Since its creation in the 1980's, Nevada's Second Congressional District has sent only four representatives to Congress, all of them Republicans, but demographics in the district are shifting and Democrats are becoming a larger percentage of the electorate in Northern Nevada. Despite that, five-term incumbent Mark Amodei has remained relatively popular among voters.
KUNR's Paul Boger spoke with Amodei about his bid for a sixth term as well as the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BOGER: Congressman Amodei, why are you running for reelection?
AMODEI: Well, because basically after a lifetime of elected public service in Nevada, [and] for the last nine years in Washington, D.C., I think we're in a position where, quite frankly, we've developed relationships on both sides of the aisle. We've been successful, whether it's the Obama administration or the Trump administration, in terms of being Nevada's advocate for its oldest congressional district, which is CD2.
Quite frankly, we're still well within what Nevadans have talked about in terms of term limits, so we think we've earned another 24 months based on past performance.
BOGER: Speaking in broad terms, I'm curious to know what you see as the biggest issues facing the state?
AMODEI: I mean, everybody's got to deal with trying to come out of COVID on the other side. I don't think it will ever go back to "normal," but nonetheless, we have to get back to what the new world will be in terms of a fully functioning tax space. Everybody from government workers to private sector folks can get back to the business of doing what they do, so that's the big, overall challenge.
We continue to basically balance the needs of growing communities with being responsible with resources. We want to keep our private sector strong. Before COVID, the state was at employment levels which were pretty phenomenal in modern times, so we've got a serious issue in terms of right now, in terms of affordability of housing. So, we have to take a look at how we deal with that, and then, basically, all issues are on the table: education, environment, immigration, COVID. I mean, you name it, it's multitasker Olympics.
BOGER: You mentioned the pandemic. Congress has yet to pass a new coronavirus relief bill since the CARES Act earlier this year. What have you done to advance another bill?
AMODEI: The leadership in the House put up [the] HEROES Act back in May or something like that, which, quite frankly, was another $3 trillion, [and] had a whole bunch of poison pills in it, so on a straight party-line vote, it passed the House and went nowhere in the Senate. I'm a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. We put forth a proposal a few weeks back that says, ‘Hey, here's a trillion-and-a-half that basically deals with a lot of the issues, taking those forward, learning some lessons from what the CARES Act did.’
Quite frankly, it was well received; although, leadership in the House majority said, ‘Oh, no, it's dead on arrival,' even though some of their most respected members were part of it, so I support that. I'm hoping we get a chance to vote on another one that is somewhere in the realm of nonpolitical winners and losers and reality for helping out healthcare providers, healthcare facilities, unemployment, education pieces in that, the whole nine yards.
BOGER: I just don't think it's possible to talk about CD2 without talking about public lands, so over the course of the Trump administration, public lands in the state have been opened for activities like increased oil and gas drilling. What are you doing to protect public lands here in the state?
AMODEI: Right now, when you talk about public lands, we've got a proposal out that would set a record for Nevada as part of the Fallon base expansion for their training needs, going into the next generation of protecting the nation. That's got over a million acres of protected wilderness and protected status lands. That's a record for the state of Nevada.
We've done public lands things to return lands to Indian tribes. You know, Harry Reid, who I worked with when I first got here, always looked at these bills and said, we need a conservation element, so even when we go back to the Lyon County Economic Development Lands Act, which allowed Nevada Copper to go forward in their economic development stuff in Lyon County, there were two wilderness areas in that. The Wovoka Wilderness, [more than] 50,000 acres created, as well as the Pine Forest Wilderness up in Northern Humboldt County, which was, off the top of my head, was [more than] 20,000 acres.
So, I think when you get away from the stereotypes and the clichés, quite frankly, Nevada is the state that I grew up hiking in, hunting in, fishing in, and I don't own any property, so that access is important to me. But the final example I'll tell you is this: the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. SNPLMA is 21 years old as we speak. That authorized the sale in and around Las Vegas and Clark County of 70,000 acres, and you're going, ‘Oh, my God, Vegas, you know, blah, blah, blah.’ In the 21 years, that that act has been on the books, they've sold, in Las Vegas, one of the most dynamic real estate markets in the nation, about half of it. So 35,000 acres in 21 years. That doesn't mean that people ought to just say, 'Oh, it'll be fine,' and quit watching. Absolutely, they should keep watching.
