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July 22, 2014

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What happens when a third of Nevadans don’t have a House representative?

Now that Rep. Dean Heller’s been named John Ensign’s successor to the Senate, in only a few days’ time Nevada’s massive second district will lose its voice in the House of Representatives for a good long while.

But on a day-to-day basis, the resident of CD2 aren’t likely to see much of a difference. Because even when a Congressional office loses its congressperson, the rest of it keeps on kicking.

Under state law, Gov. Brian Sandoval has to call for a special election within seven days of whenever Heller formally resigns his seat. That’s expected to happen on or very very close to Tuesday, May 3rd, which is when Ensign’s resignation takes effect. Senate Republicans are eager to get Heller sworn in as soon as possible to the empty seat, and he’s got to formally depart the House first to do so.

Secretary of State Ross Miller then has up to 180 days to stage the election in Nevada’s second district, a task expected to require enough planning and budgeting (it’s estimated to carry about a $350,000 price tag) that it will very likely take most of that six-month window to put on.

That means for at least the rest of fiscal 2011, a season in which Congress is slated to hash through some controversial matters -- raising the debt ceiling, revamping Medicare and Medicaid, an unprecedented stripping back of defense spending at a time when the country is involved in three wars -- Nevada’s going to be a vote down.

But let’s be honest. While some House votes have inspired anticipatory nail-biting, most of the vote margins this Congress haven’t been close. That’s been the case whether we’re talking about bills that have split along party lines, like the attempted repeal of the health care law, or ones that have required bipartisan compromise, like passing the fiscal 2011 budget to avoid a government shutdown. So while it’s not politically correct to say so, the temporary loss probably won’t count for much in this climate, as one vote for or against these bills isn’t likely to affect the final outcome.

Neither should the residents of CD2 feel the sting on a personal level. Humboldt County residents aren’t going to have to trek to the south of the state to find an open Congressional office in the First or Third districts; constituent services continue on.

Where the loss of the House member will matter is in bringing up local-issue bills: items like the measure to stop mining in the Sloan Hill gravel pit, for instance, or on a much larger scale, bringing up legalization of Internet poker — especially because Heller was to be the only member of the House delegation with enough seniority in the majority party to push those types of issues. Still, the fates won’t be altered much there either, because the likelihood of such bills being considered in the next six months wasn’t very high to begin with.

Vacancies in the House of Representatives are more common than you might think. They happen every session (there’s currently one vacancy in the House already, created in late February when California Democrat Jane Harman resigned, and while the departed representative doesn’t continue to receive his or her salary, the office he or she leaves behind stays funded as it was, so that residents of the district can continue to get help with everything from Social Security claims, to foreclosure mitigation assistance, to planning visits to Washington, D.C.

Of course, the transition isn’t always seamless, and in Heller’s case, there’s more potential than usual for some hiccups, because Heller isn’t the only one heading for the Senate; he’s taking several members of his staff, including senior staff, with him.

Heller’s office hasn’t finalized how they plan to distribute the manpower of their office across the two offices they’ll be responsible for keeping humming until CD2 voters pick a new representative in the fall. But it’s bound to be somewhat of a scramble: they’ve been barely two weeks to plan and execute this transition, which is in large part an expansion too, as Senate offices, being responsible for the whole state, are much larger operations than their counterparts in the House.

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  1. What happens when half of Nevada has only one Senator? The same as always.