Hours after Senator Dean Heller (R) voted to pass the Senate version of the Trump Tax Plan, he appeared at the LIBRE Initiative’s policy forum at the Palace Station in Las Vegas to make his case. Yet as Heller was confronted by constituents with their questions about the tax plan, the federal budget, and immigration reform, LIBRE and Station Casinos security removed these constituents from the event as Heller attempted to deflect and stick to his message.

Just how LIBRE was this?

The LIBRE Initiative is an organization funded by the Koch Brothers to promote conservative policies in the Latinx community. Though LIBRE has voiced support for comprehensive immigration reform, its primary agenda tends to align more with right-wing causes, such as school vouchers and lower corporate taxes, than Latinx civil rights.
Thus far this year, Heller has appeared before friendly, conservative audiences at private, paid ticket events and limited his public exposure. Saturday’s LIBRE event was a rare instance of Heller appearing at a free event in Las Vegas, though it would turn out to be another Heller event where constituents were forcibly removed after asking questions that the Senator did not want to answer.

HAPPENING NOW: Senator Dean Heller is speaking at the LIBRE Initiative's event in Las Vegas, just hours after the U.S. Senate narrowly approved its version of the #TrumpTaxPlan. Heller is expected to explain his vote for the bill.

Posted by Nevada Forward on Saturday, December 2, 2017

As attendees demanded answers, they were being removed.

Photo by Maria-Teresa Liebermann

After an initial discussion on public education and ESA school vouchers, LIBRE Executive Director Daniel Garza welcomed Heller to the stage. Heller kicked off the conversation with a promise to get the Trump Tax Plan to President Donald Trump’s desk very soon: “Without a doubt, we will have [the bill] on the President’s desk before the holidays.”

Moments later, American Federation of Government Employees regional organizer Ian Hoffmann asked if Heller had read the bill, which has so hastily assembled Friday night that it was partially handwritten once it hit the Senate floor. As Heller was boasting of how he “helped write it”, Hoffmann was being removed from the room by private security guards.

“I’m from the state of Nevada. […] I’m going to do what’s good for Nevada.”
– Senator Dean Heller

As Heller was explaining his stance on energy tax credits, he proclaimed, “I’m from the state of Nevada. […] I’m going to do what’s good for Nevada.”
That took Las Vegas resident and Stage Four cancer survivor Laura Packard by surprise. She asked Heller why he’s supported Trumpcare legislation, including this tax bill that removes the individual mandate that makes the entire health care law function. Despite Packard’s pleas, and despite Governor Brian Sandoval’s (R) consistent opposition, Heller has been steadfast in his support for weakening the health care law.

When Garza picked Packard’s question on health care, she arose to demand an answer. Shortly thereafter, Packard was removed from the room.

“DACA itself has to be solved, and I believe it will be solved.”
– Senator Dean Heller

Later on, Garza asked Heller about immigration reform. One of the conditions for Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) supporting the tax bill was a guarantee from Republican leaders that Congress will soon pass permanent protection for DACA recipients. Even though the White House has since backed away from this guarantee, Heller voiced confidence that something will eventually pass: “DACA itself has to be solved, and I believe it will be solved.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Heller’s vague statement didn’t pass muster for the DREAMer activists in the room, as they demanded a commitment from Heller to pass a clean DREAM Act with no anti-immigrant measures (such as funding for Trump’s proposed border wall) attached. As Heller declined to provide a more specific answer, security removed the DREAMers from the room.

“It was very, very concerning to me to see American citizens being handled that way.”
– Jeoff Carlson, Las Vegas

After the event, neither Heller’s office nor LIBRE wished to comment on what had just occurred. Battle Born Progress, on the other hand, released a statement condemning their treatment of attendees, including the threatening of their own Executive Director, Annette Magnus, that she would be escorted out if she “caused any problems”.

Photo by Andrew Davey

We spoke with attendee and Las Vegas resident Jeoff Carlson, who witnessed multiple attendees being removed from the event. According to Carlson, “There were at least two occasions when I saw security and/or law enforcement man-handle or intimidate some of the guests who were there.” Carlson continued, “It was very, very concerning to me to see American citizens being handled that way.”

Yet when Carlson asked LIBRE organizers about the treatment of these attendees, they were indifferent. “I was rather disappointed with their level of concern for the way those people were treated,” Carlson said. “I got a blank stare of indignance.”
Throughout 2017, Senator Heller has limited his exposure to constituents as he’s mostly aligned himself with the Trump agenda. In the rare instances when Heller has appeared in public, constituents registered their disapproval and demanded clear answers to their questions. This dynamic proved true again at Saturday’s LIBRE Forum, hence why Heller has preferred to remain elusive to the people of his own state.