A smiling, relaxed Rep. Joe Heck met the press today at the offices of his Las Vegas-based consultant, deftly answering questions from TV and print journalists as he kicks off his campaign for U.S. Senate.
“I’m a healer. That’s who I am, that’s what I do,” said Heck, an osteopathic physician who practiced emergency medicine, at the end of his announcement video.
Democrats, meanwhile, took issue with Heck’s announcement video, saying it doesn’t comport with his record as a three term Republican congressman in Nevada’s 3rd District.
Heck said running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by a retiring Harry Reid wasn’t something he’d always wanted to do, and he initially rejected the idea when asked about it in November. But he said he began reconsidering after getting calls from people urging him to consider the race, after Gov. Brian Sandoval declared he wouldn’t be a candidate.
“It’s not something I’d thought of,” Heck said. But he discussed it with his family, and actually went so far as to take a vote at the dinner table (it was unanimous in favor of running). “Everybody needs to be on board,” he said. Asked if he’d have reconsidered the decision if one of his kids had come down against a Senate bid, Heck said he might have if the reasons had been legitimate.
Democrats, however, issued a chart providing point-by-point rebuttal of Heck’s announcement video, reminding voters of a vote that led to a government shutdown in 2013, opposing an increase in the minimum wage, calling Social Security a “pyramid scheme,” a vote against President Barack Obama’s executive order deferring deportations for DREAMers, and calling the controversial Supreme Court decision that held that closely held private corporations such as Hobby Lobby have a free exercise of religion right to refuse to provide certain types of birth control for employees.
“Congressman Heck opposes increasing the minimum wage, wants to privatize Social Security, and supports turning Medicare over to private insurance companies,” said Nevada Democratic Party spokesman Zach Hudson. “Nevadans will have a clear choice between [former Attorney General] Catherine Cortez Masto’s record of protecting Nevada families and taking on the big banks who forced countless Nevadans into foreclosure with Congressman Heck’s record of siding with Washington special interests.”
Hudson said Masto wasn’t available for comment today, although she did email a statement after Heck’s announcement seeking to raise funds. “I’m heading into an emergency finance meeting now, but I know what the team will say: We need everyone – that means you – to give $5 or more right this second,” she said in the fundraising email.
In an interview with reporters from the Review-Journal and the Associated Press this morning, Heck discussed a wide range of topics.
• On immigration, Heck said he hasn’t changed his position in opposition to the2013 bipartisan Senate bill that never saw action in the House. But he reiterated his stance in favor of a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally. “I think there needs to be a pathway for DREAMers to become citizens. In fact, I drafted my own bill last Congress in an attempt to bring that forward,” he said. (Heck’s bill, along with all other immigration legislation, was stymied by House Republican leaders, whom Heck once criticized publicly for their inaction on the issue.)
• Although he declined to say how he’d vote on the ballot initiatives that will appear alongside his name on the November 2016 ballot, Heck did appear sympathetic to gun background checks but opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“I am a supporter of increased access to medicinal marijuana,” Heck said. “I still have concerns about recreational marijuana use, primarily from a public safety perspective. Do we want another intoxicant out there for people to be operating a motor vehicle under the influence of?” He said the lack of a quick test to determine the level of a person’s impairment — and standards against which to measure impairment — were lacking.
On background checks, Heck was more sympathetic. “I’m a gun owner,” he said. “I believe that anybody who wants to purchase a gun should be willing to undergo a background check. I have no issues personally submitting to a background check when I purchase a gun, and I don’t think if anybody has anything to hide, they should be concerned about undergoing a background check.”
However, Heck added, he didn’t want a background check system to lead to a federal gun registry. “I do not support that federal registry,” he said. “The federal government really has no reason to know what firearms I own or anybody may own.” (Although the initiative, which would apply only in the state, does not establish a gun registry, it would require the same paperwork in a licensed gun dealer’s store that is generated when a dealer sells a firearm.)
Heck also said background checks would not stop violent mass shooting incidents, since criminals skirt background checks by purchasing weapons illegally, or use guns purchased legally in their crimes.
In terms of the election, however, Heck said he didn’t think those initiatives — which tend to appeal to younger, more liberal voters — would have an impact on voter turnout in his race.
• On the growing gap between rich and poor, Heck said jobs and the economy was the No. 1 issue facing Nevada voters. He said unemployment or underemployment was a problem facing the state and the country. His solution? “We’ve got to support policies that encourage the business owner to either start a business, grow a business, so that they can put more people back to work in better-paying jobs,” Heck said. “We have to address that, and the way we do that is by encouraging pro-growth economic policies that give business owners the incentive to give pay raises and put more people on the payroll.”
• On public lands, Heck’s views aren’t that different from most Nevada Republicans, whether urban or rural: “Certainly, I do believe the federal government owns too much of Nevada.” But he said the costs associated with taking over public lands could be prohibitive. “The question becomes whether Nevada is ready to take that land back, because it comes with a cost.”
• On Yucca Mountain, Heck said he’d act to protect Nevada’s interests, but seemed to provide some wiggle room, noting the repository site is located on federal land outside of state control. He brought up the recent case of disposal of low-level nuclear waste from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, in which state officials were able to negotiate concessions before the waste was shipped to the Nevada National Security Site for disposal.
“Again, it’s federal land. And I don’t want us to be in a position where we’re going to get jammed by the federal government and not have any say in the issue,” Heck said. “It is the current law. The current law says that this licensing process is supposed to move forward to determine whether or not the repository is safe. And we’ve never gotten to the point where that decision has been made.”
But state officials have uniformly opposed the dump site, saying a raft of scientific research shows the proposed site isn’t safe. They would be called upon to present that evidence if the licensing process moves forward. Thus far, however, Reid has been able to short-circuit the process by stripping funding for the repository out of budget bills.
Speaking specifically of low-level waste, Heck said safety records are clear: “We move this material around the country quite frequently. We know how to move it safely. Whether or not that will translate to high-level nuclear waste … that’s the process that is supposed to be moving forward to make that determination.”