Jacky Rosen could become Senate leader on renewables

Source: By Corbin Hiar, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, January 25, 2019

In a Senate chamber that’s controlled by lawmakers friendly to fossil fuel interests, Nevada Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen is a ray of light for the solar industry.

When Rosen, 61, was elected president of the Ner Tamid synagogue in 2013, she pushed to install a solar system that cut energy costs for the temple in the southern tip of the Silver State by around 70 percent.

Five years later, while running for the Senate after just one term in the House, she recounted that experience to voters and pointed to legislation, H.R. 6166, she’d introduced to train veterans for careers in the solar industry to help illustrate her policy priorities.

On the campaign trail, Rosen also touted her background as a computer engineer, a small business owner and a caregiver, as well as her bipartisan voting record in Congress.

But another major factor in her recent win, according to political experts, was former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a stalwart clean energy backer who hand-picked her to run for the House in 2016 and the Senate two years later.

“He was able to raise money. He was able to connect her with the campaign operatives,” said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“Reid is — has been — the major power broker in the Nevada Democratic Party,” Herzik said, alluding to the former Senate leader’s ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer.

Now after two hard-fought, expensive campaigns, Rosen is likely to further Reid’s legacy of support for renewables — albeit in a kinder, gentler fashion than her pugnacious political patron.

‘Important voice’ for solar

Rosen campaigned on the bipartisan credentials she established in the House. But while she’s learning how the process-bound Senate works, the junior senator from Nevada is expected to stick to the party line.

“I think she’ll follow the lead of Democratic leadership to try to get anything done,” Herzik predicted. “She’ll push standard renewable energy items, particularly solar because solar is very big in southern Nevada.”

Still, renewables aren’t likely to be “the policy issue she leads with,” he added.

From her seats on the committees for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Commerce, Science and Transportation, Rosen could seek to advance legislation she introduced in the House promoting cybersecurity training programs, H.R. 6791; grid security, H.R. 3855; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education efforts, H.R. 3397.

Rosen is also on the panels overseeing Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the Special Committee on Aging.

Nevertheless, solar interests are excited to see Rosen on the other side of the Capitol.

“Senator Rosen has been an important voice in support of the solar industry in her state and nationally, understanding the harm that tariffs are having on our economy and the thousands of solar workers in Nevada,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement. “We were glad to have her support in the House and look forward to her leadership on important energy issues in the Senate.”

Last Congress, Rosen put forward the “Protecting American Solar Jobs Act.” H.R. 5571 would’ve repealed the import duties President Trump imposed on some photovoltaic solar cells, which have raised the cost of installing new solar capacity.

If her previous legislative experience is any guide, Rosen — a former member of the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus — may even be able to build GOP support for clean energy. In 2017, she was rated as one of the most bipartisan members of the House, according to an index created by the Lugar Center, a nonprofit created by former Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.

The index was based on “the frequency with which a member co-sponsors a bill introduced by the opposite party and the frequency with which a member’s own bills attract co-sponsors from the opposite party,” Lugar explained on the center’s website.

“What we are measuring in this Index is not so much the quality of legislation but rather the efforts of legislators to broaden the appeal of their sponsored legislation, to entertain a wider range of ideas, and to prioritize governance over posturing,” he said.

The skills Rosen honed during nearly three years of continuous campaigning in a purple state could now serve her well in a red-tinged Senate, according to Herzik.

“She’s certainly not an alienating politician, which maybe distinguishes her these days,” he said.

The chosen candidate

Rosen’s rise from the synagogue to the Senate was no sure thing.

Jacklyn Sheryl Spektor was born on Aug. 2, 1957, in Illinois. She grew up in and around Chicago, the daughter of a car salesman and a homemaker, and graduated high school at 16, according to The Nevada Independent.

“I was pretty smart, I guess,” she told the nonprofit news website in the run-up to the election last year. Asked for an interview after her victory, Rosen directed E&E News to her office, which didn’t respond to numerous interview and comment requests.

