Singing the Fernley-Las Vegas-Pahrump blues

Fernley is about 30 miles east of Reno. Its population would fill Cashman Field beyond capacity, but not by much. Born in response to a federal reclamation project, it boasts industry, warehousing (including for and a suburban lifestyle for commuters to the Reno-Sparks area. It’s the hometown of Frank McCulloch, the greatest journalist to emerge from 20th-century Nevada, the onetime Los Angeles Times managing editor, Time-Life bureau chief and editor of the McClatchy newspapers when their reporting on Paul Laxalt inspired the U.S. senator from Nevada and best friend of Ronald Reagan to file a libel suit.

More important, Fernley has topped Las Vegas as the nation’s foreclosure capital. Las Vegas has fallen to second, followed by Pahrump, giving Nevada the triple crown in the housing market’s collapse. Responses to this situation and/or the problems that created it include:

• Sharron Angle, runner-up to anti-masturbation advocate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware as the most ridiculous GOP Senate candidate, blames Harry Reid for singlehandedly causing the economic collapse, unless she thinks it’s due to autism and allowing women to have maternity leave.

• Brian Sandoval, the GOP candidate for governor, proposed dealing with the “short-term” budget shortfall by privatizing some state services because private enterprise—for example, the real-estate market—has done so well. He also suggested cutting government employee salaries but not raising taxes, although that proposal taxes their income (including mine, but I would be thrilled if Nevada entered the 20th century and had a state income tax, so I am complaining about Sandoval’s failure of vision, not his vision of failure).

Another Sandoval gem this year was to take more than $100 million from Clark County and give it to the rest of the state. Rory Reid, his opponent, should say Sandoval is a Northern Nevadan and hates Las Vegas—not to mention that since his proposal advocates the redistribution of wealth, Sandoval is a socialist. But I digress … slightly.

Reid went so far as to say he would sign a tax hike the Legislature passed, then backed away. He had no need to do so, because even if he signed an anti-tax pledge in blood, Republicans would claim he stole the blood from the blood bank. Reid has released detailed plans for reforming education at all levels that would, he hopes, prove revenue-neutral.

• Candidates for the Legislature are trying hard not to talk about any of this—and who can blame them? Besides, whatever they do about taxes will be caught up in backroom deals about redistricting and the insanity of trying to run this state with a biennial Legislature that meets for only 120 days at a time.

So, to paraphrase Sarah Palin on “hopey-changey,” how’s that libertarian paradise working out for you? Fernley is in Lyon County, in rural, Northern Nevada, where any form of government inspires some to think they are in Stalinist Russia. Pahrump may be just over the hump, but that hump takes you to Nye County, which is so far right it meets the far left coming around.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, for example, the unemployment rate is under 9 percent, and Nevada’s unemployment rate is higher than Michigan’s, which includes Detroit, for heaven’s sake.

Blaming Harry Reid may seem politically convenient for Angle, but it’s also ridiculous, and that isn’t a defense of Reid so much as an effort to introduce reality to the debate. Blame for Nevada’s problems should be distributed around the state—not to the congressional delegation, but to governors and legislators from both parties who have relied on gaming revenue and federal projects.

Not only have Democrats and Republicans alike done nothing to encourage us as Nevadans to take responsibility for our own fate, they have encouraged dependence on outsiders in a state that claims to believe in independence. And those who have fought for economic diversification have been stymied.

Worse, the libertarian philosophy encourages gambling on a real-estate bubble. How many of these foreclosures resulted from mortgages that never should have existed in the first place, and would not have in a better-regulated society? Remember: Utopia was a novel, not nonfiction. Fernley, Las Vegas and Pahrump are all too real.