Candidate for U.S. Congress District 3, Michelle Mortensen, as seen during a Nevada Republican Men’s Club luncheon at the Bali Hai Golf Club on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Photo by Daniel Clark for The Nevada Independent
It happens like clockwork.
Candidates announce their bids for office. Then the attack ads follow in short order, unabashedly targeting their voting records and more.
We’re here to help. The Nevada Independent already produces fact-checks for political advertisements and off-the-cuff remarks, but we also want to get ahead of the campaign game.
When politicians announce their candidacy for public office, we’ll roll out “On the Record” — our look at their voting history and stances on a broad array of subjects.
Now up: Republican congressional candidate Michelle Mortensen, the former consumer reporter for KLAS-TV in Las Vegas who announced her run for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in November. Issues are in alphabetical order.
Mortensen is pro-life and says she supports banning abortions after 20 weeks, a measure Congress recently took up.
“I hope we do that,” Mortensen said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “I will fight for that, and I will advocate for that with every fiber of my being.”
On her website, Mortensen says that she supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion in the case of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.
“Anytime a woman must face these circumstances it is a tragedy and she deserves support and compassion,” her website says.
Mortensen said that she loves school choice — generally, the concept that public education funds follow students to the schools or other programs that meet their needs.
“My little six-year-old, she learns one way, and my little three-year-old, she learns a completely different way, so you cannot say one size fits all. One size fits all is ridiculous,” Mortensen said.
She said that she doesn’t care if school choice is implemented on a state level, as the Legislature tried to do in the 2015 and 2017 sessions with Education Savings Accounts, or on a federal level, though she added that she “always” prefers to do accomplish things on the state level.
Asked about Trump’s proposal to invest $20 billion in school choice to be distributed to states with school choice programs, Mortensen said that she’d have to look at it.
“There’s always something in a bill that you go, ‘Oh gosh, well I wasn’t expecting that to be there.’ So you can’t make blanket statements,” Mortensen said. “I’m for school choice. That’s all you need to know.”
As a television reporter for 18 years, Mortensen says she has been at the scene of many mass shootings and other tragedies. And as a mother, she says that she worries about her three- and six-year-old daughters going to school and said it’s a “crying shame” that her three-year-old has to participate in shelter-in-place drills and that her six-year-old is scared every time an alarm goes off.
But she says none of that means that she is going to support getting rid of the Second Amendment.
“They are not equal. They are not one and the same,” Mortensen said. “I’m never going to exploit a victim. I’m never going to exploit a child.”
Mortensen told the shooting sports news website Ammoland that she will defend the right to bear arms “with all of my being” and that she does not support a new assault weapons ban.
On school safety, Mortensen said that she would like to see the Department of Education create some sort of block grant to the states so that individual communities can implement different school safety measures, whether that’s adding armed guards, an extra security system or something else.
“I think that could be a great solution to our school safety problem, because what you want to do in Lubbock, Texas is totally different than what you’re going to do here in Las Vegas. It’s going to be different than what you do in Pahrump. It’s sure different from what you’re going to do in L.A.,” Mortensen said. “But school districts need the money in order to keep our campuses safe so that we can be as assured as we possibly can be that when my little ones go to school that they’re protected.”
She also said that she doesn’t know anyone who has a problem with banning bump stocks, the devices used to speed up the fire of semi-automatic weapons so they operate more like automatic ones that were used in the 1 October shooting in Las Vegas.
“The NRA doesn’t have a problem with it. Nobody has a problem with it,” Mortensen said.
She also said that there is “nothing you can do” to stop people with mental health issues until they commit a crime. Mortensen said that she had multiple stalkers during her time as a television reporter and that no one could do anything to help until they crossed the line, in one case, an incident at the TV station.
“You can’t take away people’s personal rights. You can’t just accuse everybody of being mentally ill, and you can’t arrest someone before they’ve committed a crime because, ‘I think you might, and I think you’re a little off, I think you’re a little weird.’ No,” Mortensen said.
