Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011 | 2 a.m.
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It’s not often that two Democrats try to outdo each other on who can best push the National Rifle Association’s legislation — even in Nevada.
But that was at the heart of a skirmish between state Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, in the middle of the legislative session this year.
Now, the two Democrats are potentially facing each other in a primary for Congress, a fight that usually sees the candidates work to outdo each other on who can best appeal to the party’s most liberal voters.
Because the Legislature failed to pass a redistricting plan, the lines for Nevada’s four congressional districts haven’t been drawn yet. But both Democrats have launched congressional campaigns, and early indications are they will both seek to take on Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
Their NRA cred will likely be an important issue for whichever Democrat faces Heck, particularly if the district stays relatively competitive and includes the rural counties that flank Clark County.
Lee has typically received an A-plus rating from the NRA, while Oceguera has said he’s proud of his A rating.
In April, as lawmakers were debating a host of gun-rights legislation, Lee wrote a scathing letter to Oceguera, accusing him of ripping off other legislators’ bills so he could get credit from the NRA. Oceguera sponsored an omnibus gun-rights bill meant to address most of the issues of the NRA.
“I hope that in your zest for self-promotion and aggrandizement in trying to receive a coveted A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association that you haven’t jeopardized the ability to pass sensible and much-needed legislation concerning the gun rights of Nevadans,” Lee wrote.
He later told Las Vegas Sun reporter David McGrath Schwartz that Oceguera relied on bullying tactics as a legislative leader.
In his own letter, Oceguera responded by touting his biennial endorsements from the NRA and accused Lee of being “very angry about the legislation I am sponsoring, which protects the right of gun owners all across this state.”
Lee returned the letter unopened, saying he didn’t want to continue the debate.
Lawmakers passed Oceguera’s omnibus gun rights bill, as well as several other similar pieces of legislation sponsored by the lawmakers Lee thought Oceguera had “plagiarized.”
But the Assembly, under Oceguera’s leadership, killed Lee’s signature gun-rights legislation, a bill that would have allowed concealed weapon permit holders to bring firearms onto college campuses — a measure the NRA lobbied heavily for.
So, who got the credit — and the blame — for the Legislature’s work on gun rights legislation this year?
The NRA has yet to release its rating for the 2012 election, but it did issue a newsletter congratulating legislators who sponsored and helped pass its priority legislation. The newsletter credits Oceguera for his omnibus legislation and another bill he sponsored making it easier for gun owners to defend themselves using deadly force.
But who gets the blame for killing Lee’s “campus carry” legislation? Not Oceguera.
The NRA’s letter puts the blame on Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Horne refused to bring (Senate Bill) 231 up for a vote, despite the fact that the NRA had secured the votes to get it out of committee and on to the floor,” the newsletter said.
Oceguera said earlier in the session that he supported the campus carry bill, but wasn’t going to wrangle the votes from his caucus for it. (Oceguera was unavailable for comment for this story.)
Horne disputed that the NRA had the votes to pass the bill and said it’s his practice not to bring bills up for a vote that he knows are going to fail.
He said Oceguera didn’t pressure him one way or the other.
Lee said he wasn’t too worried about who got credit for what, saying he was proud to help pass the “piece of legislation that had been stolen from everybody.”
“But you’ll notice no one standing up saying John Oceguera was the friend of the Second Amendment either,” Lee added. But what of the newsletter by the NRA blaming Horne for killing Lee’s legislation?
“The powers that be know what really happened,” Lee said.