Political vitriol sparks call for moderation in Nevada

Updated May 29, 2017 - 9:20 am

Everywhere Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller goes in Nevada, protesters seem to be waiting to pounce.

They disrupt his speeches and town halls screaming grievances. They accuse him of working against Latino and women’s rights. They lambaste him for supporting President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks and executive orders.

It’s a scene that’s played out for Heller in Nevada — and for numerous GOP lawmakers nationwide — since the 2016 election concluded.

Town halls, luncheons and rallies have been dominated by raucous protesters, often in a seemingly coordinated effort. But as the sea of heckling and protest continues to build, a call for moderation rings from both sides.

Brad Reiplinger, a 56-year-old Republican from Clark County, is dismayed that so much of the political debate is on the far ends of the spectrum — leaving little room for compromise.

“I don’t understand why there’s so much playing out on the fringes,” Reiplinger said. “It always has to be one way or the other.”

The protests have centered on the most partisan issues and often fail to resonate with the moderate base, said Billy Vassiliadis, an influential operative for Democrats in Nevada and CEO of R&R Partners.

“Voters are sick of this. The average person is sick of this,” Vassiliadis said.

At a Latin Chamber of Commerce Luncheon in Las Vegas last week where Heller was the guest speaker, that animosity boiled over.

One by one, protesters stood and shouted their displeasure with the state’s senior senator. The hecklers’ anger didn’t escape him.

“No matter where you stand on the issues of the day, there is one fact I think we can all agree on, and that is our country has never been more polarized,” Heller told the crowd. “There’s a lot of anger on both sides of the political aisle. More anger than I’ve seen in my political career.”

Voters feel as if their voices aren’t behind heard, especially when they’re directed at Heller, said Annette Magnus, executive director of the progressive nonprofit Battle Born Progress. And that anger manifests into shouting matches with lawmakers like Heller, as at the Latin Chamber lunch.

“We’re frustrated when they will not answer a question,” she said. “It’s about accountability.”

Jacob Deaville, president of the UNLV College Republicans, said the protests could backfire on Democrats.

“I think they’re effective at unifying Republicans,” Deaville, 21, said. “It makes us want to work that much harder together.”

“Downward spiral” of discourse

Vassiliadis, who worked for former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller’s campaign and was an adviser on the campaigns for President Barack Obama and longtime U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said this “downward spiral” has been building for the better part of two decades.

Vassiliadis attributed that degradation of political deliberation to a plethora of issues: Americans isolating themselves within their own news bubbles through social media; network news channels that focus on the provocative over the substantive; and a political industry that has made campaigning a full-time job.

Another Clark County Republican, Lynda Delgado, summed up the problem succinctly.

“We’re not good listeners anymore,” Delgado, 64, said.

But Vassiliadis said there’s hope that civil discourse could eventually return. And that hope lies in millennials, who he said put a larger value on social and civil responsibility compared with their older counterparts.

“I’m hoping that as that generation emerges and matures in their thinking, that the greater good takes over,” he said. “Because we’ve made a mess of it.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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