She said that even when action can be taken, typically the person is only placed on a short hold. In Nevada, people struggling with mental health issues can be placed on a legal hold for 72 hours if they are a danger to themselves or others.
“So quit lying; there is nothing you can do,” Mortensen said.
Asked whether she would support a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Mortensen said that she would have to look at the details of any repeal bill.
“You can’t make blanket statements. ‘Would you do this?’ Well I don’t know what that bill says, and I don’t know what’s in it. Everyone wants it to be a blanket statement type of answer. That’s not going to get you anywhere. That’s pandering to people who want to hear a certain sound bite,” Mortensen said.
She said that she gets irritated at pundits and politicians “who expect people who are not in office and don’t have any access to the direct information” to come up with a plan.
“Y’all, they spent all of 2017 trying to come up with a plan and they couldn’t do it,” Mortensen said. “So if this was so easy, it would be done.”
Mortensen said that through her reporting at Channel 8, she saw many problems with the Medicaid program. She noted the reimbursement rates in Nevada and that a lot of doctors don’t want to take Medicaid patients because of them.
She also criticized the “red tape” patients on Medicaid face. She noted one boy, Jermel, she helped through her reporting who was denied by Medicaid six times for a new wheelchair he needed after he had outgrown his old one. The Darrell Gwynn Foundation eventually got Jermel a new chair.
“This is the type of family that Medicaid should be helping. That was a little boy who needs this type of help,” Mortensen said.
Asked whether she generally supports Congress expanding Medicaid, Mortensen said “not really.” And asked if Medicaid should continue to cover the same population or be narrowed, she said that “it’s not about population but it’s about actually providing care.”
“So let’s not mince words and let’s not make it — that’s what everyone tries to do. They try to make it this evil thing where then they go, ‘See, she’s for hurting these people,’” Mortensen said. “No, it’s not about that y’all. Be real. The system’s broken. So don’t try to put someone in a corner and make them say something that they’re not saying.”
Asked whether the government should take steps to regulate prescription drug prices, Mortensen said that there’s a lot that should be looked at with prescription drugs — adding that some prescription drug companies have gouged people and “done things that are absolutely heinous” — but didn’t say either way whether regulation is the answer.
“Once again, see this is something that reporters and the media love to do. They want to put people in two different camps. ‘Oh see? You’re for expensive drugs, you’re for pharmaceutical companies, you’re not for the people.’ No, you’ve got to look at this with an open mind and you have to look at every angle of this,” Mortensen said.
She said that the country doesn’t always need more regulation to solve problems because “quite often that brings unintended consequences.”
Mortensen said that she “really liked” President Donald Trump’s four-point immigration plan, which included a pathway to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million DACA recipients, $25 billion in funding for the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, limiting so-called chain migration and ending the visa lottery program.
“I think what the president offered during the State of the Union was great,” Mortensen said. “He offered a phenomenal compromise.”
She criticized Congress for being unable to pass such a plan, saying that “they’re the stuck-up career politicians who couldn’t do it because (Democratic Senate Leader) Chuck Schumer’s name wasn’t on it. Neither was (Republican Sen.) Lindsey Graham.”
She said she supports the president’s proposed wall system at the border with Mexico, adding that calling it a “wall system” isn’t “sexy, it’s not sexy at all … but it’s 110 percent accurate, because you’re not going to go build this wall in water.”
Although she acknowledges she was a little kid when President Ronald Reagan gave his farewell address in 1989, she says she loves how he described America as a “shining city upon a hill.”
“In my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here,” Reagan said.
Mortensen said that means that there is a pathway to get into the country but that it “also means you come in the right way.”
“You don’t get on a drone and drop in from the sky. You don’t build a tunnel. You come in through the process,” Mortensen said. “I think at the heart of the issue, that’s what it’s about. We want to make the process better.”
