In the first test of growing dissatisfaction with both major parties in the aftermath of the recent debt-ceiling debacle, independent congressional candidate Helmuth Lehmann hopes to capitalize on voter anger and frustration in his long-shot quest to capture Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District seat.
The little-known Reno resident is one of four candidates running in the Sept. 13 special election to replace Republican Dean Heller, a three-term congressman who was appointed to fill the remainder of John Ensign’s scandal-plagued U.S. Senate term this past spring.
Mark Amodei, a former state senator and ex-state party chairman, is the Republican nominee while State Treasurer Kate Marshall is holding aloft the tattered Democratic banner in the battle for the largely rural northern Nevada district — a seat that has never been won by a Democrat.
Tim Fasano, a semi-retired aerospace contractor and perennial candidate of sorts, is also running. He’s the nominee of the ultra-conservative Independent American Party, a longtime fixture in Nevada politics. Fasano, 51, was roundly criticized in third-party circles last year for desperately trying to knock another minor-party candidate off the ballot in Nevada’s widely-watched U.S. Senate race — a contest won narrowly by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Fasano finished last in that race.
Amodei and Marshall are both career politicians.
Incredibly, neither major-party candidate has offered a comprehensive economic plan to deal with Nevada’s 12.9% unemployment rate — the highest jobless rate in the country — or its record-shattering number of business and home foreclosures.
With 106,160 foreclosure filings last year, or one in every eleven housing units in the state, Nevada has had the highest foreclosure rate in the country for each of the past four years. It also leads the nation in mortgages that are underwater.
Despite offering precious little in the way of bold or imaginative solutions to Nevada’s longstanding economic crisis, Amodei is widely regarded as the frontrunner in the four-cornered special election.
Amodei’s economic proposals — to the extent that he has any — focus on a balanced budget amendment, abolishing the estate tax, and making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent. It’s all the usual Republican stuff.
Anxious to overcome a string of excruciatingly painful and embarrassing losses in congressional special elections they were expected to win — the most recent in New York’s Republican-leaning 26th district in late May — the GOP has been investing heavily in the Nevada race.
Aided by nearly a million dollars in television advertising from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican-aligned American Crossroads — a 527 organization with ties to political strategist Karl Rove — Amodei holds a 13-point lead in the race, according to a Magellan Strategies poll commissioned by the conservative Americans For Prosperity earlier this month.
According to the poll, Amodei, whose party holds a 30,000-voter registration advantage in the district, enjoys a 48 percent to 35 percent lead over Marshall.
Though he barely registered in that poll, Helmuth Lehmann — the only candidate who petitioned his way onto the ballot in the special election — remains upbeat as the campaign heads into its final stretch, buoyed by what he perceives as a growing dissatisfaction with Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s an antipathy he’s hoping will unexpectedly manifest itself at the ballot box.
Early voting started last weekend.
Hoping to tap into the district’s widespread discontent with both Congress and the White House — congressional job approval plunged to a historic low of 13% nationally in recent weeks while President Obama’s approval rating simultaneously dropped to the lowest point of his presidency — the low-key and likeable Lehmann believes he has an outside chance of pulling off a major upset.
“I first entered the race hoping to shape the debate,” the first-time candidate told Battleground Blog last month, “but now I’m running to win.”
Voter discontent with Congress and President Obama within the recession-ravaged district is almost palpable, says Lehmann, whose low-pitched and penniless campaign has taken him to virtually every nook and cranny in the sprawling district that spans some 105,000 square miles, covering all of northern Nevada and a small portion of Clark County in the south.
Lehmann, who fought vigorously to be included in two of the three congressional debates during the campaign, isn’t your typical candidate. He’s a man of ideas, a quality that’s sorely lacking on Capitol Hill.
Unlike his three opponents, he also doesn’t have a partisan bone in his body.
As the U.S. remains mired in a seemingly never-ending recession that looks more and more like another Great Depression to tens of thousands of Nevadans who have lost their livelihoods or their homes — often both — over the past four years, the 54-year-old Lehmann, alone among the four candidates in Nevada’s special election, is offering serious solutions to the country’s seemingly insoluble economic woes.
“Our nation has become a fool’s garden for the short-sighted,” says Lehmann, a business consultant and turn-around specialist who has guided several companies teetering on bankruptcy back to profitability without resorting to layoffs or other draconian, budget-cutting measures.
His success stories include turning around the struggling Booth Gardner Parkinson’s Care Center in Evergreen, Washington. A nonprofit foundation named after former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner — a Parkinson’s patient himself — the center had been losing a steady stream of patients, physicians, physical therapists, neurologists and other caretakers before Lehmann arrived on the scene.
Given the inability of congressional Republicans and Democrats to deal with the nation’s sagging economy, it might make sense to put a “turn-around specialist” like Lehmann in the halls of Congress.
For starters, Lehmann is highly critical of the so-called “super committee,” the 12-member bipartisan committee established by congressional leaders in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis and tasked with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving.
The super committee, which includes an automatic trigger mechanism to trim over $1 trillion from the deficit if committee members can’t agree on a deficit-reduction plan or if Congress fails to act on their recommendation, essentially absolves members of the House and Senate from fulfilling their legislative responsibilities, says Lehmann.
The automatic trigger will free members of both parties from having to make the hard decisions in dealing with the nation’s gloomy economic and fiscal outlook. “It’s legislative cowardice,” says Lehmann, echoing the disgust of many voters in both parties.
