U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said today that Nevada’s Republican Party will never be as disciplined as its Democratic counterpoint, but that’s a good thing.
“There’s a lot of points of view in the Republican Party,” Heller said in a meeting with the Review-Journal editorial board. Of the Democrats, he said, “They all think the same.”
Republicans have conservative, moderate and liberal members (although it’s not entirely clear when the last liberal Republican appeared in public). The fights between those groups will eventually make the party stronger, not weaker, he said.
Republicans are “finding themselves,” he added.
The journey hasn’t been easy: Conservative/libertarian members took over the party in 2012, installing like-minded people as party officers and causing havoc by criticizing the national party over nomination rules. Nevada’s GOP delegation to the 2012 Republican convention broke the rules to cast votes for Texas Congressman Ron Paul on the convention floor rather than eventual nominee Mitt Romney.
And things got downright embarrassing for elected leaders after Gov. Brian Sandoval last year made an 11th hour move to install his handpicked chairman of the state party — lobbyist Robert Uithoven — over incumbent Michael McDonald. Uithoven lost badly, and Sandoval said he’d simply move forward by building his own campaign organization.
Heller — who’s not on the ballot again until 2018 — says he agreed with Sandoval’s decision to boycott the state party’s endorsement process, which requires candidates to fill out a questionnaire and submit to an interview. Sandoval objected, saying his record in office should provide sufficient information to Republicans to decide whether he should be endorsed or not.
Heller agreed. But therein lies the problem — there are some in the conservative party base who would object to many things about Sandoval’s record, including his decision twice to extend an expiring package of taxes; to expand the Medicaid program and create a state-based health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act; to sign off on allowing local governments to raise taxes; and to sign a bill granting driver authorization cards to immigrants who came to the country illegally.
In fact, Heller, too, has cast some votes the party base might question, from voting to extend unemployment insurance (in which he partnered with Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed); a bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill with a pathway to citizenship; and voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
But Heller said he tries to work across party lines when he can, even joining something called the “Common Sense Caucus,” a group of nine Republicans and nine Democrats who meet to discuss issues. If more lawmakers got to know each other on a social level, compromise might not be so hard, Heller said.
In other remarks, Heller said:
- He wouldn’t be surprised to see Sandoval return to the federal bench rather than run for higher office. Heller said he’d spoken to the governor, who said in “broad context” that he might seek to resume a judicial career, perhaps on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Sandoval was a U.S. District Court judge for four years, from 2005 to 2009. Some have speculated that Sandoval might be a candidate for Senate against Harry Reid in 2016.
- He didn’t take personally a remark by Reid, who has said, “I miss John Ensign.” Reid and Heller have a frostier relationship than Reid did with former Sen. Ensign, who resigned after a sex-and-lobbying scandal. “I just throw it out there as a Joe Biden moment,” Heller said with a grin.
- The unilateral changes President Barack Obama has made to the Affordable Care Act are attempts to help vulnerable Democrats politically, not fixes to the law. “Any Democrat that [sic] voted for this bill who’s in a close race is going to lose,” Heller said. Asked about actual fixes for the law, Heller replied: “We [Republicans] need six more seats,” and thus a GOP majority in the upper house.
- Explaining his recent vote against raising the debt ceiling, Heller acknowledged the politics. “I think it is irresponsible not to raise the debt ceiling,” he said. “But I think it is more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without any financial reforms.”
- One way to get those reforms? Bring the Bowles-Simpson report to the floor in the form of a bill, and allow unlimited amendments from both sides of the aisle. Heller predicted the final product would garner 80 votes in support. (The recommendations of the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson — have been essentially ignored since their report was released in 2010, although Democrats say they have found ways to make budget cuts essentially equal to those called for in Bowles-Simpson.)
You can read more about Heller’s remarks in Laura Myers‘ story here.
UPDATE: Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman replied today to Heller’s “Joe Biden moment” remark above. Here’s what she had to say:
It was not a “Joe Biden moment.” Senator Reid does miss John Ensign because they were able to work together to do some really good things for Nevada one example being the Southern Nevada Public Lands [Management] Act. Nevada continues to see the benefits from SNPLMA. In fact, this afternoon Senator Reid will open a new Visitor’s Center at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge that was built with funds from SNPLMA.