Rosen attended college at the University of Minnesota and spent one summer as a toga-clad cocktail waitress in Las Vegas, where her parents had moved, the Independent reported.

After graduating in 1979 with a degree in psychology and an interest in what was then the emerging field of computing, she landed a programming job in Vegas at the Summa Corp., the holding company of reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes.

In 1985, she earned an associate’s degree in computing and information technology from what is now known as the College of Southern Nevada, according to the Independent. Programming jobs at Citibank and Southwest Gas Holdings Inc. followed.

She and her husband Larry Rosen, a radiologist, have a daughter, Miranda. She was forced to give up her independent contracting work when illnesses hit her mother and her in-laws. All three of their elders passed away in the summer of 2011, she told the nonprofit.

Rosen, who had been active in her synagogue for several decades, then got more involved at Ner Tamid, which is the Hebrew term for “eternal light.” The synagogue didn’t make anyone available for an interview.

The temple’s congregation reportedly includes Nevada Supreme Court Justice Elissa Cadish, a longtime friend of Rosen, whom the Independent said suggested her to Reid as a potential contender for the southern Nevada House seat that was held at the time by Republican Rep. Joe Heck. Rather than seek re-election, Heck launched a failed bid for the Senate seat vacated by the Senate leader in 2016.

“Multiple other people had been asked to run, and she was the last person standing — or the first to accept, however you want to look at it,” said Herzik, the University of Nevada, Reno, professor. “She then ran against Danny Tarkanian, who is a perennial loser on the Republican side, although most people thought he would beat her.”

But Rosen eked out a 1.2-percentage-point victory over Tarkanian in a district that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had carried by a 1-point margin.

Rosen, whose net worth Roll Call estimated at $5.2 million last year, won in spite of a torrent of outside spending from conservative groups such as the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super political action committee that sought to portray her in TV ads as a “Washington puppet.”

The $19 million race ended up being the sixth most expensive House contest in the nation that cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a money-in-politics tracking group.

Trump’s golden touch falters

Soon after Rosen took office, Reid reportedly urged her to run against Sen. Dean Heller (R). The incumbent had never lost an election in Nevada during his more than three decades in public service.

That changed last November. With the financial support of Democratic groups like EMILY’s List — which gave her campaign more than $566,000 during the past two years, the biggest single donor — and the League of Conservation Voters, she raised nearly $25.6 million.

Heller’s campaign, by comparison, brought in about $15.1 million, but he benefited from some $13.7 million more in outside spending than Rosen.

Experts considered Trump and health care to be two of the biggest issues in the Senate race. Heller didn’t help himself by flip-flopping on both.

Before Trump won the White House, Heller told reporters “I vehemently oppose” the GOP presidential nominee. But facing a potential conservative primary challenge from Tarkanian, Heller cozied up to the president, even telling Trump at a campaign rally that “everything you touch turns to gold,” The Washington Post reported.

Heller also opposed efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act before eventually voting with all but three of his Senate Republican colleagues to very nearly undo Obamacare, which is credited with expanding health care coverage to some 400,000 Nevadans.

On energy and environmental issues, Rosen and Heller shared support for electric vehicles and opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site. Both introduced legislation to extend a tax credit for plug-in cars that benefits Tesla Inc., a major employer in their state (Greenwire, Nov. 1, 2018).

In a debate, they spared over who would do a better job of blocking the development of Yucca, which if completed would lead to the shipment of tens of thousands of metric tons of nuclear waste across Nevada (Greenwire, Oct. 22, 2018).

But their voting records on the environment were markedly different. Rosen sided with the League of Conservation Voters 97 percent during her first year in office. Heller did so zero times in 2017.

In the end, more than $106.3 million was spent on the Nevada Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and Rosen scored a 5-point victory over Heller.

“Rosen was an unknown. She didn’t have a record that could hurt her,” said Herzik. “And Heller and the Republicans generally didn’t have a very effective campaign strategy.”