Heller says he'll eventually run for governor

WASHINGTON -- When the question comes, Rep. Dean Heller pauses and then chuckles.

But he doesn't duck.

Yes, he says, it's fair to assume he eventually will run for governor of Nevada.

"I'm a Carson City guy," Heller said.

"I grew up in Carson City. I've been in Carson City since I was 9 months old," he said. "When I was in elementary school, middle school, I grew up with (former Gov. and Sen. Paul) Laxalt's kids. We spent a lot of time in the governor's mansion for that reason."

Heller, who will turn 47 on May 10, still remembers when he rode over to the governor's mansion on his bicycle with some friends to meet Oakland Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler and Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper.

"Kenny Stabler was throwing us passes," Heller said.

"I mean the governor's mansion has been part of my life for my whole life," he said. "And to some day have the ability to govern the state, yes, it would be something that I would desire to do."

But for now, Heller is a freshman member of the Republican minority in the House.

"I might not have said in my first term that I was looking at another job, but in his defense, he always has said serving Nevada as governor was a key goal," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

And the man Heller succeeded in Congress, former Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., is the current governor.

Before being elected to Congress, Heller served 12 years as Nevada Secretary of State. From 1990 to 1994, he was a member of the Nevada Assembly.

A Web site listing power rankings for members of Congress puts Heller near the bottom, ahead of only fellow freshman Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Rep. Bill Jefferson, D-La., who is the target of a corruption probe after the FBI found $90,000 cash in his freezer.

Heller, who has been in office for four months, dismisses the ranking.

"I figure the only way to go is up," he said.

Heller is similarly cavalier about television ads criticizing his support for the war in Iraq.

"I think most people in Nevada realize this is (coming from the liberal) MoveOn.org," Heller said. "MoveOn.org is not well liked in my district anyway."

With his 11-year-old daughter, Emmy, sitting beside him in his office on Take Our Daughters to Work Day, April 26, Heller brandished a copy of the report by the Iraq Study Group, the 10-member bipartisan panel that made 79 recommendations about the war.

Heller said the study group recommended a temporary surge in troops to help begin the withdrawal of other soldiers.

But Heller does not rule out opposing the surge if it is not working by September. That is when Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who was in Washington last month, is scheduled to return to the nation's capital for another progress report.

"I want him to be very open and honest in September because it's at that point I think the surge is graded or determined on whether it's successful or not successful," Heller said.

Although the war in Iraq has taken up more of his time than any other issue, it is not the topic his constituents are most concerned about, Heller said.

Immigration and the question of whether to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants generate more phone calls to Heller's office than any other issue.

Heller estimates amnesty opponents in his district outnumber supporters by at least 4 to 1.

As a member of the House Resources Committee, Heller also has discovered the starkly different philosophies between lawmakers from the East and West.

"I think we go too far on some of this stuff," Heller said. "The difference between urban Las Vegas and rural Nevada isn't nearly as defining as East Coast versus West Coast."