But quite frankly, the reality with public lands operations, in terms of their potential sale or exchange for things like... they want a cemetery in Elko for veterans so they don't have to drive all the way to Fernley for that stuff. The City of Sparks does not have a cemetery. They want 40 acres, so they can have a Sparks cemetery. And you look at all the stuff, flood control, all sorts of things, so on balance, you know, this thing of like, 'Oh, my God, a lands act is a bad thing,' [but] quite frankly, when you put it to a fact test [it] is something that we think is not being accurately portrayed by some of the critics.
BOGER: Schools in Northern Nevada have canceled classes several times over the last few weeks, not because of the pandemic, but because of poor air quality and smoke from wildfires from California. What does Congress need to do to address climate change head-on?
AMODEI: First of all, we need to get out of their own political way. I'm a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is another bipartisan group. We were working on a bill which, quite frankly, the only final issue to be worked out is if you impose a carbon fee, did that money go to people for their power bills or did it go to research to come up with cleaner energy? I was a guy who said, 'You know what, if we need to help people with their bills, then you need to do that as a separate thing, but let's not use climate change as a way to redistribute income.' We need to take the money from that carbon fee and put it into R&D so that we've got sources of energy that do not put carbon in the atmosphere. That's what we're really about [and] that's what we should use the money for.
Also, I mean, there's a piece... since we're talking about smoke in the air and the Truckee Meadows and in Western Nevada and actually all across Northern Nevada, is that forest management is a piece of that. Leaving fuel in the forest without taking a look at what's actually healthy for the ecosystem is a mistake. Listen, if you want to do an all fronts approach, then by all means, let's do it. It's like, I think the climate is constantly cycled and it's doing that now. The question is: What are we doing that is hurting that? And what can we do to help minimize that?
BOGER: During [the first presidential] debate, President Trump was asked about his healthcare plan. More specifically, you know, what he plans to replace the Affordable Care Act with if the Supreme Court rules that it's unconstitutional after the election, he did not have an answer for that question. So I'll ask you: How do you continue to expand healthcare in Nevada?
AMODEI: Well, and absolutely fair. What needs to be done is, if it's really about healthcare and not controlling people's lives, then there were some good things in the ACA: the portability of healthcare, taking it across state lines, the preexisting condition stuff, that's all good stuff. By the way, the exchange in Nevada, where about 11% of Nevadans... It's like, listen, that's working. That's a good option for that number of Nevadans. Before COVID and people lost jobs because they basically got laid off, I mean, we were down to about 11% uninsured in Nevada, which had cut that in half from what the historical number was.
What Congress needs to do is, basically, get out of its own political shadow and say a couple of things. For those people like in Nevada, where the majority are on employer-provided health insurance plans, you need not to try to force those people into a single-payer thing. Some people call that Medicare for all. I'm just saying I have not, in the nine years I've been here, had a single firefighter, policeman, school teacher, union member, government employee, or private sector employee with employer-provided health insurance call me and say, ‘Please kick me off of my insurance and put me in a one-size-fits-all federal plan.'
If you really want to create a single-payer health system in this country, I think that's a mistake. The majority of Nevadans are happy with what they got through their employer. What Congress needs to do to circle back to the beginning, is they need to focus on the issue, and not their own political talking points, you know, perceived advantages for purposes of an election. So, it's too bad that the political messengers are basically getting the priority over, 'Here's what's worked and here's instances of where it's work and we need to go farther down those roads.' So, at the end of the day, everybody's secure in the fact that they've got good health insurance at a good rate, and if they need it, it's there for them.
BOGER: Congressman Amodei, thank you for joining me.
AMODEI: Yep, I appreciate it. Thanks, Paul.