This is an unbiased comparison of the political positions and policies of Dean Heller and Shelley Berkley, candidates for the 2012 senate elections in Nevada.
Dean A. Heller, a member of the Republican party, was the incumbent. As expected, this senate race was one of the most closely contested races in the country in 2012. Heller defeated Berkley to win re-election.
Heller was appointed by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to a vacant seat created by the resignation of John Ensign. He was previously a Congressman representing Nevada's 2nd congressional district from 2007 to 2011. He also served as Secretary of State and as a member of the Nevada Assembly.
Rochelle "Shelley" Berkley, a Democrat, represented Nevada's 1st district in the U.S. House of Representatives, a seat she had held since 1999. In addition, she served in the Nevada Assembly and is a former regent for the Nevada University System.
Government Bailouts and Stimulus
Heller is opposed to government bailouts. He opposed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to bailout the financial industry and the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act of 2008, also known as the auto bailout for GM and Chrysler. In contrast, Berkley voted in favor of both these bills.
Both candidates voted in favor of stimulus spending undertaken by the government to fight the recession. They also supported extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks.
Both candidates voted to terminate the Home Affordable Mortgage Program.
Laws governing the workplace
Heller voted against increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 while Berkley voted in its favor.
Berkley is pro-union. She voted in favor of restricting employer interference in union organizing, to enable employees to form and join labor organizations; co-sponsored allowing an Air Traffic Controller's Union; in favor of forming unions by card-check instead of secret ballot; and also co-sponsored extending unemployment compensation during recession. Berkley is opposed to discriminatory compensation. She signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to ban discriminatory compensation and also allows an aggrieved person to obtain relief, including recovery of back pay, for up to two years preceding the filing of the charge. She also signed Paycheck Fairness Act for Stronger enforcement against gender-based pay discrimination.
Heller voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, saying it would hurt businesses and job growth. He proposed an alternative bill - the End Pay Discrimination Through Information Act. Heller’s bill also offers protections from retaliation for women who try to find out if they’re being paid unfairly. He said his bill would limit frivolous discrimination lawsuits, while Democrats argue it would hamper women from seeking redress through the courts. Heller’s bill would also prevent the government from collecting salary information and disbursing grants to help women better negotiate higher salaries.
Heller is opposed to raising taxes. While serving in the state legislature, he voted against the state budget that was driving the largest tax increase in state history, voted against creating an employee business tax, voted against increasing gas and vehicle registration taxes, and fought against proposals to increase document recording fees.
Berkley supports progressive taxation and is opposed to spending cuts. She voted in favor of extending Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemptions to avoid hitting middle-income. She voted against retaining reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends. Berkley co-sponsored the Death Tax Elimination Act.
Berkley has criticized Heller for supporting tax subsidies for oil and gas companies.
An analysis by the Las Vegas Sun found that both candidates' policies are ironically opposed to their self-interest. Berkley supports the "Buffett Rule" requiring millionaires to pay 30% tax, and opposes lowering the capital gains tax rate. This in spite of her family's income being over $1 million, a large part of it from capital gains. Heller, on the other hand, had an income of $260,000 but opposed any increases in the capital gains tax rate.
Tax subsidies for Oil companies
Dean Heller voted against a bill that was introduced in the senate to end tax subsidies for big oil and gas companies. He had proposed an amendment to the bill that would allow a repeal of oil and gas tax credits but would put the money toward opening more areas to drill for oil, funding oil pipelines, and reducing the national gas tax by one penny. Berkley has attacked Heller for his votes in the past to shore up tax credits for oil and gas companies.
Federal ban on conferences
Both Berkley and Heller support a bill that bars the federal government from banning conferences in Nevada cities (or any specific U.S. city), especially gambling havens like Reno and Las Vegas.
Environment and Energy Policy
Heller voted against Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program also known as "Cash for Clunkers", a $3 billion U.S. federal program intended to provide economic incentives to U.S. residents to purchase a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle when trading in a less fuel-efficient vehicle. He is in favor of making tax deduction permanent for conservation easements. He voted against the $9.7B for Amtrak improvements and operation thru 2013. Heller is also a proponent of animal rights. He co-sponsored strengthening prohibitions against animal fighting. Heller has voted against tax policies subsidizing the development of renewable energy.
Berkley has a mixed record on environment. She was in favor of Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program, environmental education grants for outdoor experiences, and making tax deduction permanent for conservation easements. She is in favor of increased Amtrak funding for improvements and operation. Berkley co-sponsored a bill prohibiting commercial logging on Federal public lands. Berkley supports the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, which would have implemented cap-and-trade system. She also voted in favor of the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008.
Heller voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) of 2010. On January 19, 2011, Heller voted to repeal the federal healthcare law. During the debate prior to the federal healthcare law's passage, Heller led efforts to require two provisions be added to the federal health care law that would require:
- The use of citizenship verification tools to determine eligibility for taxpayer-funded healthcare benefits
- Members of Congress to join any government-run healthcare plan proposed in early versions of the healthcare law.
Heller questioned the constitutionality of the law following its passage, and he called on Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to join a multi-state lawsuit challenging it. Heller voted twice in favour of Paul Ryan's budget plan that calls for privatization of and cuts to the Medicare program, and is against expansion of Medicare to cover additional preventive services. He is opposed to expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program. In May he voted against the Ryan budget calling the vote a charade. but without changing his positions on the issues.
