Rep. Dean Heller (R)
Nevada 2nd District
Outside of metro Las Vegas, huge, empty, and mountainous Nevada has only one sizable population center, a cluster of small cities and towns near the border with California: the casino cities of Reno and Sparks, the small capital of Carson City, the restored Comstock Lode boomtown of Virginia City and the resort areas that surround (and endanger) the deep, impossibly blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Reno is so remote from Las Vegas that the only practical way to get there is by air. It takes more than nine hours to drive, eight of which are on two-lane highways that pass through just a handful of towns, none bigger than 7,000 people. Ghost towns that once bustled with miners dot the parched, sand-swept deserts of Nevada. In some places, these lands remain distinctly rutted from the wagon trains that crossed them more than 100 years ago. Today, Nevada’s small towns survive on mining, ranching and, in some cases, servicing the human sins of greed and lust: It is generally in the small counties that you find Nevada’s legal brothels. Immigrant Basque shepherds once tended their flocks in remote portions of northern Nevada and made carvings on aspen trees to pass the time. Today, Basque festivals, social clubs, and restaurants can be found in Winnemucca, Ely and Elko, while Reno is home to the national sheepherder’s monument and the nation’s only Basque Studies Department, at the University of Nevada-Reno.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The military has vast holdings in the Nevada interior: the Fallon Naval Air Station, home to the Navy Fighter Weapons “Top Gun” School, and the 3.1 million-acre Nellis Air Force Gunnery Range. Also found there is the U.S. Energy Department’s Nevada Test Site, where more than 800 underground tests of nuclear weapons were held, as well as 100 aboveground tests, before 1962. These explosions have left the Rhode Island-sized facility pockmarked with unstable “subsidence craters” as far as the eye can see. Many places in Nevada are dependent on other federal government programs: the Newlands Irrigation Project near Fallon was among the first of its kind, and Nevada’s gold-mining operations, booming since 2000, do not have to pay royalties to the federal government thanks to the Mining Act of 1872. Economic diversification is limited to budding solar- and wind-energy enterprises, bio-agriculture and high-precision technologies. Some 87% of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government—a constant source of tension with local officials, ranchers, loggers and miners, whose pursuits, frequently solitary and often ornery, shaped Nevada’s culture from its earliest days. On the desolate frontier, speculation runs wild: Art Bell used to broadcast his popular radio show about the paranormal, aliens and other unexplained phenomena from tiny Pahrump, while the government’s top-secret aviation experiments at places like Area 51 on the Nellis Gunnery Range have stoked UFO lore to the point that adjoining Route 375 was rededicated as the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996. Anti-establishment views also flourish here in more mainstream ways. Nevada residents have long opposed a nuclear-waste repository 1,000 feet beneath Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Congress finally approved the project in 2002, with a scheduled opening of 2012, but stubborn opponents continue their battle.
The 2nd Congressional District of Nevada takes in all of this and the vast majority of Nevada’s land area. Excluding single-member states, this is the largest congressional district in the nation. After the 2000 census results came in, two districts were created entirely within Clark County, which had 69% of the state’s population; the 2nd consisted of all the other counties, plus small slices of Clark County. About one-half of the district’s population is in Washoe County, which contains Reno and Sparks. Half a century ago, Reno was Nevada’s largest city. “The Biggest Little City in the World,” reads the neon sign across downtown Virginia Street. It has grown steadily, but vastly less than Las Vegas, which now overshadows it. Reno is the state’s third-largest city behind Henderson. Its casinos were hit hard by competition from Indian casinos in California, and the growth trend gravitates toward Lake Tahoe, just to the west. People here are from all over: the Tahoe communities of Stateline, Zephyr Cove, and Incline Village are among the U.S. cities with the smallest percentage of residents born in the state. A new city, Coyote Springs, is being built about 60 miles north of Las Vegas, with plans for 159,000 homes and its own groundwater resources. Historically, Reno has been Republican and Las Vegas Democratic. In the 1990s, when the federal government was widely viewed as unfriendly to mining, grazing and timber interests, the cow counties, as the counties outside Reno and Las Vegas are called, became even more Republican. All that has made the 2nd District heavily Republican.
