Nevada is not only a key 2012 battleground, it's also a state that struggled more than most when the Great Recession began in 2007. Though Nevada's unemployment has improved considerably over the last two years, it's still 12%, well above the national average.
Given this, plenty of Nevadans are looking for policymakers who care about those hardest hit by the crisis. It also means Sen. Dean Heller (R), running this year for a full term after being appointed to the seat in May 2011, has a "hobo" problem.
At a debate last week with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), Heller laughed off a question about whether he referred to the unemployed as "hobos," denying he'd ever used the term. The facts, however, are clear.
"This is the hardest part of an election, proving something you didn't do or say. And in this case, this is something that I did not do, and something that I did not say," the Republican said.
But that's not true.
In February 2010, Heller questioned the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits for people thrown out of work by the recession. He told the Elko County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner that the longer a person is out of work, the smaller the chance they'd eventually be re-employed. "Is the government now creating hobos?" he asked, according to the Elko Daily Free Press.
I remember writing about this when it happened, because it came at a time when many Republican members of Congress were actively trying to block extended unemployment benefits, despite the awful economic conditions. Heller, still a House member in February 2010, suggested jobless aid risked "creating hobos."
In other words, unemployment benefits created government dependency and encouraged those without jobs to be lazy. As far as Heller was concerned, those struggling most during a recession have only themselves to blame -- if they want a job, they should simply get one, as if jobs grow on trees -- and there's no reason for the country to make it a little easier for these folks to pay their bills until they can get back on their feet.
Dean Heller may be embarrassed by this now -- given Nevada's unemployment rate, I don't blame him for hoping voters forget what he said -- but as recently as two years ago, he suggested those looking for work have it too easy.