|The rise of Representative Dean Heller in Nevada sets up a scramble for his House seat. (Harry Hamburg/ Associated Press)|
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Representative Dean Heller will enter next year’s US Senate race from the perch of incumbency after Governor Brian Sandoval said yesterday that Heller will succeed John Ensign next month.
Heller’s appointment was anticipated and sets up a political scramble on how his House seat will be filled. State law requires that a special election be held within 180 days of a vacancy.
Ensign, 53, has been dogged by an ethics investigation after acknowledging an extramarital affair with a former staffer in 2009. The Senate Ethics Committee was investigating whether he tried to illegally cover it up.
First elected in 2000, Ensign said last month he would not seek reelection in 2012, then abruptly announced his resignation, effective May 3.
Heller said last month that he would run for Ensign’s seat next year, and Sandoval quickly endorsed him.
Sandoval said Heller “is an experienced representative who is ready for the responsibilities of this office, and who will work hard, not just for Nevada, but for the entire nation.’’
“A fiscal conservative who believes in limited government, Dean will fight to keep taxes low and balance the federal budget,’’ Sandoval said. “He understands that the federal government spends too much money and places too many regulatory burdens on small business.’’
Heller said he was deeply humbled, by the appointment.
“There is no question that our nation needs to change the way we do business if we are going to get our economy back on track and get Nevadans working again,’’ he said.
The appointment gives Heller, just elected to his third term, the appearance of incumbency in 2012. Representative Shelley Berkley, a seven-term Democrat from Las Vegas, also announced her candidacy for the Senate seat next year. Both have raised about $1.5 million for the race, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
The state’s other senator, majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, welcomed Heller to the upper chamber.
“As his responsibilities shift to representing all Nevadans, rather than a single district of our state, I am confident he will work with me and members of both parties to address the serious challenges facing Nevada and nation,’’ Reid said.
Sandoval said he was working with the secretary of state’s office to determine how a special election would be conducted. Nevada has never had to fill a House vacancy, and laws are vague.
Once a House vacancy occurs, the governor has seven days to set the date for a special election.
But there are questions over whether candidates would be chosen by political party central committees or if it would be open to anyone interested in running.
State Senator Greg Brower indicated this week he is interested in succeeding Heller. Others include Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, who unsuccessfully ran against Reid last fall, and former Navy commander Kirk Lippold.
Reid, a Democrat, said the mechanism would involve a new law binding Congress to reduce the deficit. The Nevada Democrat did not give further details, but several proposals on Capitol Hill would trigger automatic spending cuts or tax increases if Congress cannot meet spending or deficit targets.
“You would just have a law that says we have to do it,’’ Reid told reporters in a conference call. “There are all kinds of triggering mechanisms.’’
Reid also said he would schedule a Senate vote on a controversial House GOP plan to slash the deficit. The plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, calls for a fundamental overhaul of Medicare for future retirees — those presently 54 year old or younger — by transforming it from a program in which the government pays doctor and hospital bills into a voucher-like program in which the US government subsidizes purchases of private insurance policies.
Raising the debt limit — presently $14.3 trillion — is the most pressing question facing Congress and President Obama. The measure is required to avoid a first-ever default on US obligations that would rattle financial markets.
But raising the borrowing limit is a politically poisonous vote, especially for GOP newcomers elected last year with Tea Party support. Many Democrats have also gone on record in favor of adding spending cuts to the measure.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers earlier this month that the borrowing cap will be reached next month but that the administration is able to take steps to shuffle other debt obligations to create room under the cap that would extend the true deadline for congressional action into July.
Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with lawmakers next week on what other measures to add to the upcoming debt limit legislation.