Rep. Mark Amodei ‘discouraged’ by early days, but vows to keep plugging

When Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) explains his undiminished support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), he makes reference to a band rarely identified with its Nevada roots: The Killers.

“One time, somebody pulled out their laptop and googled ‘The Killers,’ and half of the first 10 sites advertised free downloads,” Amodei told The Hill. “I’m not a big let’s-regulate-it guy, but you can’t do illegal stuff through the mail, you can’t do it over the phone, you can’t do it on TV … What these [sites] are doing is clearly illegal.”

But as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Amodei said he “didn’t see a lot of leadership” in the decision to shelve SOPA, a bill empowering law enforcement to fight online trafficking more aggressively.

“The issue is ripe. So when I saw that the collective political reaction was, ‘We’re going away from the policy,’ I thought, ‘You know what, guys? That’s discouraging.’ The bill wasn’t even done. It was still in markup,” he said.

The measure and its Senate counterpart prompted major backlash from sites like as Google and Wikipedia, which protested by blacking out its English-language site.

Amodei said that, despite the uproar, the House measure was “a good, sound policy.”

“The underlying thing is that you can’t steal in the copyright business, just like you can’t steal in the auto parts business, or the pharmacy business,” he said.

“I’m not going to sit there and go, ‘Oh, never mind,’ because some of the major gatekeepers don’t want the current system messed with.”

Amodei was sworn in Sept. 15, 2011, to fill the seat left vacant by the appointment of then-Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to the Senate. Before joining the House, he spent 13 years in Nevada’s state legislature (two in the House and 11 in the Senate),  and during much of his tenure, practiced law in the offseason with former Sen. Paul Laxalt’s (R-Nev.) firm in the state capital, Carson City.

As a legislator, he developed a reputation for his bipartisan bent: He supported collective-bargaining rights for state workers, many of whom lived in his Carson City district, and co-authored a plan with a Democratic colleague to levy $1 billion in new taxes, mainly on hotel rooms, as an alternative to a plan by then-Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) to tax businesses’ gross receipts at 25 percent.

He does not back away from bipartisanship, Amodei said, but he stressed that in Nevada a balanced budget is required.

“People said to me recently, ‘I can probably afford to pay a little bit more [in taxes],’” he said.

“But here’s my problem: When [the budget is] $1.2 trillion out of whack every year … why would I take more money from you?”

Amodei said he supports raising revenue as “a piece” of deficit reduction, but he worries that targeted tax increases could force some high earners offshore.

“OK, let’s talk about millionaires,” he said, referring to potential revenue sources. “And let’s talk about the [private] jet planes … Let’s do the Buffett [Rule] and get those guys and girls. It will be interesting to see if they still live here.”

In November, the defeat of a balanced-budget measure was a hard moment, Amodei said. He called his optimism for the measure naïve.

“I was the guy asking, ‘What do you mean, it’s not going to pass?’” he said. “Then you hear, ‘It’s not going to pass, and it’s not a surprise, and it’s not close.’ You’re just [saying], ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Another disappointment came in December, when the two-chamber compromise extending the payroll-tax cut left out a series of House-passed bills.

The final deal left policy-oriented members “out looking for a shot of tequila,” Amodei said. “I was walking down the halls at night by myself, shaking my head, wondering … ‘How does this [process] really work?’”

To keep his seat, Amodei will have to be reelected in November, and in all likelihood, defeat a primary challenger.

One possible GOP candidate is Sharron Angle, who lost to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010.

The district encompasses most of the state, and while it leans Republican, Amodei said he is expecting pressure from Democrats between now and November.

“Make no mistake: Nevada is a battleground state,” he said. “They’re not going to let a Republican congressman run around … kicking ant hills in the general election.”

As for lessons learned so far, Amodei said, “You know you’ve lost if you quit” after a setback such as SOPA’s defeat or the payroll-tax-extension compromise.

“You say, ‘You know what? You got some skinned knees today’ — not personally, but on the stuff you believe in — ‘so go home and put Band-Aids on it and turn on The History Channel because you’ve got to come back tomorrow.’”