Election antics trump gaming legislation

What on earth is going on between Nevada’s two U.S. senators over online poker legislation?

Given the state’s extensive regulatory experience, industry analysts predict Nevada could gain plenty, in terms of both jobs and cash flow, from a national oversight framework. This is a moment when Nevadans would hope to see their senators work together, educating their cohorts on the benefits and safeguards of a national regime for a recreational activity that’s not going to go away, regardless.

Instead, senior Sen. Harry Reid went on the warpath against his junior colleague, Republican Dean Heller. The Democratic Senate majority leader accused Sen. Heller of failing to produce 15 Republican votes for the gaming bill by a Monday deadline, last week. Sen. Heller responded that he thought the House was going to move first on any measure.

“I did not want this issue to become political in nature but I cannot stand by while you abdicate your responsibility as a U.S. Senator representing Nevada,” Sen. Reid wrote in a public letter to Sen. Heller “Nevadans deserve someone who will fight for them.” Someone … else?

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Sen. Heller’s underdog challenger, then jumped in, saying Sen. Heller “has failed to deliver” on a bill that could create jobs in the state. Sen. Heller responded Saturday, accusing Sen. Reid of being more interested in helping Rep. Berkley defeat him in their Senate race than in passing a bill to legalize online poker.

Quick action on a non-emergency measure was never likely in the run-up to November’s election, but Sen. Reid purposely waited until September to blame Sen. Heller for not wrangling the needed 15 Republican Senate votes, Sen. Heller charged, saying Sen. Reid’s partisan maneuver had set back the chances of getting the bill passed. Sen. Heller said he, Sen. Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., could have pressed for passage of the gaming legislation three months ago, but Sen. Reid waited so he could inject the issue into the Heller-Berkley race.

“Harry Reid would rather have Shelley Berkley win this race than have this bill pass,” Sen. Heller said, adding that he’s still speaking with GOP colleagues in an effort to gather enough votes for passage, which could happen after the election.

Sen. Reid’s staff responded by saying they are shocked – Shocked! – that anyone would accuse the senior senator of injecting partisan considerations into the matter. If Sen. Reid believes Sen. Heller can’t manage the kind of wheeling and dealing required, wouldn’t some quiet, private, avuncular advice be more likely to produce results than a public manure-fest?

It’s impossible to pretend this isn’t all about the election that’s now only seven weeks away. Which raises an important question: If Sen. Reid believes Sen. Heller has been ineffective at gathering needed Republican votes for the poker bill, does he really believe a hypothetical Sen. Shelley Berkley – as a freshman Democrat – could do any better?

Nevada deserves better. We deserve senators who work together for the people, not their party.

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