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Is James Oscarson a hero or heretic?

Beyond the lights of Pahrump, you’d be excused for not recognizing James Oscarson’s name.

The Republican Assemblyman from the Nye County metropolis had no real political career highlights to speak of as he entered his second term this year. A trained nurse, he’d worked in various capacities for several health care providers and most recently has served as Director of Community Relations at Pahrump’s Desert View Hospital. The family man has won a few Rotary Club awards, according to his website, and believes his professional experience gives him insight into the health care needs of Nevadans.

If after reading so far you’re finding it difficult to stifle a yawn, you’re getting my point. Oscarson’s political portfolio hasn’t been punctuated with many exclamation points.

That all changed this past weekend when, depending on your perspective, he did either a very brave or very hypocritical thing by announcing he was moving from the right to the center and agreeing to vote for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s record $1.1 billion budget package.

In agreeing to stand with the majority — and telegraphing it with a long, almost pleading missive to the press — Oscarson distinguished himself among his conservative peers.

“Governor Brian Sandoval set the tone of this legislative session when he declared that the Senate and Assembly must transform Nevada with substantial reforms in education, health care, tort law, construction, collective bargaining, economic development, and more,” Oscarson began. “I shared Governor Sandoval’s vision for Nevada’s future. The status quo was no longer acceptable.”

After listing some of the impressive successes of what I call the Sandoval Sweep, Oscarson concluded, “I came into office committed to the good fight against more taxes and more spending. What’s more, I proudly represent the most fiscally conservative district in Nevada. Torn between taxes and the Governor’s plan, I faced one of the most difficult choices of my life. … Having spent the session passing good reforms, and wading through the Governor’s recommendations, I am now convinced that the budget we will pass is reasonable, prudent, and transformative. … And while I believe supporting the Governor is the right thing for Nevada, it is not the easy thing, especially for me.”

I suspect it’s about to get a lot harder.

Although some conservatives suspected Oscarson was secretly pretty squishy politically, his late-session defection invited a large target to be painted on his back. By Sunday, he began taking fire.

Prolific right-wing political blogger Chuck Muth, the Luca Brasi of the Republican Assembly’s staunchly conservative mob, went after Oscarson with something called a “Brush Fire Alert.”

“Fresh off his ‘useful idiot’ performance as a member of the Not-So-Great-Eight in killing ‘campus carry’ for this session, Assemblyman James Oscarson on Saturday joined the ranks of Republican sell-outs supporting Gov. Brian ‘America’s Worst Governor’ Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax hike,” Muth roared, exhorting Nye County Republicans to contact Oscarson immediately to remind him of his betrayal to conservative political principles, God, Flag, and so forth.

Measured, Muth ain’t.

He plays a key role in keeping the Legislature’s conservative soldiers in line, in no small part by reminding them they’ll get whacked if they even consider raising a tax or questioning whether a company doing business in Nevada is paying its fair share. If they go sideways, Muth calls them a RINO (Republican in Name Only) or something more colorful.

Except, according to the cover of his website, Oscarson’s not even a RINO. There’s scant mention of his Republican Party status. That, too, is likely to get him vilified by the locals who voted for him believing he was going to hold the line on taxes.

Like it or not, Muth and his conservative comrades were rolled in the Sandoval Sweep, and Oscarson played a role in that victory. Will the defectors sleep with the fishes?

Hero or heretic, James Oscarson is anonymous no more.

John L. Smith is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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