Congressman Mark Amodei sat down with Battle Born Media for an interview, sharing his views on several items, including the political climate in the nation’s capital, his future and his title-winning days at Carson High School.
The 56-year-old Republican represents Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, spread across Northern Nevada. He won a special election in 2011 to fill the seat and was re-elected in 2012 to a full two-year term and another term in 2014.
He was a state legislator from 1997 to 2010 and was chairman of the Republican Party in Nevada before running for the U.S. House of Representatives.
His remarks have been edited for space.
We’ve heard a lot about the gridlock and partisanship that permeate Washington. How would you describe the political climate? Is it as bad as it’s portrayed?
The one thing that’s absolutely free flowing in Washington more than anything else is drama. And so I’m not a drama guy. I’ve started saying things like “the work’s important but the culture sucks” because you’re asked those questions in the context of are you running again.
You know, for me, a two-year bite at a time is just about right, and people say ‘Why?’ It’s a challenging atmosphere for sure.
How a bill becomes a law back there right now is absolutely maddening. Everybody’s slugging everybody about immigration, and when you boil it down to what the issues are, in my view immigration is imminently solvable. But getting there is almost impossible because everybody’s got a political angle.”
(Amodei recalled getting “called to the principal’s office” for supporting a transportation bill that included a tax.) I’d rather be criticized for trying to do something because I’m tired of defending nothing. And in an outfit that’s become kind of famous lately for doing nothing, this is an opportunity to do something.”
You’re an attorney. The movement by several western states to take control of federal public lands has been described by critics as a legal impossibility, a legal fantasy. What is your response to that criticism?
What it really all boils down to in my mind is this: Do you want the federal government completely gone? Do you want the state of Nevada to do wild horses? Do you want the state of Nevada to do (wildfires), all that stuff? And the answer is usually not a clear yes or a clear no. I think in the middle is like this, and the way we’ve approached it in our little corner of the world, is we want the maximum possible say by our local planning and zoning people, where they can do what they’re supposed to do, which is figure out what our communities and counties want to be when they grow up.
Northern Nevada appears to be bouncing back from the recession. How do you view the economic outlook for this area?
I think we’re a few notches off where we were. I think the outlook’s better. We’ve had some pieces of the puzzle fall into place. So, I see it as a puzzle, and there’s some big pieces of the puzzle and little pieces of the puzzle, and they all move us in the right direction.
I don’t think there’s any one thing you can point to and say ‘Hallelujah, we’ve crossed the finish line. We’re officially squared away.’ We’re moving in the right direction. I think people aren’t as white- knuckled as they were three or four years ago. We’ve improved some, and we’ve become used to what, at least in the short term, is the new normal. We’re on the right track–some of it in spite of the federal government.
You’re known for your wit and humor. Does that help you in your job and, if so, how?
It’s kind of a coping mechanism to be real honest with you. You know how I said there’s plenty of drama there? If you take yourself seriously back there, at least the way I’m wired, if you take yourself ultra-seriously, I’d have gone nuts. It’s a long way from home for me, and like I said the work is important, especially for Nevada, so it’s a privilege to be given that responsibility. For me I just use that as kind of a coping mechanism and as part of, if you will, a lobbying style to kind of break the ice with folks.
I told you about this bill with (liberal Democrat) Jared Polis from Colorado. I didn’t even know there was a magazine, EB5 Magazine, where they took his head shot and my head shot and they put it against a background. So here’s Polis in front, and I’m looking over his shoulder. My staff comes in and plops it down, and I look and I just start grinning because Jared Polis and I have nothing politically in common. I just started laughing and I go, ‘We gotta get this framed or something.’ So when I went in to talk to this group a couple of days ago, Polis and I were both talking to them–it was the EB5 immigration group. He talked first, and then I got up. I took the magazine with me and I go, ‘Jared Polis never looked better than when he was standing next to me in a picture even if it had to be Photoshopped to get us together.’
What are your thoughts about Senator Harry Reid stepping down?
You know, I didn’t expect it. And on stuff we worked together on, which was mostly public lands stuff, quite frankly I try not to go to him very much because of the amount of stuff he has going on, but the times when I did he listened and was attentive and was responsive. He’s been the anchor of the Nevada delegation, whether you like his politics or not, for quite a while now. There’s not a hell of a lot more for him to do. I was in to see him earlier this week on an Indian tribe thing. I’ll tell you what, he’s been pretty fair with me.
What are your future political plans?
You know what? I never figured I’d be here. I figured I got done with the state Senate; I was term limited. I was able to retire instead of thrown out. Nevada’s home for me, so it is an honor and a privilege to be given the responsibility, but this is still home for me. So, we’re going to run next time (for re-election). I’m curious to see what it would be like to work under a different administration. I have no idea whose administration that will be, and even if it’s Republican, who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t be any different.
I told one of your colleagues who said, ‘Are you going to run for the Senate?’ I said you know what the problem with running for the Senate is? First of all, you’ve got to go down to Las Vegas where 70 percent of the votes are, and you’ve got to establish a network and build that foundation. And I said that if you’re going to run for the Senate next year you need to be doing that now and I’m not, so there’s your answer.
And the second part I said to him was if I do that (seek another position) it will be for an office that’s in Carson City, not in Washington, D.C. I’m going to be 57 in June. I ain’t spending the rest of my life back there. I’m looking very forward to joining the older-I-get-the-better-I-was club in western Nevada. The last piece of that answer I’ll tell you is this: If you meet somebody who says they love it back there is somebody you should watch very carefully.
Finally, you were a member of the last Carson High School basketball team to win a state championship, back in 1975. Do you see your old teammates and what memories do you have of that championship?
My only real claim to fame. You know they had a little deal at halftime that I had to miss. I was mad. I tried to figure a way, but I’d had to miss a vote to do it.
We still kind of keep track of each other. We don’t get together a lot just because we’re kind of scattered. But I gotta tell you, the most fun we have with it is you look at those pictures, and it’s like those were the days when basketball shorts were really short. You had to have good legs to wear those, instead of all these cheater pedal pushers that dudes are wearing now.”