Reid on a new ‘track’

Victor Joecks

Earlier this year, Republican powerbroker Sig Rogich endorsed Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election effort. And today Reid has unexpectedly announced that he no longer wants a government-funded maglev train between LA and Las Vegas, which he had publicly supported for years â’€ and he now favors a new train between Victorville and Las Vegas, in which Rogich and his business partners have already invested millions.

All right, let’s step back, look at this from the beginning and see if it could really be what it seems.

Rogich is a big-time Republican donor and has helped numerous Republican candidates in Nevada get elected over the years, most recently Gov. Jim Gibbons. Rogich also worked on the Reagan and Bush 41 campaigns. The man has connections, experience and money.

In February, Rogich endorsed Democratic Sen. Harry Reid for re-election. And last week, a group called Republicans for Reid, which includes Rogich, announced its endorsement of Reid. By itself, that’s no big deal, as people occasionally support candidates from the other side of the political aisle.

Fast-forward to today. Reid has just announced that he no longer supports a maglev train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and instead wants a cheaper, private alternative.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and an ardent supporter of high speed rail systems, said today he no longer favors construction of a maglev — or magnetic levitation — train between Anaheim and Las Vegas.

Instead, the Nevada Democrat said he now favors a conventional high speed train between Victorville and Las Vegas — a privately funded venture that is farther along in the planning process and cheaper to build than the maglev proposal, which has been studied for almost three decades.

“I’ve been working on this for 30 years,” Reid said. “We’ve gotten nowhere. Maglev projects have been abandoned around the world. It’s time to stop talking and start doing something.”

The proposed DesertXpress is a steel-wheeled train that would travel up to 150 mph along the heavily traveled I-15 corridor. It would provide an alternative to motorists who often drive more than six hours one way during weekends to reach Las Vegas from the Los Angeles area. The 183-mile system is estimated to cost $3.5 billion to $4 billion.

In contrast, the system proposed by the American Maglev Group, which would rely on government funding and bonds sold to investors, would run 270 miles and cost at least $12 billion to build. A first leg is planned for Las Vegas to Primm on the Nevada-California line.

This marks a major turnaround from a few years ago and even just the past few months, when Sen. Reid was a big supporter of the maglev project. In 2008, he secured $45 million for it, and this year he supported the $8 billion in stimulus funds that could have been used for the train.

However, the bill does provide $8 billion for unspecified high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects, more than three times as much as allocated in earlier versions of the legislation…

In a town that loves to connect the dots, the funding increase raised suspicions that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who played a key role in writing the bill, pushed for it in order to promote home-state interests, namely the Anaheim-to-Las Vegas project…

A Reid spokesman said the money was not being earmarked for any specific project but would be available on a competitive basis. “This was a major priority for President Obama, and Sen. Reid as a conferee supported it,” said Jon Summers.

Aside from the interesting note that Sen. Reid is suddenly concerned about reckless government spending, this would appear to be a non-story â’€ except that one of the backers of the “high speed train between Victorville and Las Vegas” that Reid now enthusiastically supports is … Sig Rogich. From February 2009 in the Review-Journal:

Backers of DesertXpress, among them Nevada GOP powerbroker Sig Rogich, are pouring millions into their project and courting Nevada lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a longtime maglev supporter.

A press release by DesertXpress identifies Rogich as “President of Rogich Communications Group, a partner and spokesman for DesertXpress Enterprises.”

So Rogich, a prominent and active Nevada Republican, endorses Reid, and a few months later Reid reverses a position he’s publicly held for years, which directly benefits a business into which Rogich and his partners have invested millions.

Reid’s spokesman downplayed the connection, saying the senator has worked in Nevada for decades, and is “connected to people on just about every side of every issue.”

Riiiiiiiiiight. Move along now. Nothing to see here.

(h/t CityLife blog)