Friday, May 9, 2008 | 2:07 a.m.
Dean Heller was generally considered to be a fair and competent Nevada secretary of state for the 12 years he held that position before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2006.
His strong advocacy for more disclosure by candidates on their campaign finance forms and his national leadership in bringing about voting machines that produce a paper trail were selling points for him as he successfully campaigned for the House.
But since arriving on Capitol Hill, as a representative of Northern Nevada and a slice of Clark County, Heller has been a big disappointment. For example, he recently voted against a bill that would have rolled back federal tax breaks for oil companies that are taking in record profits.
The money saved by ending the gratuitous tax breaks would have been invested in renewable energy industries that desperately need a favorable tax climate at this early stage of their development. Given Nevada’s vast potential for attracting renewable energy industries, Heller essentially voted against the creation of needed jobs here.
Now Heller is backing a bill that belies his energetic support for fair elections while secretary of state. He introduced legislation this week that would deny help during federal elections to voters still struggling with the English language.
Maybe Heller believes such a posture will play well in his district. But it goes against great national progress in ending discrimination at polling sites. Both the 2002 Help America Vote Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed by Congress to encourage all citizens to vote, including those who are better able to understand complex ballot questions in their native language.
Heller told Gannett News Service that the federal government “does too much to cater to people who speak a different language.” His bill would require that ballots be printed in English only.
We believe that learning to speak, read and write English is important for all immigrants, and most are eventually successful. But why go to great lengths to make it difficult for or to disenfranchise those citizens whose circumstances have so far prevented them from fully gaining these skills?
In campaigning for the House, Heller said, “I’m a Nevadan first, a Republican second.” Well, then, he should show the country he is a good Nevadan, one for whom fairness and equality are values not to be traded off for political reasons.