Rep. Shelley Berkley (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Jan. 20, 1951, South Fallsburg, NY .
Home: Las Vegas.
Education: UNLV., B.A. 1972; U. of San Diego, J.D. 1976.
Family: Married (Larry Lehrner); 4 children.
Elected office: NV Assembly, 1982-84; Regent, U. Commun. Col. System of NV, 1990-98.
Professional Career: Cnsl., SW Gas Corp., 1977-82; VP, Sands Hotel, 1989-98; Chair, NV Hotel & Motel Assn., 1994.
The congresswoman from the 1st District is Shelley Berkley, a Democrat elected in 1998. Berkley was born on the Lower East Side of New York and moved to Las Vegas as a child. “I am not a politician who happens to be Jewish. I am a Jew who happens to be in politics,” she likes to say. Her parents emigrated from Eastern Europe after World War II. Her mother, an artist, was held in Auschwitz and painted watercolors of Gypsies and other prisoners for Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Her work saved her from extermination, and she later sought the return of her portraits, which were displayed at the Auschwitz museum in Poland. Berkley’s father worked at the Sands and rose to maitre d’. In college, Berkley waited tables and was a keno runner. She was the student body president at the University of Nevada, then went to law school. She chaired the Nevada Hotel and Motel Association, was government and legal-affairs vice president at the Sands and the in-house counsel at Southwest Gas. She was elected to one term in the state House.
|Shelley Berkley (D)||154,860||(68%)||($1,985,063)|
|Kenneth Wegner (R)||64,837||(28%)||($15,794)|
|Caren Alexander (AMI)||4,697||(2%)|
|Shelley Berkley (D)||19,444||(90%)|
|John Budetich (D)||2,222||(10%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (66%), 2002 (54%), 2000 (52%), 1998 (49%)
After 1st District Rep. John Ensign, a Republican, decided to run against Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in the 1998 election, Berkley made a bid for the House seat. Brassy and effusive, she lacked a serious Republican opponent for several weeks and seemed headed for an easy election. But 15 minutes before the filing deadline, Judge Donald Chairez resigned his post to run for the seat. Then came a bombshell that threatened to unravel her campaign. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the existence of taped 1997 telephone conversations and of a memo in which Berkley seemed to advise Sands owner Sheldon Adelson to make campaign contributions to local judges and to grant concessions to Clark County commissioners as a way of improving chances for approval of his Venetian hotel. Berkley publicly apologized. The Clark County district attorney found no cause for prosecution. But Chairez made his slogan “Fairness, not favors.” With strong support from the gambling industry, Berkley outspent Chairez $1.2 million to $554,000 and won only narrowly, 49%-46%.
In the House, Berkley’s voting record has been moderate, especially on foreign issues. She keeps a close watch on the interests of the gambling industry. She led opposition in the House to a proposal by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to bar Nevada casinos from accepting bets on college sports. When Democrats took majority control in the 110th Congress (2007-08), she won a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where she has fought proposals to tax Internet gambling, saying those decisions should be left to the states.
With other Nevada officials, she fought the plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, but managed to win only 80 House votes on an amendment in June 2007 to stop funding for the site. In 2006, Berkley authored a bill that would repeal subsidies and tax breaks for the nuclear power and oil and gas industries, in favor of incentives for renewable energy.
She has shown a strong interest in Middle East affairs and is an advocate for Israel. She forcefully backed President Bush’s use of force in Iraq in 2002 and 2003, but later said that she was misled by phony intelligence and called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. In April 2007, she criticized Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for leading a House delegation to Syria. A strong gay-rights supporter, Berkley favors repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Berkley initially faced tough re-election contests. In 2000, Republican state Sen. Jon Porter revived the 1998 Sands hotel controversy, but Berkley won 52%-44%. Porter then ran and won in the state’s newly created 3rd District in 2002. That year, Berkley faced Las Vegas City Council member Lynette Boggs-McDonald, a former Miss Oregon and former Democrat who hoped to become the first Republican black woman elected to the House. But redistricting had removed many suburban precincts favorable to the GOP, and Berkley won with 54%. Since then, she has faced only weak opposition.