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November 15, 2018

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Letter from Washington:

Sen. Dean Heller both praised and criticized for support of act


Harry Hamburg / AP

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is seen in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

The Senate vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act last week was in many ways the least exciting thing to happen on Capitol Hill: Between a Supreme Court hearing on Arizona’s immigration law and a fight over the interest rate on education loans, the 68-to-31 vote on the VAWA wasn’t even a nail-biter.

But in the Nevada Senate race, it’s highly charged politics.

Last month, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., became the 60th senator to support the VAWA — a significant number because it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.

Top Democrats praised him for it.

“I am grateful that Sen. Heller has joined as a co-sponsor of this important bill,” Judiciary Committee Chairman and chief bill sponsor Pat Leahy,D-Vermont, said at the time. “The Violence Against Women Act has always been, and continues to be, a bipartisan priority.”

Heller’s vote didn’t fit into Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley’s full-throated campaign efforts to paint Heller — whom Berkley is challenging for the Senate in November — as “anti-woman.”

That effort started when Heller supported the Blunt amendment, a measure to let businesses opt out of providing health care coverage for anything religiously or morally objectionable, such as birth control. But it hit a frenzied pitch when Berkley tried to tie Heller to Rush Limbaugh’s errant insults of a pro-birth control activist — charges Heller repeatedly obviated or deflected.

Now in the wake of the Violence Against Women Act vote, Berkley’s camp is attempting to resurrect the refrain.

“One inconsistent, out-of-character vote seven months from an election cannot erase Sen. Heller’s votes to gut millions of dollars in domestic violence assistance, to restrict access to birth control and to kill equal pay for equal work legislation,” Nevada Democrats’ spokesman Zach Hudson wrote in a statement.

To further the point, Hudson pointed to Heller’s votes against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, his vote on the Blunt amendment and his opposition to the stimulus bill — $2 million of the $787 billion dollar package would have gone to funding the VAWA.

But Heller spent the week striking a fairly woman-sympathetic tone — and reminding voters that in the midst of the Berkley campaign’s effort to paint him as misogynistic, Berkley admitted to reporters that she really didn’t think Heller was anti-woman.

“Violence in all forms is unacceptable, but in this place, it is particularly horrifying,” Heller said on the Senate floor last week, adding that “women and children often feel powerless to escape abusive or dangerous situations, which too often end in tragedy,” and calling statistics about violence against women in Nevada “sickening and unacceptable.”

As Berkley and Heller debate the political significance to Nevadans of his VAWA vote, Nevada continues to have a significant domestic violence problem.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nevada ranks first among states for the number of women — almost half — who have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. According to the Violence Policy Center, Nevada is also first in the nation for the incidence of women murdered in acts of domestic violence — a position the state has held for four of the past five years.

“Violence against women is something that runs across all ages, ethnicities and races,” said Lisa Lynn Chapman, spokeswoman for SafeNest, the largest shelter, advocacy and domestic violence victims’ service provider in Nevada. “This is an equal-opportunity crime. It’s one of the few issues that shouldn’t be politicized. ... It’s not a partisan issue, and it should never be a partisan issue.”

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