Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 | 9:44 a.m.
Nevada’s Republican senator is leaving office after decades in public service, pointing to his work on tax reform, veterans issues and constituent services as accomplishments.
From the Legislature, to Secretary of State, to representative in Congress and then Gov. Brian Sandoval’s appointee to the Senate, Dean Heller has spent almost 30 years serving the public. Heller, who lost his reelection bid this year to Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, gave his farewell speech on the Senate floor today, stressing the importance of his family, staff and colleagues in his work on behalf of Nevada.
“I’ve had a great team, from top to bottom,” Heller said. “A team that includes naturalized citizens whose family came to this country seeking a better life, professional social workers, and multiple combat veterans.”
Heller echoed many of the accomplishments he cited on the campaign trail. He said he wrote the provision of the tax reform law that doubled the child tax credit, among other portions of the law. Critics of the law say it deepens the national debt at the impending expense of Social Security and other public programs, and makes tax cuts for individuals temporary while those for corporations are permanent.
Heller said the law added jobs and led several Nevada businesses, such as the South Point, to boost benefits for many employees.
“Nevada’s booming is because this Congress delivered tax cuts that put more money in America’s paychecks, their pocketbooks and their pensions and we advanced pro-growth policies that have led to more jobs, higher wages and more opportunities for Nevadans,” he said.
Some of his legislation Heller said he is most proud of has been to help Nevada’s 300,000 veterans. Trump signed one of those bills in Elko, as well as legislation for military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations in North Las Vegas.
“The greatest compliment I ever received in public office was when I overheard one veteran say to another, ‘If you need help, call Sen. Heller’s office,’” Heller said.
Heller also pointed to “our changes on the courts.” The Senator was one of several who have helped confirm conservative justices to the Supreme Court under President Donald Trump, including Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh denied the accusations.
The job is about helping people, not just advancing legislation, Heller said. His office worked to help constituents who called into his office with issues, such as a resident who had trouble enrolling in health insurance on the Obamacare exchange and another who hadn’t been able to access her Social Security retirement benefits.
“I truly believe that that is what drives all members of Congress, and that is to serve their constituents, no matter your party, no matter your state,” Heller said.
“Case work” with constituents is sometimes the most important work, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was one of several Republicans to acknowledge Heller on the Senate floor. Cornyn and Sen. John thune, R-South Dakota, said Heller is an optimist, a word the outgoing Senator used to describe himself.
“When veterans come to us and say I’m not getting access to the health care that I earned by virtue of my military service, or when a senior said I’m not getting my Social Security benefits, or sometimes when people contact us and say, well I’ve got relatives who can’t enter the country because they can’t get a visa, these are the kinds of things that people will never forget, the sort of acts of individual kindness and generosity and with a true attitude of public service,” Cornyn said.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who endorsed Rosen in the Senate race, said on the Senate floor that Heller welcomed her warmly when she first arrived D.C. She said the two don’t agree on all issues, but that they agreed to work together on common ground, such as bipartisan legislation to protect public lands and efforts to block a possible nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
“When it comes to our beloved state, it is about putting that state first, the people there, and uniting and coming together to make sure that we are working together no matter the climate, no matter the partisanship that we see here in Washington,” she said. “It is about what we can do every single day to work together, and I thank him for that commitment. I thank him for his willingness to bring this junior senator in and have the conversations about how we can work together to the benefit of our community.”
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both made public appearances with Heller in the run-up to the election. Heller said he’d never forget seeing Pence hold his granddaughter, adopted from China after she’d been abandoned at a bus stop and raised in an orphanage for the first two years of her life.
“When Ava grows up in this country, there will be plenty of doors that she can open that would otherwise have been closed,” he said.
Heller, a native Nevadan and son of an auto mechanic and school cook, said that as he leaves office, he will take with him memories of how Nevada came together last October after the mass shooting on the Strip.
“This immeasurable pain, suffering and devastation inflicted by one man elicited a profound, innate and immediate human response from Nevadans across the state,” Heller said. “Like many Nevadans, I saw firsthand the strong sense of family, faith and the strength in the wake of the Oct. 1 shooting, and when I leave here I will carry those extraordinary moments of unity and generosity with me.”