As far as Trump’s proposal on chain migration, which would limit immigration sponsorship to spouses and minor children, Mortensen said that she understands why he said it but that she thinks that there will be some negotiation or compromise on it before it ever becomes law. She said that you wouldn’t want every “second, third, fourth, fifth eighth distant cousin” to be included, but that “any family unit is different.”
“I know there’s always going to be blanket rules. It needs to be limited, but you don’t need to be too ardent and you don’t need to be too wide open. It’s about balance,” Mortensen said.
She also said she doesn’t support jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, often known as sanctuary cities. She said that she hates to see what’s happening in the Bay Area, where she’s from. (For instance, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tipped immigrants off about an impending Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in February.)
“I mean, it’s sad. It’s just so sad what they’re doing over there. We’ve got to stop it,” Mortensen said. “We’re a border state to California, y’all.”
She said she thinks the federal government is “absolutely going to” strip federal funding from California if it does not cooperate with federal immigration activities.
On refugees, Mortensen said that “vetting” shouldn’t be a bad word, but asked whether there should be different rules for different countries — as Trump proposed — she called it a “loaded question.”
“You probably don’t need different strokes for different folks, but during certain political seasons of life — right? — people get a little scared of people from a certain region and that’s going to be a real case by case basis,” Mortensen said.
However she said that, as a Christian, she is not supportive of a Muslim ban.
“I’m not about banning religions. It’s about vetting people,” Mortensen said. “We’ve got freedom of religion in this country if I say I defend the First Amendment, I got to defend it fully.”
Mortensen told Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks that in order to support impeaching Trump, “he’d have to do something that was an impeachable offense, and I don’t believe that he’s done anything that comes anywhere close to that.”
She called the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as the alleged affair and “hush money” payout with adult film star Stormy Daniels “noise.”
“Let me tell you one thing a lot of it is noise, noise, noise, noise, noise,” Mortensen said. “Stormy Daniels is a distraction. All of the Russian stuff is a distraction.”
In an interview with the sports shooting news website Ammoland, Mortensen said that the federal government should focus on “ensuring safety, supporting research, preserving the intercity highway system and supporting mobility for low-income travelers.”
She said that federal government money should be focused on maintaining and improving the country’s existing highway system and that private dollars should be leveraged to build new ones. She also said she supports empowering local governments to have a say in how highways are maintained by giving them highway block grants. (The federal government currently supports states and local jurisdictions through the Surface Transportation Block Grant program, which gives flexible funding to preserve and improve federal-aid highways.)
She also told Ammoland that federal transit dollars should be prioritized on buses over rail projects, and that mass transit subsidies and transportation vouchers should help ensure that those systems are serving the community.
Mortensen said that she did not support legalizing recreational marijuana, but that Nevada voters have chosen to do it, “so it’s legal, so that’s cool.” But she said that legalizing marijuana opened Pandora’s box and now Congress needs to take action, adding that it’s “ridiculous” that many marijuana-related companies are not able to store their profits in banks and have to keep millions of dollars in cash under armed guard.
“I think the biggest issue is the banking because that’s ridiculous,” Mortensen said. “I mean God forbid anyone break into one of those. I mean God forbid.”
Asked whether the federal government should leave whether or not marijuana is legal up to each state, Mortensen said she “probably would say we should probably let each state decide.”
“I’m always about the power of the people. The people are going to rule on this one anyway,” Mortensen said. “If 49 states make it legal, why are we being silly? Well that one doesn’t like it, fine well y’all don’t have it in your states. Let’s not be silly about it.”
Mortensen often decries the talking heads and pundits on television, blaming most of the country’s problems on politicians and the media. But she said that local media “at its core is awesome.”
However, Mortensen said that she’s worried about the increasing corporate ownership of local media, as recently publicized by a Deadspin video showing local television stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group all broadcasting a nearly identical message about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” Sinclair owns and operates nearly 200 television stations across the United States, including KSNV in Las Vegas.
She said the statement the Sinclair stations recently broadcast “wasn’t horrific” but that she worries about what it says about the control and power they wield.
