Listen carefully. Hear that whirring sound? It’s the noise being made by every deceased former U.S. senator from Nevada, each spinning in his grave.
Recently, Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle went on a conservative talk show. A caller asked, “Harry Reid brags all the time about the jobs he saved in CityCenter. Would you have made that same call? Would you have saved CityCenter?”
Angle replied, “No, I would not,” then went off on a long explanation about why the stimulus (which had nothing to do with CityCenter) was bad, deregulation (which had nothing to do with CityCenter) is good, taxes (which, well, you know) are bad, and “government does not provide jobs.”
As MGM was building CityCenter, it had trouble with bankers. Reid made a few calls on its behalf. So did another senator from Nevada, John Ensign, that noted socialist. Their—well, Reid’s—calls helped, the bankers’ pressure eased and MGM finished construction. Thousands of construction workers kept their jobs and thousands more obtained jobs when CityCenter opened.
It’s easy to point out that MGM is a private company, not a government entity. But what’s really troubling about Angle’s position is that it’s antithetical to what U.S. senators do, especially from less-populous states such as Nevada. Reid and Ensign did what any senator would do for their state.
Her response also stands history on its head. Consider the kinds of things that senators from Nevada have done for the folks back home:
• Democrat Pat McCarran was nuts on the subject of communism but a believer in big government—if the big money came to Nevada. Thus, he helped the state obtain New Deal projects, the Basic Magnesium plant and military bases, all of which meant jobs for his constituents.
But McCarran also helped private enterprise, and did it through his Senate power. McCarran, a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, chaired its Subcommittee on Aviation. The Civil Aeronautics Board—the Federal Aviation Administration’s forerunner—went before his committee to determine its budget. McCarran wondered if the board had decided on a Nevada airline’s application for a route. The members said they hadn’t had the chance. McCarran said he anticipated that and had reserved a meeting room for them to gather. He told the members to take a recess, decide on his friends from Bonanza Airlines, then come back in and tell him more about the budget that he would decide on.
What do you think they decided? They did as McCarran wanted, thereby helping Bonanza, which was founded by, among others, Ed Converse, who happened to be a Republican. Later, he merged with another company and sold the airline to some guy named Howard Hughes, who did very well in private enterprise but made a lot of money from government contracts. He employed a few people, too.
McCarran also personally took an Elko businessman to San Francisco to the War Production Board’s regional office to get action on an application. McCarran’s intervention helped the businessman, and helped create jobs. Most in Elko today would rather not ponder the federal government doing something for them. Presumably, they would prefer starvation.
• McCarran’s political protégé, Alan Bible, followed him into the Senate and spent a decade keeping open a small Bureau of Mines office in Boulder City the Interior Department wanted to close. Why? It created about two dozen jobs in Boulder City. Those employees shopped at local stores, banked at local banks, ate at local restaurants and contributed to the economy—for everybody.
• Bible’s successor, Paul Laxalt, helped friends get jobs in Washington, D.C. Among others, Bob Broadbent became commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, where he pushed for more Colorado River water and lower power rates for Nevada—the kinds of things that benefit individuals and businesses. Frank Fahrenkopf became a national party chairman and later American Gaming Association majordomo, lobbying for Nevada’s main industry.
Oh, yeah. The party Fahrenkopf chaired? The Republicans. Laxalt was such a lefty that he chaired the three presidential campaigns run by Ronald Reagan. Perhaps the critics who call Angle obtuse are right.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada and author of several books and articles on Nevada history and politics.