Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Valley residents packed the Pacific Pines Senior Center community room Tuesday in Henderson to participate in an open forum discussion with Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
Red raffle tickets from many of the 95-plus people in the room filled a fishbowl; each one represented a person with a question or concern they wanted the Republican to address. For more than an hour, tickets were selected as Heck fielded questions from the corresponding ticket-holder.
At the forefront of their concerns were gun control, the looming sequester and immigration. The event allowed people a chance to understand where their representative stood on their most pressing issues.
“I’m glad he did this,” Ava Overstreet said about the event. “I just purchased a house in Nevada … so I’m very glad because he’s my representative, and I want to make sure I know his positions.”
Before taking questions, Heck opened up the discussion by explaining his seemingly controversial interview with talk show host Alan Stock on KDWN 720-AM earlier Tuesday. During the interview Heck had said, “I agree,” after Stock finished a complaint that President Barack Obama had used former Rep. Gabby Giffords as a “prop” to push his gun control message in the State of the Union address.
“Contrary to what’s being said, I did not agree to that statement. We were talking about gun control in general,” Heck said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Gabby (Giffords) as a colleague.”
Heck proceeded to calmly listen and answer emotional rants, curious inquiries and impassioned pleas about some of the most heated topics debated in Congress. At various times people booed, cheered or nodded to each other’s statements and his responses.
Heck remained consistent in his answers, taking the time to explain his stance or why some issues were out of his control to do anything about.
When asked about immigration, Heck said he would not support amnesty, but wanted to remain open-minded about reform. He also added that he believed the current legal immigration system was broken.
“I said very clearly I do not support amnesty, but said I would not close the door on reviewing proposals for citizenship,” Heck said. “I will continue in that position until I see what those proposals are.”
Several people brought up pleas for more gun control, while others worried about infringements on their Second Amendment rights. Heck said he supported stricter background checks to ensure weapons stay out of the hands of people intent on causing harm. He refused to support bans on assault weapons or high volume cartridges, citing studies that showed they were ineffective.
Brian Fadie said he attended the meeting because he felt Heck had been unclear on his stance on gun control. Heck’s responses left him with a better understanding of where he stood in the debate.
“I was encouraged by his seeming support on universal background checks,” Fadie said. “I heard a lot of good things about expanding background checks, but I think he needs to do more research on the assault weapon ban.”
Still, Heck did not have an answer for everything. Many constituents were concerned about the impending sequester and the consequences the spending cuts would have on them. David Cox Elementary special education teacher Adam Berg worried about it causing even more harm to education in Clark County.
Heck could only assure them that Congress was working on a solution.
“For as many people who don’t want (sequestration) to go through, no one has come up with something to not let it come through,” Heck said. “I don’t want to see sequestration go through. I only hope to be able to vote on something that would allow us to be deliberate with cuts to go through.”
Not all questions were answered in the forum, which was hosted by Nevada HAND, a housing and community development nonprofit group. Even after extending the meeting an extra 30 minutes to field questions, about 20 red tickets remained. Some people were unhappy with Heck’s responses, while others were pleased.
At the end, attendees left with a better understanding of where their representative stood.
“He’s willing to have a conversation with the other side because that’s the only way you can reach an agreement,” Berg said. “I didn’t vote for him, but I support him because I’m a constituent in his district.”