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Protesters Removed from “Sold Out” Private Las Vegas Luncheon with Dean Heller

U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) appeared before the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas. Unlike his last appointment with the Chamber, he finally appeared in person. This time, he appeared to a “sold out” crowd… But how “sold out” was the event, really? And this time, protesters were forcibly removed from the luncheon after they shouted questions at the Senator.

I bought a ticket to the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce luncheon, as I wanted to ensure entry into the event. I bought the ticket Wednesday night. Mid-day Thursday, the Latin Chamber sent an email claiming its luncheon with Senator Heller was “sold out”.

Screenshot Captured by Andrew Davey

Here’s where the numbers get very hinky very quickly. The luncheon was at the Suncoast Casino’s conference center near Summerlin. More specifically, the Latin Chamber rented three ballrooms that seat about 600 people when combined. Yet when I called the Latin Chamber Thursday afternoon to verify their “sold out” crowd, they could only guesstimate sales of about 350 tickets.

How can a “sold out” room still have capacity for another 200 people?

Here’s where the story gets even stranger. Less than two hours before the event, the Latin Chamber told me there were more spots available inside… Despite its own messages that the event was sold out.

At check-in, I again asked staff how many more tickets were available. They then said, “We won’t know until the end of check-in.” When I checked just minutes before the program began, staff again confirmed that tickets were still available. After the event, the Las Vegas Latin Chamber President Peter Guzman confirmed via Twitter that there were 400 attendees.

Photo by Andrew Davey
Who directed the Latin Chamber to claim its luncheon with Senator Dean Heller was “sold out” and had no more room for attendees?

Following introductory remarks by others, Senator Heller took to the stage to address the not-full room. Within minutes, progressive activists seized upon the rare opportunity to ask Heller questions.

Yet as these constituents who paid to attend the event were asking questions, a group of attendees began removing these people from the room. They were not affiliated in any way with U.S. Capitol Police, Las Vegas Metro Police, or even Suncoast Casino security.

The situation continued to escalate. Ultimately, one of the private “bouncers” grabbed small business owner Ron Nelsen after he shouted a health care question at Heller. This individual physically threatened Nelsen, then forcibly removed him from the room.

Why were attendees allowed to remove people from an event they also paid to attend?

Following the event, I sought clarification on this potential violation of state law. As of the time of publication, neither Senator Heller’s office nor the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce has commented on the forced removal of protesters from the luncheon they paid to attend. Neither organization has also commented on why the Latin Chamber had claimed its luncheon was “sold out” despite continuing to offer tickets until the final minutes before the event began. Instead, Guzman and his allies have continued to tweet in support of their forced removal of protesters.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Senator Heller and his staff moved outside the room after his presentation to speak with local media. Following a few minutes of questions about the status of Trumpcare in the U.S. Senate, Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and investigations into Trump’s relationship with the Russian government. Heller restated his opposition to the American Health Care Act (AHCA, or Trumpcare) as currently written, but declined to condemn Trump’s firing of Comey.

As soon as Heller stopped taking questions from the press, several protesters reemerged to demand answers.

Protesters confronted Heller on renewable energy, his support for climate change denying EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Affordable Care Act programs in effect in Nevada, and what form of Trumpcare he is willing to support. ShaeAnn Clements confronted Heller both inside and outside the event. As the media gaggle wrapped up, I asked ShaeAnn how hard of a time she’s had getting a hold of Heller… And why she pressed him on health care today.

Outside Suncoast, about 15 protesters were demanding Senator Heller address their concerns. Before I went in, I spoke with For Nevada’s Future’s Alicia Briançon. “We just want Heller to give a firm no on Trumpcare. We can’t leave anything to risk after [Rep.] Mark Amodei [R-Carson City] switched [his vote]. We need to hold him accountable. We won’t let up. The fight is not over. His constituents are watching what the Senator does on health care.”

Cynthia McCoy, a Las Vegas Indivisible volunteer, agreed. She’s on Medicare, and her mother relies upon Medicare and Medicaid programs. Like other Southern Nevada constituents, McCoy described the difficulty of trying to reach Senator Heller and share her concerns. “My husband and I try to call him. […] We email a letter, but only get a form letter back. I’ve never seen him in person.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Constituents from throughout Nevada have had trouble reaching Senator Heller this year. A common refrain has been the demand for more accessibility and more transparency.

But judging by the tone and behavior present at Heller’s latest private event, it’s unclear whether he’s listening at all.

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