When I got so confused by the political fliers landing daily in my
mailbox that I couldn't tell where either candidate for my state Assembly
seat actually stood, I copied down their phone numbers and called them.
These guys are spending thousands of dollars trying to get their message
to you, aren't they? Trust me, if you're a registered voter, they are not
going to mind if you save them the quarter and call them.
One of Jeff Knight's volunteers called me last Thursday evening to ask if
she could speak to me about Mr. Knight. I said no, I'd called him and it
was him I wanted to talk to. "You called him?" asked
the young lady. "Wait a minute, I'll put him on."
Young Mr. Knight won the Review-Journal's endorsement this year (there
was no third-party candidate), but it was a close call. Counting against
wonderfully-named incumbent Tom Collins far more than the fact he's
admitted to engaging in a few barroom scrapes over the years (his response
when asked to confirm or deny those rumors a few years back remains a
legend at the paper: "I've whupped, and I've been whupped") is the fact
that he regularly wins the endorsement of every public employees' union in
Tom is a big supporter of public school "class size reduction," which
sounds great except that fast-growing Nevada never has enough classrooms to
actually put just 22 kids in each. So they squeeze 44 kids into each room,
put one teacher at the front to teach and one at the back to grade papers,
and call that an "22-to-one student-teacher ratio." A teachers union
full-employment boondoggle, is what it is.
Jeff Knight made a good pitch to the editorial board in favor of
privatization and smaller government. But I increasingly worry, these days,
that such talk comes cheap.
I asked young Mr. Knight -- who literally went to school with Tom
Collins' kids -- if he supports the Second Amendment. He said he does,
though he admitted he owns no firearms and belongs to no gun-rights groups,
nor even to the National Rifle Association.
Then why on earth, I asked him, did so many of his mailers feature
frightening, full-color staged photographs of handguns in school
lunchboxes, and accuse Tom Collins of wanting to make it legal for
convicted felons to carry guns?
It turns out that's a reference to the first version of Nevada's
"must-issue" concealed-carry handgun permit bill, introduced by Tom Collins
years ago, which would have required Nevada sheriffs to license concealed
carry of pistols without background checks. The Republicans now interpret
that early version (the law which finally passed does require some
background checking) as "legalizing" concealed carry by convicted felons,
though I suspect it would still have been a parole violation for many.
As for felons who have finished paying their debt to society, they're
allowed to go to church under the First Amendment, aren't they? They still
have a right to a jury trial under the Fourth Amendment, don't they? If the
Second Amendment is a right, it's a right. Why do we have to fill out any
darned "permit applications," punishing the 98 percent of us who are
law-abiding in a vain effort to disarm the rest?
Mr. Knight started squeaking a bit at that point, insisting it's "only
the criminals, only the felons" he's concerned about. "Everyone else has a
right to carry a gun." All those frightening pictures of kids with guns
appeared on pre-printed, generic GOP party handouts based on focus groups
that told them folks were worried about violence in the schools this year,
he explained. "My only decision was whether to use them or not, and since
it's a close race and I was being outspent, I had to use them." With his
name and photo plastered at the top, mind you.
Tom Collins got home at 11 p.m. that evening. The reason I know is
because that's when he called. I let the answering machine field the call,
so he called back again at 7:30 the next morning.
What kind of politician is Tom Collins? He has streets in his district,
on the far northwest edge of Las Vegas where the desert and the Indian
reservation start, that have no streetlights, recalls columnist John L.
Smith. When voters asked him for streetlights, Tom Collins went to work and
got the county to OK them. Then Tom Collins -- a journeyman lineman by
trade -- showed up and installed those streetlights in
You bet Mr. Collins was going to keep calling till he reached this voter.
He explained about the concealed-carry bill. I asked why we need permits
at all. He agreed, but said that was the best bill he's been able to get
passed so far, and a whole lot better than it used to be.
As my friend L. Neil Smith says, "How can you trust a politician who
won't trust you with a gun"?
On Tuesday, I voted for Tom Collins -- a Democrat, a proud union member,
a gun owner, and a life member of the NRA.
The race was supposedly too close to call. By sunrise Wednesday, Mr.
Collins had roared home with 58 percent of the vote.
Next time: a tough choice in the nation's closest Senate race.