Berkley asks to see interview transcripts

Former Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley still is seeking satisfaction from a U.S. House ethics investigation that dinged her for a conflict of interest as she was completing her service in Congress.

In a May 13 letter, Berkley through her Washington attorney Marc Elias urged the House Committee on Ethics to release the interviews it gathered in the course of an investigation that ran more than a year.

The committee on Dec. 20 dismissed major allegations against the Las Vegas Democrat. But it found her in violation of an admittedly murky conflict rule stemming from two occasions when her staff helped her husband’s medical practice collect overdue government payments for treating veterans.

Finding no evidence Berkley acted with malice or to enrich herself from a service she also provided to other Las Vegas doctors, the committee recommended no punishment. But Berkley argues that also left her no recourse to confront and respond to evidence against her.

Berkley left Congress at the end of the year after losing a campaign for U.S. Senate. Now in private life, Berkley believes the transcripts include favorable information that would bolster a case that she did no wrong. She says at least one witness has told her he gave exonerating testimony.

“Although the committee dismissed the matter, Ms. Berkley would still appreciate the opportunity to review in full the transcripts,” Elias wrote.

Berkley received a quick reply, but not what she wanted. Her request was denied.

“No House or committee rule requires that your client be provided access to the investigative files you are seeking,” Elias was told in a May 20 letter from the committee’s chief counsel on behalf of panel leaders Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.

— Steve Tetreault

Assembly won’t drink to this

It’s official. The powerful Basque concoction known as the Picon Punch will not be Nevada’s official state drink as Nevada gets ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary of statehood.

The Assembly on Friday, reluctantly based on the number of vocal moans and groans, rejected an amendment to a state Senate bill that would have made it the state drink.

Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, suggested that the Assembly instead take the proposal to a conference committee with the state Senate where the idea could be discussed “over drinks.”

But with a lot of “nays” in the chamber, the Assembly backed off its Picon Punch amendment to Senate Bill 436, and so Nevada remains without an official drink.

It now joins the official state dog bill on the discard pile from the 2013 legislative session.

Picon Punch is a traditional drink served in Basque restaurants. Its ingredients, at least those followed by Louis’ Basque Corner in Reno, are: Fill a glass with ice, one teaspoon grenadine, 1.5 ounces of Amer and a shot of seltzer water. Splash with brandy and add a lemon twist peel.

— Ed Vogel


As the Legislature winds down toward adjournment today , state Sens. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, have begun to talk during floor sessions about their good old days at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas more than 30 years ago.

The two men have known each other since junior high school. After Hutchison delivered one of the key speeches backing a bill to create medical marijuana grow farms and dispensaries, Brower said he never could have imagined 30 years ago the conservative Hutchison would be advocating such things.

Both men voted for the bill, with Hutchison emphasizing he does not back the use of marijuana but the bill carries out the will of the people in a constitutional amendment they passed in 1998 and 2000.

Then on Friday night, Brower rose in the state Senate to ask Hutchison the meaning of a section of a bill correcting problems in laws.

“That’s the section that prevents former U.S. attorneys from ever seeking office in the Legislature,” Hutchison quipped, leaving former U.S Attorney Brower tongue-tied. “It passed by acclamation.”

The bill passed with even Brower voting yes. And the bill does not prohibit Brower or anyone from running for office.

— Ed Vogel


Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak readily admits that he’s no expert in picking pacemakers, the devices that help troubled hearts keep beating.

His admission came at a Wednesday meeting, when commissioners discussed the possibility of creating a separate board to oversee University Medical Center, the public hospital that serves the county. In Sisolak’s case, he recalled approving a pacemaker contract as a new commissioner knowing he’s not equipped to know which option would be best.

He used that story to illustrate a broader point in support of moving forward with creating a separate board devoted entirely to the public hospital, a complex organization.

Getting the cheapest pacemaker isn’t a good idea, he said after the meeting. He said those kinds of decisions aren’t just financial — lives are at stake.

In the end, the commission voted 4-3 to direct staff to craft a proposal for a new board, with input from a consultant. Commissioners could make a final decision later this summer.

It’s not a done deal yet, but the pace is quickening.

— Ben Botkin


After 40 years in state government, state Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden got a chance for the first time to sit on the state Senate floor with legislators.

Willden was the guest of state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who before being elected to the Legislature worked as the public information officer for Willden’s agency.

As the director of one of the largest state agencies, Willden oversees state mental health, welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and other social service programs. He grew up in tiny Caliente where he began working as a teenager for the state youth training center.

Kieckhefer, the father of two sets of twins, is a former news reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal and The Associated Press who once covered the Nevada Legislature.

He also is a fan of the Chicago Cubs, a team that has not won a World Series since 1908, a fact he knows too well.

— Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or
202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at or 702-455-4519.

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