Elect Dean Heller

It is dismaying to see what our political system has become, as exemplified by the northern U.S. House of Representatives race. A Republican moderate and a Democratic liberal are both pretending to be conservatives to get elected. Nevertheless, their candidacies are distinguishable.

As a member of the Nevada Legislature and then as secretary of state, Dean Heller has been a reasoned, moderate voice for wise public policies. He did not pose or strut. He did not play groups off against each other, in contrast with many in his party. As secretary of state, he has vigilantly policed the securities frauds Nevada attracts.

If he is true to himself, the U.S. House of Representatives will present Heller with some challenges. The congressional process has become so mean-spirited that he will have difficulty developing the kind of cooperative working relationship he had with his colleagues of both parties in the Nevada Legislature. But one of the remedies to that kind of harsh congressional climate is the election of people like Heller.

To see what has gone wrong with the Democratic Party, look no further than Heller’s opponent Jill Derby. Like Jim Gibbons, the man she seeks to replace, Derby dashed to the right as soon as she became interested in higher office. She wants to “win the war once and for all.” She talks about the middle class but not about the working poor. Except for the minimum wage and protection of jobs, her platform is entirely devoid of the issues of economic populism that once defined the Democratic Party.

Derby’s campaign commercials denounce government, Washington and “career politicians"—though she does not pledge to term limit herself—but while hitting all the hot buttons, she avoids taking hard stands. She seems anti-intellectual, using aw-shucks commercials that are all pose, digging her toe in the sand while never mentioning her doctorate in anthropology. Her critics say she acts ashamed of being a Democrat and a university regent, and that’s the impression she gives. Her position on the estate tax is really very good—protect family farms and businesses while retaining the tax on the nation’s Donald Trumps. But she doesn’t come right out and say that she still wants to tax the rich. She wants to have it both ways.

One way to assess these two candidates is to look at how they act when the heat is on.

During the incredibly sensitive 1998 U.S. Senate recount between candidates Harry Reid and John Ensign, Heller as secretary of state gave fair treatment to both candidates. It was a difficult situation that he handled ethically and impartially.

When presented with a controversial dispute over the conduct of a community college president, Derby joined a faction that acted secretly to fire him on the basis of a file of rumors and unverified accusations without allowing him to hear the charges or confront his accusers, a legal fiasco that provoked a lawsuit against the state and legislation to make the regents appointive instead of elective.

Derby could, of course, provide a vote for a Democratic House majority, but that rationale becomes less persuasive with the party’s growing subservience to corporate power. Just as Derby’s supposed liberalism provided political cover for the Board of Regents to abuse civil liberties, a Democratic majority would enable a continued screwing of working people by a majority coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Dean Heller has the temperament and moral compass needed in the U.S. House. Jill Derby does not.