Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

Currently: 47° — Complete forecast

Shelley Berkley talks election, economy, education


Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Rep. Shelley Berkley meets with constituents one-on-one regarding their concerns during her “Congress on Your Corner” event honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Friday, January 14, at Berkley’s office in Las Vegas.

More Coverage

Click to enlarge photo

"I can't think of something more intrusive than telling the American public what they can and cannot do in their own recreational time," Berkley said on the topic of online gaming.

After 13 years representing Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, Shelley Berkley wants a promotion — to the U.S. Senate. She announced her candidacy in April. And if she wins the Democratic nomination, she’ll likely face newly appointed Sen. Dean Heller.

In a recent interview, Berkley emphasized education as an economic development strategy. The first person in her family to go to college, she attended UNLV and is a product of the Clark County School District.

What can be done to turn around Nevada’s economy?

I see three things that need to be done, not only in Nevada, but nationally:

No. 1: Invest in ourselves. Education is very important to the future of this country. In 1983, I was a freshman assemblywoman. I was part of a group of people — elected officials, businesspeople, university people — who were attempting to diversify our economy by attracting new businesses to our state. Every company we spoke to, without exception, said they liked our tax base, they liked our climate, they liked our location, but they didn’t like the fact that they didn’t think our education system was up to their standards.

No. 2: We have a crumbling infrastructure. It was no accident or surprise that the levies in New Orleans didn’t hold during Hurricane Katrina. It wasn’t a surprise that the bridge collapsed in Minnesota. We had studies demonstrating that they could not hold under certain circumstances. We chose to ignore it. Not only does investing in your infrastructure provide very good construction jobs, at the end of the project, you have something.

No. 3: Renewable energy. Harnessing sun, wind, geothermal, of which this state has an abundance, is an economic necessity.

What will economic diversification in Nevada look like?

The focus will always be on gaming. Now, we’re at a crossroads. The people in Nevada have to make decisions about where and what we envision over the next couple of decades. Education is key. Renewable energy, infrastructure, Internet gaming. If you improve your education system, there’s no telling what kind of businesses you’ll be able to attract. We shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to anything.

We hear from Republicans that low taxes will attract businesses. Thoughts?

If low taxes were the way to bring businesses here, we’d have more businesses in Nevada than I could shake a stick at. Our overall tax load is as low as it was in the Truman administration. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes. But do you want your kids to get a good education? You have to pay for that. Do you want Medicare for senior citizens? I do. We have to pay for it.

How important do you think online gaming will be as an issue in the upcoming campaign season?

I’m not sure that online betting for poker is going to be a major issue for my campaign or any other. I’m very proud of it and certainly will talk about its significance to Nevada. I think it’s a benefit to our state. It would bring in revenue. But to have a campaign issue, you usually have to have a little bit of controversy, and I’m not sure there’s going to be great controversy in the election on this legislation.

You’re running your first statewide race. How’s that shaping up?

At first the question was: “How would she fare up North?” We went up there and tested the waters and the response was very heartwarming and encouraging.

Describe yourself, politically.

I have a reputation for being the hardest working person in Congress. Nobody knows the issues better than I do and nobody protects the people he or she represents better than I do. This is my job, this is my hobby. I’m a public servant. It’s my job to be a buffer from the federal government, and I’m a bridge to the federal government.

A longer version of this interview first appeared in VEGAS INC.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy