POLITICAL EYE: Berkley, other candidates tell families' stories

Rep. Shelley Berkley made her debut last week before an audience of national political reporters, at a briefing where the Democratic party trained a spotlight on some of their female candidates running for U.S. Senate.

Berkley, along with Reps. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, sought to personalize themselves and their motivations for office. The stories were framed to emphasize that Democratic candidates come from diverse backgrounds and have had experiences typical of many Americans.

"I'm the granddaughter of immigrants to this country that couldn't speak English," Berkley, 60, said in her presentation. "They escaped; they came to this country in order to escape the Holocaust. My mother's side of the family is from Greece; my father's side is from the Russia-Poland border.

"When they came to this country ... they had very limited skills. They had no money. The only thing they had was a dream, and that dream was that their children, and their children's children would have a better life here in the United States then they had back from where they came from."

In the early 1960s, Berkley's father, George Levine, was a waiter in the Catskills struggling to support his wife, Estelle, and daughters Rochelle and Wendy. He decided to head West.

"Everything we owned was in a U-Haul hooked up to the back bumper," Berkley recalled. "We drove across country on the old Route 66. My dad had a letter of recommendation to get a job as a waiter in Southern California."

At Hoover Dam, the family decided to divert to Las Vegas for the night. As Berkley tells it, they stayed at a motel beyond the north end of the Strip.

As Rochelle, then 12, and her sister stayed behind that night, their parents drove down Las Vegas Boulevard. By chance they were spotted by another couple they knew from the Catskills. The next day, George was taken to the Culinary union hall and got a job as a waiter at the old Sands Hotel, rising eventually to maitre d'.

"That was 48 years ago," Berkley said. "When I first moved to town there were less than 100,000 people. Now, I have over 2 million people, population of the state is 2.5 (million).

"Public service is a way for me to give something back to this country for not only taking my family in, and giving us a chance to survive, which we have, but to thrive, which we have as well," said the seven-term member of Congress.

Democrats have 11 women running for Senate this year , with six being incumbents. Five Republican women also are running, one being incumbent Olympia Snowe of Maine.

A Republican spokesman said despite Democratic efforts to set a narrative for the 2012 elections, they will be decided on the economy, and Democrats will be on the defensive.

"Democrats lost seven Senate seats last cycle ... because their message and their candidates were to the far left of most voters in their states," said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"This election will be a referendum on the Democrats' economy, and every single Senate Democrat candidate is going to have a very tough time defending their record of 9 percent unemployment, a $15 trillion debt, and job-killing tax hikes on America's small businesses."

-- Steve Tetreault


Republicans soon will identify a candidate who will "knock your socks off," beat incumbent state Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, and help the GOP to capture the state Senate in next November's election, says the senator expected to lead the Republican caucus.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said Friday that within weeks his caucus will identify their choice to face Copening in the Senate District 6 race.

Roberson said he is confident Copening's challenger and former Henderson City Councilman Steve Kirk, who is challenging Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, can win Senate seats next year and return state Senate control to Republicans.

Breeden and Copening knocked off Republicans in 2008 to give Democrats control of the state Senate for the first time in 18 years. Democrats hold 11 of the 21 seats.

Roberson expects Republicans to gain a 12-9 lead following the election.

Kirk would need to pick up a lot of crossover votes in a district where Democrats hold a 6 percentage point registration advantage. The Democratic margin is almost 7 percentage points in Copening's district.

Still, Roberson, who hopes to become majority leader, anticipates strong Republicans like Kirk and the soon-to-be-identified candidate can overcome those deficits.

-- Ed Vogel


A bill to crack down on smugglers who use ultralight aircraft to bring drugs over the Mexican border has been passed by the U.S. Senate.

The measure increases penalties for smugglers convicted in connection with the use of single-seat motorized gliders whose pilots can fly low, evade detection and drop bricks of marijuana .

Authorities say the use of ultralights has become more common in cross-border trafficking. Since ultralights are not classified as airplanes, convictions carry lighter penalties than if smugglers had used cars or full-sized airplanes.

Legislation that passed Thursday would establish the same penalties, up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The sponsors were Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Tom Udall, D-N.M.

-- Steve Tetreault

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.