Senator Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, has once again made the news with the challenge to his candidacy for state senator in next year’s election by perennial political candidate Danny Tarkanian.
Tarkanian, a far-right conservative and the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has never won an election despite running for public office 5 different times. He’s an unlikely challenger for Heller, who is widely unpopular for his conservatism in a swing state that voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election.
Heller has been in the headlines often this year, from angering his constituents on issues like healthcare and public education to the point of statewide protest, to voting for the repeal of Obamacare.
Here’s what you need to know about the senator from Nevada:
1. Heller Has Flip-Flopped on His Support of Trump’s Efforts to Repeal Obamacare
After taking fire from constituents in a state whose population is heavily dependent on government-sponsored healthcare, Heller had recently seemed to lean towards voting against the repeal of Obamacare.
In a statement released on his website in June, Heller said he had concerns about the proposed legislation to replace Obamacare.
“Throughout the health care debate, I have made clear that I want to make sure the rug is not pulled out from under Nevada or the more than 200,000 Nevadans who received insurance for the first time under Medicaid expansion,” Heller said in the statement. “At first glance, I have serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid. I will read it, share it with Governor Sandoval, and continue to listen to Nevadans to determine the bill’s impact on our state.”
In late June, the pro-Trump group America First Policies pulled tv advertisements attacking Heller for his anticipated “no” vote on the repeal of Obamacare after senior Republican party members criticized the ads.
On July 28, Heller was one of 49 senators who voted “yes” in a support of a final effort to repeal Obamacare.
2. Heller Is Considered the Most Vulnerable Republican in Next Year’s Election
Heller is the only GOP senator up for reelection in 2018 in a state that voted blue in the 2016 presidential election. Constituents have long been unhappy with Heller, saying he doesn’t represent the community on issues they find most important, and complaining of the difficulty they experience when trying to reach the senator.
Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who will also challenge Heller in next year’s election, released a statement criticizing Heller’s healthcare vote:
“Last month, Senator Heller promised that he could not vote for legislation that takes away insurance from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans. Last night, he voted to do just that,” the statement on Rosen’s website read.”It’s clear that we cannot trust Senator Heller to protect our health care. Our current health care system is far from perfect, but I know we can work together to find smart solutions for the people of our state.”
In a Morning Consult poll from July 2017, Heller has a 41% approval rating; only 4 senators have lower approval ratings.
3. Heller Was Appointed as Senator After John Ensign Resigned Amid a Sex Scandal
Nevada’s previous senator, John Ensign, resigned in 2011 amid a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his affair with the wife of one of his friends and top aides and subsequent payments he issued.
In the wake of Ensign’s resignation, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval appointed Heller, previously a state representative, as senator.
Heller attended the University of Southern California as a business major, becoming a stockbroker before beginning his political career in 1988 as Nevada’s deputy state treasurer. Heller continued in state politics, holding roles in the state assembly, as secretary of state, and later as senator. Though appointed in 2011, Heller won the the senate race narrowly in 2012.
4. Heller & His Wife Lynne Have Been Married More Than 30 Years
According to the biography page on his website, Heller lives with his wife, Lynne and family in Smith Valley in northern Nevada, just south of Lake Tahoe.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Heller purchased 147 additional acres for his family farm in 2014. According to documents filed in the Senate, he grows alfalfa on the farm, which is common in the Smith Valley.
Heller’s website says that he and his wife have been married for over 30 years. In an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Lynne Heller told the Gazette-Journal that she was a retired teacher during an event at their local library.
5. Heller’s Son & Daughter-In-Law Are Social Media Sensations
Heller has 4 children, one of whom has a large presence on social media. Harris Heller and his wife Kenzie Nimmo are musicians who created an online following for their music through their YouTube and Vine channels.
The elder Heller took to Twitter to promote his son and daughter-in-law’s performance on the View in February of 2015.
Harris Heller also seems heavily engaged in the video gaming world, linking his Twitch.tv site to his Twitter and tweeting often about the gaming site where users share live streams of their video gaming screens while they play.