“It was just a perfect example of corporate ownership controlling a message all over the country, and if you liked the message you were like, ‘That’s not that bad,’ and if you didn’t like the message, you were like, ‘This is horrible,’” Mortensen said. “But that’s what the media does, it divides. No, the real response everyone should’ve had is, ‘Oh, how come they have that much power?’ regardless of what the message is.”
She criticized Democratic President Bill Clinton for signing into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — passed by a Republican-controlled Congress — that lifted limits on ownership of radio stations and caused thousands of local stations to be bought up by larger owners.
“We had independent radio stations all over and then all of a sudden corporate things happened and then everything was being syndicated,” Mortensen said.
Mortensen said that she “absolutely would love” to see the federal government turn over public lands to the states.
“We’re not saying we want to go and like, you know, put Walmarts up on Red Rock,” Mortensen said. “That’s what the extremists want to say that we’re saying.”
But she said that Nevada is a growing state and should be able to use its land to build housing and allow businesses room to grow. She said that she hopes to make progress on federal lands in Congress, but that she’s not going to be Pollyanna on the issue.
“If more people were realistic I think it would be so much better. You’re going to get there — I know Paul Ryan won’t be the speaker anymore — but it’s going to be a, ‘Let me hear what you have to say. We’ll do everything your way.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Mortensen said. “You’re a junior congressperson. You’re the freshman in high school who no one wants to hear from.”
Social media and cybersecurity
Amid reports that political data firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users and testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill, Mortensen told Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks that she is “a little leery” of imposing regulations on Facebook.
“I just want it to be fair,” she said.
She also told The Independent that the hearings on Facebook on Capitol Hill should be a sign to everyone under 40 that they need younger people in Congress.
“‘How does this work? Is it a real cookie?’ Like, no, that is sad,” Mortensen said.
Mortensen has also previously said that the biggest threat to national security is cyberterrorism.
“Whenever there’s a big data breach everyone is up in arms and the media says the sky is falling,” Mortensen said at a candidate forum in February. “A month later everyone has forgotten about it.”
Taxes and government spending
Mortensen said that she supported the president’s tax reform plan and cutting taxes more generally, but that she also supports reducing government spending. She criticized Congress’s recent passage of a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill.
“So you can cut taxes all you want and that’s going to bring some growth, but if you keep spending or you do what Congress just did and you spend even more, it kind of nullifies any of the growth that you just had,” Mortensen said.
Asked where within the government she would cut, Mortensen said that the country is “overspending everywhere” and that she bets that most members of Congress who say government spending needs to be cut “don’t even know where we could cut.”
“There’s so much redundancy. There’s so much that needs to be tackled,” Mortensen said.
Mortensen said that she is not a fan of protectionism — the policy that advocates shielding a country’s domestic industries from competition by taxing imports — at all. She said that when the president proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, she thought to herself, “Oh come on now, I don’t know how I feel about this.”
But she said that the president and others, such as the head of the local Laborers union, Tommy White, have expanded her mind. She said that talking with White made her realize that some people believe that American steel quality is superior to other steel. (However, some manufacturers have recently pleaded for exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs, saying that American steelmakers have already raised their prices and that they are struggling to find the quantity and quality of steel they need in the United States.)
But Mortensen said that Trump has broadened her horizons to “not be so closed minded” and see that “sometimes renegotiating [trade deals] is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Mortensen said that Congress needs to take into account the disparate views of older and younger veterans when it comes to developing solutions for the Veterans Administration (VA).
“One thing I’ve noticed is that younger veterans, they really like the idea of privatizing the VA. Older veterans, they hate that,” Mortensen said. “I think there’s going to have to be a little bit of a compromise with the VA.”
Mortensen said that she is “not a fan” of storing high-level waste at Yucca Mountain and that she doesn’t agree with Trump “at all” on the $120 million he proposed to restart the licensing process on the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository.
“I know there are quite a few people who are so adamant that it would be good, it would be good. I just feel Nevada got the short end of the stick on that one,” Mortensen said.