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Carrigan wrong, wrong, wrong
by Jake Highton
Jun 26, 2011 | 792 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sparks Councilman Mike Carrigan is a good guy, an honest guy. But he is also stubborn.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against him on an ethical position he remained defiant. He thinks he’s right, the court is wrong and so are nationwide ethical codes.

He still insists that the Nevada ethics law is “unconstitutionally vague” as to what is an ethical conflict.

Maybe. But maybe it’s also a case of a former Navy careerist with a military mindset refusing to take no for an answer.

Carrigan is also wrong in refusing to talk with reporters from the Sparks Tribune.

He says some of the newspaper’s coverage of him has been biased and unfair.

Possibly, but unless newspapers praise politicians, their coverage is considered distorted, one-sided and slanted.

As always, it takes two to quarrel. This columnist does not know who or what started the feud. But he does know that it is wrong for Carrigan to maintain a childish snit.

Public officials must talk to the press whether they like to or not. It is essential that they give the readers their side of any issue.

It is also essential that the press maintain its watchdog role, “to bark” at anything suspicious.

And it is essential for public officials to understand that the voters are their bosses and that the press represents the readers, not the politicians.

The pols don’t have all the answers any more than the press does. But the dialogue must be open between the governed and governors. It serves no purpose to use “bad coverage” as an excuse to remain silent.

Councilman Carrigan and Nathan Orme, editor of this newspaper, need to bury whatever  ancient animosities exist. Not for Carrigan’s sake or for the Tribune’s sake, but for the sake of the newspaper’s readers.

As for the recent Supreme Court decision, it was a blow to the Carrigan ego. The prevailing 5-4 court majority is reactionary Republican. Carrigan is no reactionary but he is a Republican.

The court is seldom unanimous about anything but it voted 9-0 against him.

Unlike a decision in an admiralty case that nobody cares about, a Supreme Court ruling on ethics is important to politicians, and above all to the people.

The U.S. Supreme Court emphatically rejected the Carrigan viewpoint. It reversed the Nevada Supreme Court ruling, which had toppled a censorious decision by the Nevada Ethics Commission. And it ruled that ethics laws for legislators are as old as the nation.

Jefferson, presiding over the Senate in the early days of the Republic, adopted a recusal policy for the sake of decency and for “the fundamental principles of the social compact which denies to any man to be a judge in his own case.”

Justice Scalia, writing the court’s opinion, noted: “Virtually every state has enacted some type of recusal law, many of which, not unlike Nevada’s, require public officials to abstain from voting on all matters presenting a conflict of interest.”

Carrigan voted for a casino project backed by his friend and campaign manager – a clear conflict of interest. That fact hardly makes him dishonest. But the principle is everything.

Scalia is as right as rain in the Carrigan ruling. But the irony is obvious when it comes to his ethics.

Scalia participated in the case of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s failure to disclose records of his secret energy task force. Scalia should have recused himself because he went duck hunting with his pal Cheney and rode the vice presidential plane to Louisiana for the hunt.

Scalia scoffed at the notion that he could be bought so cheaply, which is beside the point. The reactionary Cheney did not have to buy the vote of the reactionary Scalia.

Most recently, Scalia was asked to recuse himself from a Wal-Mart sex discrimination suit because his son is co-chairman of labor and employment practice at the law firm representing Wal-Mart.

Not only did Scalia refuse, he provided the fifth vote Monday in yet another outrageous pro-business decision by the Partisan Five. Scalia should also “cast out the beam” in his own eye along with that in Carrigan’s.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who has many ethical problems of his own, at least had the decency to recuse himself from a VMI case because his son went to school there.

Politicians throughout the nation, including the five Supreme Court politicians, must be like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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