Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

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Freshman Joe Heck sets jobs as his first priority

Heck talks about the economy, health care and crossing the aisle


Justin M. Bowen

Rep.-elect Joe Heck scratched out a victory in a brutal campaign against incumbent Dina Titus.

Click to enlarge photo

Rep.-elect Joe Heck shakes hands with former Gov. Bob List on Tuesday at the Venetian. Of his voting decisions in Congress, Heck said, "If this is going to be something that's going to be good for my children, then I think it's probably going to be good for most Americans."

Republican Rep.-elect Joe Heck will be back in office after two years away from politics.

His hiatus wasn’t voluntary — he narrowly lost re-election to the state Senate in 2008. This time, Heck eked out a win, by less than 1 percentage point, in the 3rd Congressional District race, unseating freshman Democratic incumbent Dina Titus after a bruising, but largely overshadowed, campaign.

The Sun sat down with Heck to discuss the win and his plans.

What will be your priorities in Washington?

The No. 1 priority has got to be getting this economy kick-started and getting people back to work. That’s what I hope we work on, and that’s what I’m going to try to do when I get there. By doing that, we take care of a lot of the collateral issues, such as health insurance and the foreclosure crisis.

How do you get the economy back on track?

By restoring confidence for our businesses so they realize they’re going to be operating in an environment that’s not going to overtax them or burden them with regulations. And that’s going to allow them to take the risk to either grow their business or start a new business and hire people. We need to look at the different regulations that have been passed, whether it’s the health care bill or the financial reform bill — not that these bills don’t have some merit. But we have got to get past this idea of overreaching and trying to push so much stuff into one bill. If you’ve got a goal for a bill, then let the bill concentrate on that and not try to add stuff to it that ultimately is going to have unintended consequences, which we have found both with health care and financial reform.

What are your thoughts on health care reform?

I think there are things in the bill that need to be fixed, things that need to be done away with and things that we need to preserve. The question is: With a Republican majority in the House but not in the Senate and a Democratic president, what can you actually get accomplished? That certainly will be one of my initial projects. The experience I have from being a clinician, administrator and educator in heath care will help bring some clarity to those issues.

Would you vote to repeal the bill?

I will vote to repeal it if we have something to replace it with.

Will you buck your party if there’s no replacement bill?

I don’t think you’ll find anybody in the House caucus who doesn’t want to replace it. I don’t think that would be an issue.

How will you define yourself in a sea of Republican freshmen?

I’ve got a unique background, being a small-business owner, a physician and a military member. I think that’s what is going to differentiate me. There are other physicians who were elected, other former military members, other small-business owners. But nobody else had the trifecta.

What will you do differently from Titus?

To be honest, I don’t know how she did things. I know how Joe Heck’s going to do things. I’m a very deliberative guy, and I will make sure I read all the bills before we vote on them. That’s one difference. I like to make sure I know what’s in the bill before I vote on it, not a staffer telling me what’s in the bill. The process I use to reach decisions, I look at it as if everything is from the perspective of my children. If this is going to be something that’s going to be good for my children, then I think it’s probably going to be good for most Americans.

Do you have any allies in Washington yet? Who do you see as like-minded thinkers?

Certainly Rep. Dean Heller. He’s been a very big help, and he certainly knows Nevada’s issues. I’m going to be looking to him for a lot of guidance as we try to flatten the learning curve.

You and your party criticized rank-and-file Democrats for being beholden to leaders. How do you avoid that trap?

It goes back to what’s your yardstick for whether or not you support a bill. When I was in the state Senate, I had a reputation for not necessarily voting with the party line. I look at the impact of the bill on the folks I care most about. If I think it’s a good bill, I’ll support it. If I don’t, I won’t. And it doesn’t make a difference who else is voting for it or against it.

Were you surprised by your victory?

No. I was surprised by how close it was.

Describe your Election Night conversation with Titus.

She congratulated me and conceded the race. I thanked her for her service and said I want to work with her to ensure a smooth transition, to make sure the folks they may be working with, if they’re not done by the time her tenure is up, that those things don’t fall through the cracks.

Titus could have been called the “Foreclosure Queen.” Are you going to take on her work with homeowners?

It’s certainly a big issue that we’re facing in CD3, but if I can get more people back to work then we’ll have more people staying in their homes. There are still programs out there for people, and we will continue to help people navigate the process.

What do you think you did right during your campaign?

We had a message that we knew was going to resonate. It was all about the economy, all about jobs, and we stuck to that message. Knowing that we were overshadowed by the Senate race, we stuck to a very strong grass-roots strategy by knocking on doors, making phone calls, going to events and meeting voters.

What would you have done differently?

If we had the resources, we would have liked to be up on air to define Joe Heck before my opponent was able to.

What lessons did you learn from your loss in 2008?

That not responding to something and thinking it will go away doesn’t work. You’ve got to respond to the best of your ability and make sure people know the real truth. In this race, the truth won.

Have your feelings about Titus changed after being her opponent?

It was always a rather strained, contentious relationship to begin with. Let’s just say I’m glad this race is over.

Will you continue to run your consulting business, Specialized Medical Operations? It has government contracts. Will that pose a conflict?

We’re still trying to figure that out. If I need to give up contracts, I’ll give them up. There will be no conflicts. There will be no ethics issues. I’ve heard other businessmen have put their companies into a blind trust — they no longer have any say or anything to do with the company, and the company continues to function. I don’t know if that’s an option.

Will you continue to practice medicine?

I’ve got to find out if you are allowed to have outside employment. Certainly I don’t want to stop practicing medicine. One of the things that I’ve looked at as a potential to maintain both my military reserve status and my medicine status is I can probably arrange to work in the emergency department at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or at the National Naval Medical Center and do my reserve time and some medicine at the same time.

With a split Congress, how do you avoid partisan bickering?

It will be put back on the Democrats. Republicans tried to cooperate and had little opportunity to do so because they were shut out of the process in the last session. With Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it was: “My way or the highway, we won and you lost, I set the agenda and this is what it’s going to be.”

Many amendments were offered and very few, if any, ever got a hearing. I don’t think you’ll find that same type of behavior in the Republican majority caucus. I think we’ve been given a privilege, an opportunity to govern, and we’re not going to squander that opportunity. If we do, just as fast as the Congress changed, in two years it will change again and then I would not foresee a Republican majority for a decade or more. So I think that the incoming leadership under the Republican caucus will be cognizant of that.

Will it be hard for you to work with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid?

No. It’s all about working for Nevada. Sen. Reid and I have exchanged some voice mails. We haven’t been able to connect. But the Nevada delegation’s job is to take care of Nevada.

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