying their visa, we don’t know who is coming into the country, we don’t have firm control of our borders, and we need to modernize our laws.”

That answer prompted condemnation from radio host Mark Levin, who has also been on the offensive against Rubio’s bill despite the Florida Senator’s best efforts to court his support.

“Paul Ryan is an extremely likable guy,” Levin said. “He’s been on this show many times. I like the man. But he’s creating a record here for himself that makes it very, very hard, in my view, if he chooses to run for president, to vote for him.

That is, Paul Ryan's national political future is at risk because he's flirting with moderation on immigration reform. No really, that's what Mark Levin is saying. Is this what now has Senator Heller wavering and waffling on CIR?

Last week, Senator Dean Heller ran as fast he could from a policy that 86% of his constituents support. And he effectively played a major role in killing gun safety reform that has broad support among Nevadans and Americans overall. Why? After flirting with moderation, he looks to be drinking the "TEA" again.

This is the problem. Many Republicans still don't know how to please their base while simultaneously making an appeal to everyone else. It's not easy to do when most Americans are trending one way while the "tea party" is stubbornly going in the other direction. Many high-level establishment Republicans here in Nevada seem to be expressing interest in "modernizing" (as in evolving and moderating)... But can they ever get that past Sharron Angle?

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