Shelley Berkley (D-NV) is just an all-around awesome Jewish woman in Congress. Born Rochelle Levine, her working class family moved to Nevada when she was a teenager because of the increased economics opportunities in the West. She was the first member of her family to graduate from college. To put herself through school (both her undergraduate and law degrees), she worked as a keno runner and cocktail waitress in the casinos in Las Vegas. After graduating from law school, she worked for Vegas casinos as legal counsel.
Berkley’s political career began in 1982-1984, when she served in the Nevada Assembly. In 1990, she was appointed as the Vice Chair of the Nevada University and Community College System Board of Regents by the governor of Nevada, and was reelected to the position twice, serving until 1998.
She has been a member of the US House of Representatives ever since 1998, the first time she ran for Nevada’s 1st congressional district seat. (The 1st district includes most of Las Vegas and its surrounding area, which is the home to a large Jewish community.) Berkley won the Democratic primary with over 80% of the vote, and took the general election, too. She has been reelected in every election since, serving in Congress for seven terms (about fourteen years).
She is the first female congressperson from her district and the second from Nevada as a whole, and she is the first Jewish woman and second Jew to serve in Congress from Nevada.
I think it’s safe to label Berkley as a friend of women’s rights. NARAL rates her as a 100% supporter of the pro-choice movement. She is also endorsed by the Feminist Majority PAC, EMILY’s List, the Women’s Campaign Forum, and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She is also a NOW supporter and spoke at the 2004 NOW conference.
Described as a “pro-Israel hawk” by the Jewish Week, Berkley has ties with AIPAC and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). She has said that “Israel has the right to continue building in its capital, inside an area that has always been a proposed part of a future State of Israel. As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement.’ It is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.” Berkley has cosponsored several pieces of legislation to protect Israel and recognize its right to self-defense.
Berkley is now running for the US Senate. After Senator John Ensign (D-NV) resigned because of a scandal about an extramarital affair he had with a staffer’s wife, Republican Dean Heller was appointed to take Ensign’s vacated position as senator. Berkley will be up against Heller, who has consistently showed his pro-life stripes and is against gay marriage. It looks like it will be a tight race, since polls have the two within a relatively small margin.
The election will be in November, the same time as the presidential election. I think there will be many very interesting and significant results of this election, and I’m certainly looking forward to it!
I dub Shelley Berkley an inductee into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make us feminists proud.