Face to face, it’s hard to dislike Nevada’s three House members

Usually during the August recess, four out of five of Nevada’s congressional members agree to an editorial meeting with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

If you’ve never been to one, it’s a lot like running the gantlet, except sitting down.

Now that they are videotaped for RJtv and available on our Web site, the politico sits on one side of the table, usually all alone. On the other side are Editor Thomas Mitchell and three editorial writers. The political reporter and the general interest columnists are invited to the meetings, but have nothing to do with the editorials.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has been “too busy” to come to an editorial board meeting for many years now. Or maybe he just figures it’s not worth his time any more, since he’s not about to change any of the editorial writers’ minds.

I’ve never forgotten the year Assistant Editorial Page Editor Vin Suprynowicz, a Libertarian purist, asked Reid, in all seriousness, “Why do we need Medicare?”

Our Democratic senator shook his head in disbelief.

Reid gave up on the R-J editorial board a number of years ago, although for a while he accepted invitations to lunchtime roundtables where anyone in the newsroom could ask him questions. But now he doesn’t even do that.

This year, U.S. Sen. John Ensign also is “too busy.”

Our Republican senator doesn’t want to face questions about his affair, his parents’ $96,000 payments to the family of the mistress, or his involvement with a controversial religious group called “The Family.”

So Ensign wimped out.

But House members Shelley Berkley, Dina Titus and Dean Heller all came in and took on all comers, answering questions and debating issues.

For Democrats Berkley and Titus, it’s a little rougher, since they both know that philosophically they’re at odds with the newspaper’s libertarian views. Heller had an easier time, since his conservative Republican views are more in line with the editorial board’s.

Berkley appeared to enjoy debating people who disagree. Titus was wary, answering the questions but not trying to duke it out. Heller was at ease, even willing to admit he engaged in hyperbole when he previously claimed the health plan bill included having lawyers in doctor’s offices arranging for end of life decisions.

These meetings don’t change many minds. But they show how politicians handle themselves when they’re on their own without support staff for protection.

All three of our House members passed with flying colors. Each one spoke without playing word games or dissembling or saying anything incredibly stupid.

While the health care discussions absorbed most of the time, the lawmakers also shared personal stories and jokes.

Making a point about preventive health care, Berkley retold the story about getting a tour of the office of the doctor she had been dating for two months when he asked her to take a new test. Dr. Larry Lehrner, now her husband, told her, “It only takes five minutes and you don’t have to take your clothes off.” She discovered she had osteoporosis. Now medication will strengthen her bones so they won’t break.

Heller told of his 18-year-old son getting his first paycheck from his firefighting job in Yosemite National Park, and his horror at finding out that 30 percent of the check was taken out for taxes. That sparked a serious father-son talk about economics.

Titus shared the joke among House Democrats that “the Republicans are the opposition; the Senate is the enemy.”

The biggest shock she’s had as a freshman, even though she was a UNLV political science professor? “I didn’t realize how tightly controlled party things are.” The party tracks how much time she spends on fundraising calls and even checks on the press releases her office sends out.

Excerpts from each of the three editorial boards are on the multimedia section of our Web site at www.reviewjournal.com. Berkley and Titus are in the August archive; Heller is still on recent videos.

It’s easy to try to demonize the politicians trying to find solutions to overwhelming problems. But when you sit across a table and actually listen to their answers, even if you don’t agree with them, you realize they’re trying, and maybe are even smarter than you thought. At least that’s the impression left by Berkley, Titus and Heller.

The two no-show senators left the impression they’re not “too busy” but they’re gutless.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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