The Honorable Shelley Berkley
“I went to Washington, spent three days there meeting with everybody, and they gave me a lot of food for thought. I have to say that I hesitated after being in Washington. When I got on the plane, I really had a good talk with myself. ‘Is this what you want to do? Is this what you want to dedicate your life to?’ At the end of the flight, before we landed, I said, ‘I do. It’s going to take every bit of energy and time and resources that I could possibly muster, but it’s important enough to me.’ I thought that I could do a good job, that my reasons for running, I think, were the right ones. Truly a desire to serve your fellow man, your fellow citizens, and that’s exactly what I did. Once I made the decision, I never looked back.”
—The Honorable Shelley Berkley, July 22, 2019
U.S. Representative from Nevada (January 3, 1999–January 3, 2013)
From a young age, Shelley Berkley knew she wanted to work in public service. In this oral history, she details her experience volunteering for the early campaigns of Senator Harry Reid, Senator Richard Bryan, and Governor Mike O’Callaghan, which served as her introduction to electoral politics. With her mother’s encouragement, Berkley decided to start a family and run for office. She discusses the ongoing balance of life events and work responsibilities that followed—like giving birth to her first child while serving as a state legislator—and the family support that made it possible. Berkley sheds light on aspects of House re-election campaigns, including the support she received from unions and women’s groups, and the challenge of campaigning in one of the fastest-growing districts in the country.
In this interview, she explains her focus on local and international issues as a member of both the Ways and Means Committee and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. As the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Berkley prioritized American relations with the Middle East and Israel. Additionally, she stresses the importance of working with her Nevada colleagues to protect Yucca Mountain from becoming a nuclear repository. She also recounts her work concerning young immigrant constituents that became one of the building blocks for the DREAM Act. Berkley reflects on her 2012 Senate campaign and what it means to have been a political role model for a generation of Nevadans.
BERKLEY, Shelley, a Representative from Nevada; born Rochelle Levine in New York, N.Y., January 20, 1951; graduated from Valley High School, Las Vegas, Nev.; B.A., University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 1972; J.D., University of San Diego Law School, San Diego, Calif., 1976; member, Nevada state assembly, 1983–1985; member, Nevada University and Community College System Board of Regents, 1990–1998; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Sixth and to the six succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1999–January 3, 2013); was not a candidate for reelection in 2012, but was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate.
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Desire to Serve
The Honorable Shelley Berkley reflects on her early ambitions to be in public service.
The Honorable Shelley Berkley shares her family's Jewish history.
Family Support and Elective Office
The Honorable Shelley Berkley recalls a conversation with her mother about running for office and starting a family.
"Vote for My Mom"
The Honorable Shelley Berkley recalls being pregnant while running for the Nevada state assembly and dressing her son in a campaign shirt when he was born.
Decision to Run
The Honorable Shelley Berkley recalls making the decision to run for Congress.
"Crazy Time in Life"
The Honorable Shelley Berkley remembers balancing her family life and congressional duties.
A Fast-Growing District
The Honorable Shelley Berkley details the challenges of campaigning in a transient district.
Appointed to Ways and Means
The Honorable Shelley Berkley remembers Speaker Nancy Pelosi supporting her desire to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Yucca Mountain and Nuclear Waste
The Honorable Shelley Berkley defends her opposition to storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain.
Citizenship for High Schoolers
The Honorable Shelley Berkley describes a challenge faced by young immigrants in her district.
"I'm Not Wishy-Washy"
The Honorable Shelley Berkley describes her 2000 campaign button design.