Heller has confused priorities

I’ve been leery of Dean Heller since I heard that when he was Nevada’s Secretary of State, he required his staff to call him “Mr. Heller.”

At the time, though perhaps not now, most Nevadans referred to state officials by their given names. Mike O’Callahan, when he was governor, introduced himself to me as Mike. Richard Bryan answered to Dick, though after he became a U.S. Senator, I called him Senator. Gov. Miller was Bob. I met Kenny Guinn only once, and I called him Governor, but a guy who uses the same name he had in third grade probably doesn’t stand on ceremony.

I mention this not to show that I was on first-name terms with the people involved, but to demonstrate that everybody was. It was a Nevada Thing.

So when Heller, who paid too much attention to his hair to be trustworthy anyway, decreed he should be addressed as Mister, a lot of people thought, “Well, la-di-freaking-da, Mr. Secretary.”

Secretary Heller is now Rep. Heller, of course. The honorable gentleman from Nevada, facing a challenge from a Democrat who nearly beat him in 2006, is trumpeting his accomplishments. He’s been claiming that he’s not a Bush puppet, and that he’s focused on Nevada issues, citing his attention to foreclosures brought about by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and his deep concern over the price of gas.

How’s that working out? Nevada leads the nation in foreclosures, and last time I looked, was perched in the top five in gas prices, too.

Mr. Heller has a plan, though, to take our minds off that: He says he’ll introduce legislation to make sure ballots are printed only in English from now on.

Well, that should help. The tens of thousands of Nevadans struggling to hold onto their homes or rifling their glove boxes for change at least won’t have to worry that some person of Hispanic descent—a citizen, remember, or he wouldn’t be voting—might make an informed decision at the polls.

Let’s have no letters, please, about “if they move here, they ought to learn the language.” I’ll grant you that—if you’ll agree that even if you lived in Mexico for 20 years, you’d be more comfortable with English than Spanish, and that fact might not indicate stupidity or stubbornness on your part.

My complaint with Heller’s action, aside from its failure to address what we might call the real problems, is that I believe it’s political. Like the recent conservative drive to require photo ID for voters, this will drop harder on people likely to vote Democratic than on potential Repubs.

If things were going just dandy elsewhere, maybe I could be convinced that bilingual ballots are a problem worth my congressman’s time. Really, though—sorry to be the one to break the news—they aren’t. We’re fighting two wars, and neither is going well, as shown by the Bush administration’s recent quiet decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan by almost 20 percent. If the economy isn’t in recession, it’s a handful of layoffs away. We’re paying the highest gasoline prices in history amid warnings that they may double yet again. There’s almost unanimous scientific agreement that the planet itself is in peril. Even the Bush administration, notorious friend to polluters, has acknowledged that, hey, didn’t there used to be ice in the Arctic?

Yet Mr. Heller’s worried that some naturalized citizen, in search of knowledge that will allow him to cast an informed vote, somehow could threaten our nation if he finds it in his native language. As Grandma used to say, some people make you wonder.