Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

Currently: 87° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

POLITICS:

Berkley finds refuge from ethics questions among supporters at home

Image

Leila Navidi

Rep. Shelley Berkley. D-Nev. speaks during the Nevada State Democratic Party Convention at Bally’s Event Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 9, 2012.

Berkley ethics probe

Congress announced an ethics probe into Las Vegas Congresswoman Shelley Berkley on Monday. Some say Berkley's husband, a UMC kidney doctor, allegedly benefited from Berkley's support of kidney programs at UMC.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee delivered a shot across the bow of Shelley Berkley’s Senate campaign this week when it announced a unanimous decision to appoint an investigative subcommittee to explore whether the congresswoman used her position to advocate for policies that benefited her family financially.

On Friday, during her first public appearance in Nevada since the ethics investigation was announced Monday, Berkley steadied the ship and took an injection of energy from her ardent supporters — including several local union affiliates, veterans, the Alliance for Retired Americans and Nevada Democrats — at a political rally in Henderson.

“(Berkley) has fought for middle-class families. She has fought for people who are underprivileged, who are less fortunate, people who feel like they don’t have a chance in this country. Those are the people who Shelley has fought for, not the big corporations, not the big oil companies, but the average people like you and I. That’s why I’m supporting her,” said state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who touted Berkley’s support for the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform.

Iraq War veteran Leo Dunson also took the podium in front of a large blue banner reading “Shelley Berkley Fighter for Nevada” to commend Berkley on her work to pass the Justin Bailey Act to aid veterans with substance abuse problems and to secure funding for a Southern Nevada Veterans Affairs medical center.

In 2008, Berkley and the rest of the Nevada delegation, including then-Rep. Dean Heller, lobbied to keep the University Medical Center kidney transplant center open.

Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, is a kidney doctor whose medical firm had a contract to provide kidney care at UMC. Without the UMC transplant center, Southern Nevadans would have had to travel out of state to receive a transplant.

“There are 200 of our fellow Nevadans who were waiting for a life-saving gift of a kidney who might have died if we hadn’t saved that transplant program,” Berkley told the crowd at the Nevada office of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

Berkley also wrote a letter to the chairman of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Medicare, petitioning him not to lower Medicare reimbursement rates for dialysis.

The congresswoman has said her motivation was protecting patient care in Las Vegas, not for personal financial reasons. She also worked to protect reimbursement rates for other kinds of care, not just dialysis treatments, according to her campaign.

“In addition to the hospital contract, (Lehrner) operates a dozen dialysis centers in Nevada and has played a central role in an industry campaign to lobby members of Congress — including his wife — on behalf of kidney care providers,” The New York Times reported in September, raising the first questions of impropriety.

On Friday, though, Berkley disputed that her husband ever participated in lobbying.

“My husband is a gifted doctor. He works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He is not a lobbyist,” she told the Sun after the rally. “So, the idea that he has anything to do with lobbying is ridiculous. ... What I would do in the future, and I’ve said this a number of times, I would make sure that if there is anybody within the sound of my voice who didn’t know my husband was a physician, they would know by the end of the conversation.”

Terri Boling, a Berkley supporter who attended the event, said she didn’t know before news of the investigation broke that Berkley’s husband was a nephrologist. Boling said she believed the congresswoman’s contention that she was acting in the best interests of her constituents.

Alfonso Gonzalez, another supporter, said the investigation could end up being beneficial to the campaign.

“Berkley has always been on the side of the middle-class workers and veterans,” said Gonzalez, a cook at Paris Las Vegas. “I don’t think the investigation will harm her. In fact, maybe people will take a closer look at her as a candidate because of this and they will see all the good she has done.”

Berkley continues to use a strategy against Heller, now her opponent for Senate, that has been popular among Democrats this election season. In 2011, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, proposed a budget that would have shifted Medicare beneficiaries to private insurance plans with the help of federal subsidies. Heller voted for the plan both as a representative and later in the Senate, after being appointed to the seat vacated by John Ensign.

Factcheck.org, which analyzes claims by politicians and their campaigns, includes the Democrats’ repeated claims that the plan would “end” or “essentially end” Medicare among its “Whoppers of 2011.”

The plan, which has since been altered by Ryan, “would have continued the present Medicare system indefinitely for those now getting benefits, and also for all those who reach age 65 during the next decade,” factcheck.org noted.

Yet, in a Berkley campaign ad released this week, the voiceover states, “Heller voted twice to end Medicare as we know it,” while the text in the ad simply read: “Dean Heller voted twice to end Medicare.”

Heller released his own ad this week that quotes The New York Times story and accuses Berkley of “advocating policies for financial gain.”

Berkley and Dunson also criticized Heller for his 2011 vote on a House budget bill that included an item on a housing program for veterans.

“He voted to gut funding for the housing voucher program that got America’s heroes, Nevada’s veterans, off the streets and put a roof over their heads,” Berkley told the crowd.

However, factcheck.org notes the item kept current funding but declined to add $75 million to the program, as had been done in three previous budget years. Republicans have pointed out the current allotment of vouchers was not exhausted.

As the ads released in the wake of the House Ethics Committee decision indicate, Heller most likely will try to keep reminding voters of the questions of impropriety while Berkley will try to refocus attention on issues such as job creation.

“This is an easy attack for (Heller),” Berkley said of the ethics investigation. “But I am absolutely convinced that at the end of the day, no matter how many commercials they run, the people of Nevada know who has been on their side year after year and will be on their side in the U.S. Senate.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 2 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. I support Berkley. I have to.

    Just a glance at Heller's record of voting tells me he's not on the working peoples' side here in Nevada. He could care less about us. Heller only cares for the rich and everyone else are targets for his predations.

    Besides that, I STILL say that, because that pond scum, now current veteranarian cat doctor, John Ensign, left in utter disgrace to avoid being thrown out and/or criminally prosecuted, this Senate Seat has been lost to the incompetent Tea/Republican Party. They still need to pay for the utter embarassment and still lingering disgrace to Nevada politics. We simply don't want another Tea/Republican. They lost all rights to it. Heller was appointed. Not elected. Not even popularly elected. And his dumb votes are just a continuation of Ensign's insanity. As far as I see, Heller is just keeping this Senate Seat warm. Before it gets taken away from him in the voting process.

    It will flip to Berkley on November 6, 2012! People are sick and tired of Tea/Republican Party ideals that are wayyyyyy far outside the realm of sensibility. It serves only them. But the rest of Nevada, it gets us nowhere.

  2. I am violating a rule about posting to share the following link:

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/politic...

    I do not believe the Sun should be citing Politifact as evidence to counter a claim about Dean Heller's vote. If it wishes to claim that Shelley Berkley is inaccurate in criticizing Heller's vote, all well and good. But it should choose a credible source.