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The optics of the VA clinic contract

Sometimes in politics it is about the optics.

Freshman federal lawmaker Cresent Hardy won the optics Wednesday running out to announce the awarding of a contract to build the VA clinic in Pahrump, placing himself front and center for receiving credit.

At 8:17 a.m., an email arrived in my inbox from the office of U.S. Rep. Hardy proclaiming, “Under pressure from Hardy, long overdue Pahrump VA clinic back on track.”

Although the release didn’t mention the amount ($12.1 million) or the contractor (W&J Development), until almost the end of the nearly 650-word press release, it was front-loaded on self-credit for the congressman of seven months.

“The VA today awarded a contract to move the project forward, after unabated engagement and pressure from Congressman Hardy and his staff for the last seven months,” wrote Hardy’s staff.

Then the staff took to quoting Hardy himself.

“Before I took office, I promised veterans in Pahrump this new clinic would be a top priority, and I haven’t backed off since. We’re one step closer to seeing that promise fulfilled.”

The release also included two quotes from two leaders of Pahrump veterans organizations, and Nevada State Senator Pete Goicoechea as well as Nevada State Assemblyman James Oscarson. While the quotes didn’t give Hardy direct credit, that is probably lost on most readers of the release.

Apparently feeling emboldened, Hardy takes a swing at the previous holder of Hardy’s office. And why not take a shot at Nevada’s biggest name in Washington, to boot.

“Congressman Hardy’s predecessor in the 4th District, as well as Senator Harry Reid, had each promised progress on the clinic in years past, but ultimately could not cut through the red tape, and the project continued to languish.”

The not-so-subtle implication being that the new kid in the nation’s capital was able to succeed where someone who has been there for 32 years was not.

A mere 29 minutes after the Hardy email arrived in my inbox, Reid’s people sent out a release with the strange headline, “Reid Announces Signing of Pahrump’s Veterans Clinic.”

Since the media all get the same releases, I’m not sure who the senator’s office thought they were announcing the news to, since it had already been announced.

Another part that struck me as strange in the Reid release was its half-hearted attempt to put Reid in the discussion.

“Reid and his staff have spoken with VA officials frequently about the project’s status, including a meeting in June 2014 in Senator Reid’s office with VA officials.”

I had to read that twice. The best involvement they could come up with was in June 2014? Thirteen months ago? The short release read as if the Reid office had been caught off-guard by the Hardy release and threw something together.

Reid’s people then took to social media to undercut Hardy’s claim for credit.

At 8:25 a.m., I posted the release from Hardy’s office on my personal Twitter account. It was 71 minutes later when Kristen Orthman, deputy communications director for Senator Reid, responded to me on Twitter stating, “(Hardy) just got to Congress 7 months ago, he had nothing to do with this.”

Then she posted “My guesses on top (Senator Reid) accomplishments (Rep. Hardy) will take credit next: Closing Yucca Mountain.”

Then the Nevada State Democratic Party sent out a release thanking Reid for his help “bringing health care to Pahrump veterans.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal and today’s Pahrump Valley Times tried to put in context Reid’s involvement.

“In July 2014, Reid and then-Rep. Steven Horsford summoned top VA officials to explain the project delays and were told construction would begin that fall.”

Hardy’s headline grab comes as he is needing to build up a war chest of political capital before next year’s election. Hardy won his seat in November by the slim margin of 63,466 votes to 59,844 votes, or 48.5 percent to 45.7 percent. Three Democratic challengers have already lined up in hopes of unseating Hardy next year: Las Vegas philanthropist and community leader Susie Lee, former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen.

I don’t know how much Hardy or Reid had to do with getting the VA clinic contract signed at this time. I’m not sure many of the veterans in the community who have been waiting for the clinic care.

The promise of a new VA health clinic to replace the leased space being used on Calvada Boulevard is five years old. The contract bid went out three years ago. At this point the veterans are probably tired of being a political football and just want to see shovels in the ground.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times

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