While the United States long ago reached the point of what the late Eugene McCarthy profoundly described as “No-Fault Politics” — the slow erosion of presidential and congressional responsibility — this so-called “super committee” and its dangerous trigger threatens to take the lack of accountability in public life to a whole new level: an accountability-free Congress.
Even if the dozen super-committee members agree on a deficit-reduction package, Lehmann sees little hope for an economic recovery unless the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy — firmly rooted in the failed trickle-down policies of the past — are rescinded.
The 54-year-old Lehmann, incidentally, is the only candidate in the race who supports ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — a massive Robin Hood-in-reverse redistribution of wealth to America’s most affluent citizens estimated to have cost the U.S. Treasury $2.5 trillion through 2010 and are expected to cost an additional $855 billion between now and 2013 as a result of Obama’s two-year extension.
Trailing in the polls, even Democratic nominee Kate Marshall — running to the right of President Obama and her own party in the heavily-Republican district — has unapologetically embraced the misguided Bush tax cuts.
“I think we need to keep the Bush tax cuts,” said Marshall during a recent televised debate, echoing a Republican talking point that small businesses need the tax cuts to create jobs.
Unlike Marshall, who has tried distancing herself from the Obama Administration and rarely mentions the President’s name on the campaign trail, the little-known Lehmann is hammering away at the Democratic chief executive for caving into the GOP’s demands for no revenue increases while making Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid vulnerable to future budget cuts.
Unlike his opponents, Lehmann realizes that austerity isn’t a path to prosperity and cautions that economic conditions will probably only get worse by pursuing such a policy.
Even Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism, wouldn’t have approved of the cold-hearted unraveling of the nation’s safety net proposed by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and other Republican congressional leaders, Lehmann told Battleground Blog.
Like many progressives dismayed, if not sickened, by Obama’s unwillingness to fight for new tax revenues while caving in to Republican demands for entitlement cuts, the cerebral candidate also faults the President for failing to name consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), to head the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — an agency in which the former federal bailout watchdog had been the chief architect.
“She would have been ideal,” said Lehmann, who hopes to introduce a bill in Congress to repeal the Gramm-Leach Act of 1999, legislation championed by Wall Street and signed into law by President Clinton that repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and eventually led to the housing bubble and the financial meltdown in September 2008.
Having recently authored a book titled, “Losing America: How Self-Serving Leaders Are Destroying Our Future” — an in-depth and riveting look at how self-serving politicians in Washington and greedy Wall Street executives are destroying the “American Dream” — Lehmann’s platform includes a bold initiative to create 50,000 jobs by constructing eight to ten solar zones, each encompassing 10,000-30,000 acres, in eastern and southern Nevada.
In making Nevada the solar energy capital of North America, the environmentally-sensitive candidate maintains that his proposal would power eight to ten million homes and businesses, enabling Nevadans to sell the excess energy to their neighbors in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Utah.
He also thinks Nevada is missing a golden opportunity by refusing to increase eco-friendly mining for rare metals, which are abundant in the mountainous state and used in thousands of products, including solar energy applications, hybrid vehicles, weapons systems, iPod’s and high-definition televisions. China currently produces more than ninety percent of the world’s demand for these metals, explained Lehmann.
Lehmann is also critical of Nevada’s toothless foreclosure mediation program, which started in 2009, requiring lenders to meet in good faith with state authorities to make foreclosure decisions. He said some homeowners have had to wait a year for mediation to begin.
Lehmann thinks its time to get tough with the banks and other financial institutions, those who have benefited to the tune of more than $2.5 trillion during this economic crisis in the form of taxpayer bailouts and Federal Reserve largesse.
“I think we have to strong-arm the banks to start making deals with homeowners,” he said persuasively.
Unless the citizens of Nevada get serious about the state’s twin crises — joblessness and housing — Lehmann believes it won’t be long before the state begins “to look like a third world country within the United States.”
Lehmann, who worked his way through college and graduate school by swinging a hammer and later working as a policy research wonk for the Institute for Creative Capitalism, an economic think tank — earning an M.A. in Public Policy and an MBA in Finance at the University of Texas at Austin and St. Martin’s College in the process — also favors a 17% flat tax, which would include the current 6.2% Social Security tax paid by individuals.
He also favors removing the annual $106,800 cap on incomes and would subject individual incomes up to $10 million to the same Social Security tax rate of 6.2 percent paid by ordinary taxpayers — those earning less than $106,800 per year.
Lehmann, who is highly critical of Corporate America for sitting on an estimated $2 trillion in cash at a time when the country’s anemic economy has virtually ground to a halt, believes that his flat tax proposal would have generated about $520 billion in federal taxes from corporations in 2009, compared to the relatively meager $191 billion that they actually paid.
Lehmann, who has an autistic adult son and has personally been out of work since losing his job with Microsoft Licensing last year, knows firsthand the day-to-day struggles of ordinary Nevadans — the thousands who have lost their jobs and their homes during this extended economic crisis.
“I want to alleviate their suffering,” he says.
Things are so bad, says Lehmann, that if he’s elected he’ll consider expanding the scope of the Federal Disaster Relief Act to allow Nevada and other economically distressed communities to be declared National Economic Disaster areas, allowing federal emergency disaster funds to flow to a state-owned bank for job creation and alternative energy growth. Emergency funds would also be used to stabilize the state’s beleaguered housing market.
Now, if the recession-battered citizens of Nevada only had a magic wand…