Berkley supports the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. She co-sponsored improving services for people with autism & their families; co-sponsored establishing a national childhood cancer database; co-sponsored Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act. Berkley supported funding women's health needs; supported funding older women's health; supported funding prenatal and postpartum care; supported funding family and children's coverage. Berkley supports expansion of Medicare program; voted against changes and cuts to Medicare; voted against repealing the "Prevention and Public Health" slush fund; and supports expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Medical Devices Tax
One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is a 2.3% excise tax on medical equipment. Device manufacturers have lobbied heavily to repeal it. Dean Heller supports repealing this tax and the Republican alternative to offset the impact of the tax repeal by eliminating a cap on how much the government could recover in overpayments to individuals who would be given subsidies to buy insurance under the health care law. Berkley supports repealing the tax but does not support the Republican proposal. She voted against repealing the tax because the repeal bill included this proposal. 
Heller voted against making additional grants to states for the modernization, renovation, or repair of public schools, early learning facilities and charter schools. He opposed additional $10.2 billion for federal education & HHS projects.
Berkley voted in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. She also voted in favor of reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act in 2010 but voted against College Cost Reduction and Access Act. She voted in favor of $40B for green public schools; additional $10.2B for federal education & HHS projects; and $84 million in grants for Black and Hispanic colleges. Berkley adopted the manifesto to offer every parent a choice between charter schools and public. She co-sponsored an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to reduce class size to 18 children in grades 1 to 3. She supported funding for teacher training and other initiatives.
Nevada Democrats have criticized Heller for voting against a bill to set federal standards for how schools may restrain students believed at risk of hurting themselves or others. Heller's campaign has argued that Nevada's existing state laws are sufficient and that there is no data indicating that the federal government be involved in this matter.
By and large, both candidates follow the typical Republican and Democrat positions on social issues.
Dean Heller is against abortion but voted in favor of embryonic stem cell research. Shelley Berkley is "pro-choice" and also voted in favor of embryonic stem cell research.
Dean Heller opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, supports a border fence and opposes the DREAM Act which would grant citizenship for young illegal immigrants if they attend college or serve in the military. He supports ending birthright citizenship.
Shelley Berkley co-sponsored the More Visas for Families of Lawful Immigrants bill, supports building a border fence along the Mexican border, and supports the DREAM Act.
Hispanics make up about 15 percent of the Nevada electorate and have swung previous elections. Analysts believe that in the previous election, Republican Sharron Angle lost to Harry Reid largely due to her anti-immigration rhetoric. Heller has tried reaching out to the Latino population with a pro-business, anti-tax message but Berkley has criticized him for being anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. This article describes Heller's position on immigration (highlighted on the page).
Both candidates strongly support the right to bear arms. Heller supported the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which allows gun owners with valid state-issued concealed firearm permits to carry a concealed firearm in other states that also allow concealed carry. Berkley was a co-sponsor of legislation that transferred 2,900 acres of federal land to Clark County for a shooting park.
Heller is opposed to gay marriage; he voted against the Employment Non-discrimination Act that called for prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Berkley supports the right of gay and lesbian individuals to get married. She voted in favor of repealing Don't ask, don't tell.
Efficacy in Government
There has been some controversy over which candidate files more bills. Both accuse each other of announcing that they will file bills but then not following through on the announcements soon enough.
In 2008, Shelley Berkley worked with Republican politicians and House Representatives Dean Heller and Jon Porter to save a kidney transplant center in Southern Nevada. After the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to revoke the UMC certification of the kidney center in 2008, Berkley, with then-Reps. Porter and Heller, signed a letter to CMS in support of the hospital's appeal. Berkley and Porter met with federal officials to help broker an agreement that saved the certification. At the time, her husband's partnership, Kidney Specialists of Southern Nevada, held a six-figure contract for clinical and administrative services.
In March, the House Ethics Committee announced it was reviewing allegations against Berkley after the complaint she may have violated House conflict rules by advocating on kidney health matters that appeared to help her husband's medical practice.
Here is the full video of the first debate, which was held on September 27, 2012 in Reno.
The third debate was held on October 15. Analysis and reporting from the debate is available here.
Berkley and Heller in Opinion Polls
While this is a very tight race, Heller has always maintained a slim lead in opinion polls.
|Poll source|| Date(s)|
|Shelley Berkley (D)||Dean Heller (R)|
|Rasmussen Reports||October 15, 2012||43%||50%|
|LVRJ/Survey USA||October 11–15, 2012||40%||46%|
|Public Policy Polling||October 8–10, 2012||44%||47%|
|Suffolk||October 6–9, 2012||37%||40%|
|Rasmussen Reports||October 8, 2012||45%||48%|
|LVRJ/Survey USA||October 3–8, 2012||39%||47%|
|Precision Opinion||October 6, 2012||43%||45%|
|Gravis Marketing||October 3, 2012||36%||53%|
|We Ask America||September 25–27, 2012||45%||45%|
|NBC/WSJ/Marist||September 23–25, 2012||43%||49%|
|Public Policy Polling||September 18–20, 2012||48%||44%|
|Rasmussen Reports||September 18, 2012||41%||42%|
|Public Policy Polling||August 23–26, 2012||45%||47%|
|Survey USA||August 16-21, 2012||39%||44%|
|Rasmussen Reports||July 24, 2012||42%||51%|
|Magellan Strategies||July 16–17, 2012||42%||45%|
|Public Policy Polling||Jun 7-10, 2012||43%||44%|
|NBC News/Marist||May 22–24, 2012||44%||46%|
|Rasmussen Reports||April 30, 2012||40%||51%|
|Public Policy Polling||March 29 – April 1, 2012||43%||46%|
|Rasmussen Reports||March 19, 2012||40%||47%|
|Cannon Survey Center||Dec 12-20, 2011||44.4%||43.2%|
|Public Policy Polling||Oct 20-23, 2011||45%||45%|
|Public Policy Polling||Jul 28-31, 2011||43%||46%|
|Public Policy Polling||Apr 21-24, 2011||43%||47%|
|Public Policy Polling||Jan 3-5, 2011||38%||51%|