Nevada NewsMakers

News - September 14, 2018 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar

Nevada Newsmakers

Nevada's 4th U.S. House District Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-North Las Vegas, decided last December he would not seek re-election after a House Ethics Committee investigation began into allegations he sexually harassed two women.

It does not mean Kihuen won't run for office in the future, he said Friday on Nevada Newsmakers.

"I would not rule it out," he said.

"Politics is about people's support," said Kihuen, a former assemblyman and state senator who is in his first term in Congress. "And if people support you and if they want you to run, then absolutely (I would run)."

No decision has been made by the ethics committee and Kihuen is confident he will be exonerated.

"I am confident, first of all, that I will come out cleared of this situation," he said. "I have been keeping my head down and working hard on behalf of my constituents. That was the promise I made to them on the first day I got elected and I will continue to do that until January."

Kihuen said there are "many, many lessons learned" from his crisis.

"Definitely, a lot of things learned," he said. "But you know, you live and learn and you continue moving forward and working hard."

Kihuen said he wants to continue in 'public service,' although he was not specific.

"I am passionate about public service," he said. "I am passionate about what I do. I don't do this for the name, the title nor the money. I do this because I came to this country as an immigrant, no money, no contacts, no family, as an 8-year-old kid. And today I am serving in the most powerful legislative body in this world. So I am indebted to this country. So as long as I am able to, I am going to continue in public service."

Yucca Mountain

The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository is in Kihuen's district and the site remains in mothballs, despite efforts in Congress to revive it, he said.

In June, USA Today reported there was a new push by the Trump administration and some members of Congress to revive it. In May, the U.S. House voted 340-72 to direct the Department of Energy to resume the licensing process for Yucca.

"I was just at Yucca Mountain a few months ago and that place is completely dead," Kihuen said. "You literally have tractor trailers that have not been moved in more than 20 years. So it would take billions of dollars to get this project restarted."

Kihuen's congressional role is that of a teacher when it comes to Yucca Mountain.

"In the last year-and-a-half that I've been in Congress, in the past 20 months, I have been working tirelessly with my colleagues to educate them," Kihuen said. "I feel that a lot of them are misguided."

The education process about Yucca is also happening in the Senate, Kihuen said.

"I'm confident that Catherine Cortez (Masto) is doing a great job in the Senate, educating our colleagues there," he said. "We are doing that in the House. I have been able to convince several of them why this is not good for Nevada.

"And this is just not good for Nevada," Kihuen added. "You have to transport that nuclear waste through so many states. I think 44 states are going to be impacted by this. So it is not just about bringing it to Nevada. It is about transporting it here. It is just not safe."

Yucca's chances of being revived will drop if Democrats gain the majority in both houses of Congress in November's midterm elections, Kihuen said.

"When Democrats have been in control of the House or the Senate, this project has not moved forward," he said. "If Democrats take control of the House this November, there is a very strong likelihood that the project will not move forward. And if it does, worst-case scenario, we are going to fight this legally. We are going to take it to the courts and try to make sure they don't bring this nuclear waste to our backyard.

"My philosophy is this: If you are generating nuclear waste in your backyard, then you keep it in your backyard, not mine," Kihuen said.

Employment and low wages

Kihuen was pleased with Nevada's low unemployment rate and urged those who are still unemployed to seek retraining.

"If folks are willing to get retrained and willing to go into a new industry or new profession, there are plenty of jobs out there right now," he said.

"I was talking to some of my friends in the labor industry and they are having a hard time looking for qualified construction workers. I remember during the recession, back in '09, '10  and '11, of the 200,000 people that left the state, 100,000 of those were in the construction industry.

"And now, we are having a hard time filling those jobs," he said.

Although unemployment is down, many of the employed are not paid enough to keep up with rising costs.

"They may be hiring more people but they are paying them the same wages they did five years ago," Kihuen said.

Increasing wages for the middle class will grow the economy, Kihuen said.

"If the CEO is making millions of dollars, then he should be compensating the employees who are helping him make that money," Kihuen said. "Ultimately, if these folks are making more money, they are going to go out and spend more money, they are going to go out there and stimulate the economy, buying houses, buying beds.

"I believe if you help people in the middle class and if you increase their wages, they are going to spend more money and everybody is going to do well. Businesses are going to start doing better, hiring more people, expand, maybe open up a second and third location."

Minimum wage increase

Kihuen remains an advocate for raising the minimum wage. In 2013, he presented a bill in the Nevada Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15-per hour.

"When I presented this bill in the Legislature, it was a few years ago," he recalled. "It was not a popular thing to talk about. Every major businesses lobbyist came in to testify in opposition. But I felt it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do back then and it is the right thing to do today.

"The housing prices are increasing," he said. "The cost of living is increasing, yet our wages are staying stagnant," Kihuen said. "So in order to fix that, we have to increase the minimum wage. And now, if you are working 40 hours a week, in a full-time job on minimum wage, you are still living below the poverty line. We live in the richest, most powerful country in the world, that should not be the case."

He was unsure if $15-per hour was enough for new a minimum-wage bill in 2018.

"I believe people should make a livable wage," he said. "What is that number? At that time, I thought $15 dollars an hour was right. Today, I don't know. We have to go back, talk to an economist, see the home prices and the increase in costs of living. But it should definitely be at least $15-an hour. But we have not had those discussions in Congress. And we see that income inequality continues to grow."