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Nevada GOP sends mixed message on NSA vote


The Nevada Republican Party that earlier this year came out in favor of a path to citizenship for U.S. residents who are in the country illegally took a stab last week at another hot-button issue.

But in so doing, it unwittingly jabbed at one of its own, Rep. Joe Heck.

The party on Thursday issued a statement against the National Security Agency’s collection of phone data on millions of Americans, and in favor of an amendment in the House that sought to curb the surveillance program.

The amendment, by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., was killed, 217-205.

“We’re disappointed the House chose to reject the Amash amendment yesterday,” the statement quoted James Smack, Republican national committeeman. “The fact that the vote was as close as it was speaks volumes to the fight between those who value our liberty over security and those who would prefer less liberty for our citizens.”

The party complimented Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who voted to halt the broad surveillance, saying, “We continue to appreciate the leadership that our congressman from Congressional District 2 demonstrates.”

Amodei viewed the vote as a chance to send a message about where the government should draw the line on privacy, his aides said.

But fellow Republican Heck voted the other way, seeing the surveillance as a tool that has prevented terrorist attacks. The state party’s stone silence on Heck was noticeable to onlookers and some in the GOP as well.

The Nevada Democratic Party, which rarely misses an opportunity to zing its opponents, moved to fill the void.

“Apparently the Nevada Republican Party is ‘disappointed’ in Rep. Joe Heck,” spokesman Zach Hudson said.

“Yes, the #NVGOP is working very well together,” Review-Journal opinion columnist Steve Sebelius wrote on Twitter.

Nevada’s two House Democrats split as well, with Rep. Dina Titus voting in favor of the surveillance, and Rep. Steven Horsford saying he would have voted against it if he was not home recuperating from heart surgery.

Unlike the GOP, Sebelius wrote, “NV Dems will very likely not eat their own.”

The episode was the latest head-scratcher involving the state Republican organization, where establishment members and supporters of limited, “constitutional government” espoused by former presidential candidate Ron Paul are in uneasy co-existence.

“I don’t speak for individual personalities on the board, but I will speak for the board in saying that never, ever was there an intent to take a swing at one of our elected leaders,” state party Chairman Michael McDonald said Friday.

Heck’s campaign, which is facing a challenge from Democrat Erin Bilbray, did not comment. Other Republicans shrugged off the episode as another sign of state party dysfunction.

Party members familiar with the matter said the NSA came up in a phone meeting of county chairmen and the state executive committee that coincidentally was held a few hours after the Amash vote Wednesday.

Pointing out that the state Republican platform adopted last year endorsed repeal of parts of the Patriot Act and other laws that “clearly violate fundamental privacy rights,” they said there were calls to compliment Amodei on the faithfulness of his vote, and to ask Heck about his.

Following the vote, Heck spokesman Greg Lemon noted the Nevadan sits on the Intelligence Committee and has access to inside information about terrorist strikes he said were thwarted by surveillance authorized by the Patriot Act.

“Congressman Heck believes these programs are critical to maintaining our national security,” Lemon said.

— Steve Tetreault

BIG DOGS RALLY TO HUTCHISON

Nevada’s Republican big dogs quickly are getting behind Las Vegas lawyer and first-term state Sen. Mark Hutchison, who was encouraged by Gov. Brian Sandoval to run for lieutenant governor.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller announced his endorsement of Hutchison in a posting to Twitter last week.

At week’s end, an email from Sandoval’s political organization announced a Sept. 4 fundraiser in Las Vegas for Hutchison, with Heller and Rep. Joe Heck also listed on the invite.

Sandoval is running for a new term as governor in 2014, with early money on his re-election. But the race for lieutenant governor, which generally is a post with few high-profile responsibilities, also is drawing plenty of attention.

Besides Hutchison, other Republicans said to be looking at the race include Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas and former Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden.

Among Democrats, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores of Las Vegas and Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins are said to be considering the race.

If a Republican wins the seat, pundits say it could make Sandoval more comfortable about turning over the governorship in 2016, perhaps to run for the U.S. Senate or to take a federal post if a Republican is elected president.

When Hutchison announced his candidacy on July 8, Sandoval tweeted his approval minutes later. Appearing on the “Nevada Newsmakers” program in Reno last week, Hutchison said he and Sandoval “didn’t talk at all about 2016” when they spoke about the job.

Hutchison estimated a campaign for lieutenant governor could cost $1.5 million to $2 million, and “I would be fully prepared to do everything I need to do to win the race,” including spending some of his own money if necessary.

— Steve Tetreault

LAWMAKERS GATHER IN LAS VEGAS

Nearly 600 lawmakers, academics and policy experts will descend on Las Vegas this week as the city and the Legislature host the Council of State Governments-WEST 66th annual meeting.

The meeting will draw legislators from 13 Western states as well as international representatives from Canadian provinces and Mexican border states.

Nevada state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, is chairman of the group this year.

Lawmakers from Alaska to Montana will attend committee sessions to share best practices and learn different ways states are addressing topics such as health care, energy and public lands. Policy sessions on education, fiscal affairs, agriculture, water and Western trends will be part of the four-day gathering at The Mirage beginning Tuesday.

Speakers include:

■ ABC News Senior Contributor Claire Shipman, who will take a look at national politics and the implications for Western states.

■ The former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Howard Putnam, who will focus on leadership during turbulent times.

■ Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes Magazine, who will discuss the U.S. economy and what it means for the states.

■ Magnus Lindkvist, identified as a “world-renowned trend spotter,” who will talk about what to expect in the future.

Additionally, on Monday during a meeting of the Canada Relations Committee, the state of Nevada and the province of Alberta will sign a memorandum of understanding to enhance collaboration on regional issues with regard to economic development.

Attendees also will have the chance to tour downtown Las Vegas to review its redevelopment efforts.

CSG-WEST is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that promotes sharing of best policy practices, cooperation on regional issues and professional development for Western state and provincial lawmakers.

— Sean Whaley

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

 

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