It’s tough being a GOP freshman | NevadaAppeal.com

It’s tough being a GOP freshman

Barry Ginter
Nevada Appeal editor

It’s not Dean Heller’s fault that he’s at the bottom of the power list in Congress.

He’s a minority party freshman in one of the smallest classes of new GOP Congressman in years.

The “list” is a reference to the power rankings put out by a group called Knowlegis, which operates the Web site Congress.org. It calls itself “a government relations knowledge management company,” helping people and groups influence public policy in their interactions with public officials.

Part of what they do is the Congressional Power Rankings, which they base on a number of factors. That includes their effectiveness, tenure, committee assignments, indirect influence through the media or congressional caucuses, their success in passing bills and something called the “sizzle/fizzle” factor. Hillary and Barack are sizzling, for example, while Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. (you may remember him as the congressman who was found to have $90,000 in his freezer) is in an extreme fizzle, the only member of the House with a negative score in the rankings.

Heller is tied at the bottom of the power list with two other freshman Republicans, and he’s ahead of only Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Jefferson. The 13 new GOP congressman are all at the bottom of the 52-member freshman class power rankings.

As for the other members of Nevada’s delegation, Sen. Harry Reid is, of course, No. 1 in the Senate. Sen. John Ensign is at 86. In the House, Rep. Shelley Berkley is ranked 121 and Rep. Jon Porter is ranked 351. Overall, the list says Nevada has the 12th most powerful delegation.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, journalists tend to be obsessed with lists. Heller chuckled about the list when he visited with the Appeal’s editorial board earlier this week. While it’s no doubt a pretty accurate picture of the landscape in Congress, it’s really no reflection on the new congressman from Carson City. It may take years before he can wield enough power to influence the congressional agenda, and that’s something he acknowledged even before he was elected.

But he had a lot of interesting things to say to the editorial board, beyond his criticism of the Democrats’ plans to influence war funding and end tax breaks.

Heller knows his constituents sent him to Washington with orders to do something about illegal immigration. He’ll have a voice and a vote in that process, but it will be the Democrats and President Bush who he expects to pass a reform that will include amnesty for illegal aliens. Heller said that will be a mistake and that it won’t solve any of the burdens illegal immigration has created on our schools, prisons and medical system.

Heller said you can expect to hear his voice on public lands issues, including measures needed to reduce the wildfire threat. He’ll also pursue funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study and reduce the flooding threats on the Truckee River. While he favors monitoring CO2 emissions that may be contributing to global warming, he believes putting restrictions in place would have a dire effect on the state’s industry, including mining.

As for energy, he believes our country can become energy independent by extracting oil reserves from shale and through alternative energy such as solar. While he doesn’t support micromanaging the war, he doesn’t camouflage the baseline reason we’re in Iraq – we need their oil. He also doesn’t support removing tax breaks for oil companies, even as they’re posting record profits.

He’s confident he’s on the right committees for Nevada: Natural Resources (including subcommittees Energy and Natural Resources; National Parks, Forests and Public Lands; and Water and Power), Small Business (subcommittees Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship and Finance and Tax) and Education and Labor (subcommittee: Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education).

And while most of his votes have been party line, he has gone against it on occasion. He was one of 70 Republicans to vote for a wide-ranging bill to implement some of the 9/11 Commission recommendations because it would require inspections of cargo coming into the country. Critics said the bill would slow down shipping, but Heller said those inspections are important.

He also favors stem cell research, saying he doesn’t want to tie the hands of scientists.

Heller also shared his thoughts on the presidential election, saying the Republicans will have a difficult time if our fortunes do not improve in Iraq before the election. He hasn’t yet made up his mind on which GOP candidate he favors.

You can contact Heller’s office (he has a staff of 18) by mail at:

The Honorable Dean Heller, United States House of Representatives, 1023 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515-2802; or his Reno office at 400 South Virginia Street, Suite 502, Reno, NV 89502

By phone, his Washington, D.C., number is 202-225-6155 and his Reno office phone is 775-686-5760.

His Web site is http://heller.house.gov. To send him an e-mail, go to that site and click on “Email.”

You may also be able to get in on a new technology called Teletown meetings, in which a system randomly makes 25,000 phone calls to constituents in Heller’s district inviting people to listen in on and even ask questions in a “town hall” meeting over the phone. He says he’s talked to thousands of Nevadans by doing this, and will continue holding the meetings.

• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at bginter@nevadaappeal.com