If politics were a popularity contest, Rep. Joe Heck would have won at Clark County's Lincoln Day Dinner.
That's if you go by applause at Saturday night's Republican Party shindig at The Venetian, where a who's who of politicians and potential officeholders dined with nearly 500 friends and supporters.
U.S. Sen. John Ensign was introduced first and received polite applause. The tepid response suggested he has a long way to go to gain the GOP support he needs for his announced run for re-election in 2012. Ensign remains under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee related to an affair he had with a former staffer. GOP leaders are hoping he'll retire instead of running.
Rep. Dean Heller, who's being pushed to run for Ensign's seat, was far more warmly received. Heller's district covers Northern and rural Nevada, and dips into Clark County, but he's still not as well known in Southern Nevada.
Heck, the hometown boy from Henderson, won the loudest applause from the crowd of Republican regulars. They praised him for beating Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in one of the closest 2010 contests in the country.
"It's going great," Heck said of his work in Congress as he shook hands and posed for pictures at a VIP reception.
Heller also worked the VIP room, a familiar setting for the former Nevada secretary of state who, by his own count, has attended more Lincoln Day events in the past several weeks than any other GOP officeholder in the state.
Most of the state's 17 counties hold breakfasts, lunches or dinners to honor the first Republican president. And Heller has hit about a dozen.
A couple of weeks ago, Heller barely made it to a Fallon dinner after pulling an all-nighter on Capitol Hill so the House could pass a budget bill. The next day he attended a Pershing County breakfast and then went to Douglas County the same night.
"If you count all the dinners and parades and county conventions, it's pretty much nonstop," Heller said.
Riding the chicken circuit across Nevada is required for any politician seeking statewide office.
"He's not going there just for the dinners," joked state Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, who was ribbing Heller.
Gov. Brian Sandoval skipped Saturday night's dinner, calling in sick with the flu.
GOP Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki filled in for the governor, who sent a letter to rally the troops. In it, Sandoval repeated his pledge not to raise taxes and urged Republicans to counter "half truths" from Democrats about his budget.
"He has taken a lot of body blows, but he's standing firm," Krolicki said. "He hasn't blinked."
Next year's elections were on everybody's minds, including Sharron Angle's. She sat at a table in the back of the room. In 2010, the Tea Party favorite lost a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate.
Angle said she doesn't know what office she might seek: Ensign's, Heller's or one in the Legislature.
"I'm not strategizing yet. I'm just waiting to see what happens," said Angle, a former state assemblywoman.
Angle raised eyebrows while traveling recently to several early voting states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- to help promote a Christian film called "The Genesis Code."
"No, I'm not going to run for president," Angle said before the question was asked.
Angle, like many politicians with ambition, is coming out soon with a book titled "Right Angle." It will be part conservative philosophy, autobiography and looking back at the 2010 campaign, she said.
"It's about issues that conservatives care about more than anything," she said.
-- Laura Myers
OPEN MEETING LAW COMPLAINTS
There never may have been a meeting in legislative annals like the one last Tuesday before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee in Carson City.
For most of the meeting, local government lobbyists and others complained about a proposed change in the open meeting law that would allow the attorney general's office to impose a $500 fine on violators.
The problem was they were complaining about a word that wasn't supposed to be in the bill.
What irked most of them was not the amount of the fine, but that the fine could be imposed "regardless" of whether the public official participated in the violations. Other members of a public body could violate law, but even the innocent official would be hit with the fine.
Then Assistant Attorney General Keith Munro announced that was not the intention of Assembly Bill 52, which grew out of recommendations from a task force appointed by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Munro said the bill was supposed to read that fines would be imposed only if a public official willfully violated the law that requires public bodies to post in advance agendas of their meetings and set aside time for citizens to comment.
According to an attorney general's report, about 50 to 70 open meeting law violation complaints are filed each year by members of the public. In about 25 percent of the cases, the attorney general's office finds a violation occurred. The affected officials are notified, but face no punishment.
According to Munro, there was a "drafting error" in AB52 by Legislative Counsel Bureau lawyers that led witnesses to believe anyone could be assessed the $500 fine. The attorney general's staff caught the error weeks ago, told the Legislative Counsel Bureau and assumed that bill drafters fixed the proposal before it was introduced in the Legislature.
From the tone of some who opposed the bill, it was clear they do not want any kind of fines to apply, especially since some members of the boards and commissions subject to the open meeting law are low-paid or volunteers.
But Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, finally had enough of the complaints.
"Can't they read, at least once, the open meeting law?" she asked. "They should be more involved than sitting in front of TV."
-- Ed Vogel