Fishing for Yucca votes

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In the casino industry, the really big spenders are known as "whales." In politics, though, the people with political capital to spend are simply big fish.

They would be members of Congress who will hold the fate of Nevada in their hands when they decide whether to send the nation's nuclear waste to a lonely site northwest of Las Vegas known as Yucca Mountain.

The nuclear industry, we learned this week from the Associated Press, has done an outstanding job of wining and dining the big fish of Congress -- well, mainly the little schools of aides who swim with them -- during "fact-finding" missions to Nevada.

They spend a few hours out in the rocks and sun touring the repository site, then are free to relax in the oasis of Las Vegas. "Free" being the operative word here.

"Our staffs are not the highest paid government people in the world," notes Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill. "If they get a chance to learn on the issue and to spend a few days (in Vegas), I have never seen that as a problem. "Staffers who have gone found it educational and enjoyable."

Darn tootin'.

The shame here is that Nevada and Las Vegas are being beaten at their own game. Those casino-owned jets have been sitting idle in their hangars waiting for the next high-roller, when they could have been whisking 28-year-old legislative aides in bad suits into town for some R&R -- research and relaxation.

"Pretty nice, isn't it?" would have been the message delivered along with cocktails and show tickets. "Too bad your boss is thinking of voting to make it the nation's radioactive waste dump."

We don't know how much influence these junkets have. From all the cynicism generated in regards to campaign-financing reform, we sometimes wonder if congressional votes simply go to the highest bidder.

We do know, however, when it comes to casting bait to reel in the big fish, Las Vegas shouldn't be second to anyone.


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