Rep. Dean Heller (R)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: May 10, 1959, Castro Valley, CA .
Home: Carson City.
Education: U. of S. CA, B.A. 1985.
Family: Married (Lynne); 4 children.
Elected office: NV Assembly, 1990-94, NV sec. of state, 1994-2006.
Professional Career: Stockbroker, 1983-88; Chief deputy state treas., 1988-90; Public funds rep., Bank of America, 1990-95.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Dean Heller, a Republican elected in 2006. Heller was a political fixture in Carson City long before he ran for the House seat, left vacant when five-term Republican Jim Gibbons ran for governor. Heller got his first taste of politics during childhood when his newspaper route included deliveries at the state Capitol. He graduated from the University of Southern California in 1985 with a degree in business administration, then worked as a stockbroker and traded on the Pacific Stock Exchange. In 1990, he won the first of two terms in the Nevada House, and in 1994, he was elected to the first of three terms as Nevada secretary of state. During his 12-year tenure, Heller streamlined the corporation registration process, and revenues increased tenfold. He has supported increased public access to government records and greater transparency in the state campaign finance system. Nevada was seen as a national model in 2004, when it became the first state to create a paper trail for its electronic voting machines.
|Dean Heller (R)||170,771||(52%)||($1,605,810)|
|Jill Derby (D)||136,548||(41%)||($1,131,582)|
|John Everhart (AMI)||11,179||(3%)|
|Dean Heller (R)||43,112||(86%)|
|James Smack (R)||7,009||(14%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%)
Heller faced competition for the Republican nomination from Assemblywoman Sharron Angle and former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, the outgoing congressman’s wife. Heller and Gibbons began with the strongest name recognition, but Gibbons’ candidacy was underfunded and never took off. Angle, a Christian conservative, emerged as a serious primary rival after she picked up the endorsement and financial support of the deep-pocketed Club for Growth, a national anti-tax group. Angle ran as the race’s true conservative, while Heller campaigned on his record in state office and called for cuts in taxes and government spending. Heller won 36% of the vote, giving him a 421-vote victory over Angle, who got 35%. Gibbons finished third with 25%. Rather than request a recount, Angle filed a lawsuit seeking a new election because some polling locations in Washoe County had opened late. A judge denied her request, and she conceded two weeks after the primary.
Heller entered the general election campaign with a depleted campaign treasury to face Democrat Jill Derby, an 18-year veteran of the Nevada Board of Regents. He ran the race as a referendum on President Bush and his policies, emphasizing his support for the Iraq war, for making Bush’s tax cuts permanent and for creating private Social Security accounts for younger workers. While many Republican candidates elsewhere considered Bush a liability in 2006, the president stumped twice for Heller in the final weeks of the campaign. Bush’s stops helped Heller rebuild his campaign reserves and motivate the traditionally Republican-leaning rural vote. Derby emphasized her rural roots, criticized Heller for his stance on the war and framed the election as a chance for voters to reject Republican control in Washington. In October, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee mounted a late attack on Heller, insinuating that federal drug investigators in 2005 had seized Heller’s race car (he is a stock car racing enthusiast) in connection with a drug case involving Heller’s friend Eddie Floyd, a former Reno talk-show host who was a convicted sex offender. Heller said he did not own the car, but had been helping Floyd’s son build it. The controversy wasn’t enough to overcome the district’s wide Republican voter-registration advantage. Heller defeated Derby 50%-45%.
In the House, Heller broke with conservatives on issues such as federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research and the September 11 commission recommendations, and he got a seat on the Financial Services Committee. He supported nuclear energy on the condition that the radioactive waste would be stored where it is produced, not at Yucca Mountain. Heller also got into an unusual family squabble when he criticized the limited impact of the Republican takeover of the House led by Republican Newt Gingrich in 1994. “They came to Washington, and Washington changed them,” he said, adding that he thought it was time for Republicans to clean house. This district has not elected a Democrat since it was created after the 1980 census. That didn’t stop Derby and the Democrats from trying again in 2008. But Heller took a comfortable lead in early polls and won the rematch, 52% to 41%.