Sunday, June 24, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Got a challenger with some pension problems? Getting accused of unfairness in the name of the fairer sex? Are your political competitor’s efforts to swing parts of your base getting too close for comfort?
There’s an act for that.
Or so hope the industrious representatives of the Silver State, who have been filing bill after bill in the past few weeks, a handful of which are uncannily reminiscent of some of the more politically charged issues they face in tight races on the campaign trail.
Last week, 3rd Congressional District Rep. Joe Heck introduced legislation that would make it possible for members of the House of Representatives to opt out of the Federal Employees Retirement System — as they could before 2003.
“With an approval rating under 20 percent, it is clear that Congress must continue to restore accountability in the eyes of our constituents,” Heck said. “This bill simply gives members the option to forgo a congressional pension and save the American people some money.”
Subtext: That’s the opposite of what his 2012 opponent, former state Assembly speaker John Oceguera, is doing.
Republicans have criticized Oceguera for months for collecting a firefighter’s pension worth nearly six figures a year while still in his 40s. After 20 years on the job, it’s money to which Oceguera is legally entitled.
Indeed, Heck also would be legally entitled to his federal pension if he can stick around Congress for at least five years.
Heck, however, has volunteered to give his up. In fact, he came into Congress looking for a way out of the federal pension system’s $188-a-month buy-ins and eventual payouts (he has a private plan), only to find it was impossible. He just never pursued legislation to afford himself the opportunity before this month.
If Heck’s on offense, Republican Sen. Dean Heller appeared to dedicate his latest legislative venture last week to playing a little political defense. Heller authored a bill to dedicate at least 15 percent of homeless veterans grants to women.
“As the demographics of our armed forces have changed throughout the years, so, too, have the needs of homeless veterans,” Heller said. “Many homeless shelters were not designed to serve the needs of female veterans or homeless veterans with children.”
The bill is clearly aimed at two of the most fiercely fought-over demographics in the 2012 Senate race — veterans and women.
Veterans are not a new community of legislative interest for Heller, who has filed more bills on veterans’ issues this congressional session than his Democratic challenger, Rep. Shelley Berkley.
But the veterans hospital Berkley lobbied and won for North Las Vegas a few years ago is set to open this summer, and her campaign spent the entire spring pounding Heller with an “anti-woman” refrain following his votes against funding Planned Parenthood and mandatory health coverage for birth control.
Berkley has been noticeably silent on the bill-dropping front for most of this month; the last legislation she proffered was to increase burial benefits for veterans.
But over the past few years, Berkley, Heller and Heck have all made a point of using their elected positions to generate legislation matching political issues — or voting blocs — key to a successful Nevada campaign. All have entered bills on energy, home mortgages, local job creation and the general awesomeness of Las Vegas (for would-be tourists and conference attendees). Heller has even managed to get his moniker atop some of the Republicans’ bigger bills in Senate battles, such as payroll taxes and unemployment benefits.
There’s a chicken-and-egg cycle to election-year representation: Incumbent lawmakers run on their record. Seen from the other side of the circle, however, the campaign trail often dictates what makes it onto their records.
And as fun as it maybe be to point a finger and snicker at the timing, that’s pretty much the way a campaign season is supposed to be.