Sen. John Ensign exit opens up opportunities

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Scandal-plagued US Senator John Ensign (R-NV) resigned from office on Friday 4/22/11. He had managed to avoid criminal prosecution for his activities but was still facing action by his colleagues in the Senate on ethics concerns – in fact, that process is expected to proceed to its conclusion even in his absence. His exit creates opportunities for others both in Washington and Nevada.


Ensign’s problems included an affair with the wife of a top aide and allegedly helping the aide into a job in Washington in contravention of revolving door rules, among other things.

Ensign stated, “It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years. The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada.  I can honestly say that being a United States senator has been the honor of my life.”

Of interest to broadcasters is one of Ensign’s committee assignments. He was near the top of the seniority list on the Republican side of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which is the Senate starting point for most legislative matters pertaining to communications in general and the broadcasting business in particular.

In Nevada, it adds a new element to the race to take his place during the 2012 election cycle. Ensign had already announced his retirement, and candidates from both parties were lining up to make a run for the seat in a state that has been one of the purple battleground states in recent elections.

The early exit possibly gives Republican governor the opportunity to name a successor to fill out Ensign’s term – although there is a possibility the decision as to who takes over the seat might be thrown open to the state’s voters.

But if Gov. Brian Sandoval makes the appointment, the name bandied about most prominently is that of US Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV), who has already announced his intention to run for the seat in 2012.

RBR-TVBR observation: Nevada was a huge battleground in 2010 as Sharron Angle (R-NV) took on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Reid was a major objective of the national Republican Party, and piles of cash flowed into the state from elsewhere. 2012 may not live up to 2010 spending levels, but it’s looking like it’s going to be yet another robust political spending season for the state.