As the top political oracle in Nevada, Jon Ralston was watched almost as closely as Sharron Angle this election season. His TV show Face to Face With Jon Ralston, on KSNV Channel 3, and The Ralston Flash newsletter became must-sees during the cycle, not only for Nevadans but also for the millions of people who watched Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid take on little-known Tea Party candidate Angle. The show became a must-stop for campaigning candidates, and he scored a coveted interview with the notoriously media-shy Angle. It was here that he also predicted, correctly, that Reid would defeat Angle, despite polling that said the opposite.
Ralston’s position as one of the most-read political journalists in Nevada comes after spending 25 years writing about politics in the state at both the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun.
How does it feel to be on the national stage?
It’s been fun, there’s no question about it. It’s been great to get to know a lot of different people and have people be so interested in the state. We got a taste of it during the presidential caucus in 2008, but the intensity of that has really been on doing a lot of national TV shows and that kind of thing. It has also been incredibly exhausting and draining. It’s by far the most intense election I’ve ever covered, with the most attention on it.
Who is emerging as a key player in the next session?
I think the key dynamic in the entire session is going to be between Steven Horsford, who is going to remain the Senate majority leader, and John Oceguera, who is going to be in his first session as speaker of the Assembly. How well they can coordinate whatever the Democratic agenda is will have a lot to do with what they can get done.
What are the key issues?
The issue that’s going to dominate everything is the state budget, which has multibillion-dollar deficit. If you’re conservative you’ll say it’s only $1.5 billion. How do you deal with that, how do you deal with what the Democrats want to do, which is not let the state’s education infrastructure suffer and try not to make more deep cuts? I think that is something that’s going to be a real struggle depending on what the legislative matrix looks like.
What is your prediction on the state budget?
My prediction is they will try to implement a combination of things, including some kind of business tax, probably a sales tax on services. They will probably try to repeal or reduce some taxes to make it more palatable, the most likely one being the payroll tax, which is universally hated. If they can reduce some things, if they can reduce the overall sales tax rate while expanding it, I think that’s the most likely solution—if they can indeed get two-thirds in each house to pass it.
What makes Nevada politics different?
It’s hard for me to say because I’ve now lived here for 25 years. I only know what I read and then what I pick up from other sources, but we have this unique factor in that we have, until the recession, been the fastest-growing state in the country, but our politics have seemed to remain so small town, small world, Third World maybe, with all these incestuous relationships and the essential domination of the political process by one or two industries, which is somewhat endemic to Nevada. That’s not to say that steel doesn’t dominate Pennsylvania or oil doesn’t dominate in Texas, but not to the extent that gaming has in Nevada. Whether there is more corruption or less, it certainly seems to be more colorful corruption here.
What would be a sign that Nevada has emerged from its Third World politics?
I’ve been waiting for 25 years for that sign, and I do remain ever hopeful that I’ll see it. If I see an actual debate up in Carson City about what kind of vision that people really want this state to look like, or whether we’re going to actually start to value things we dismiss, like education, like culture, even things like a transportation infrastructure that makes sense, or people will talk about this in some kind of elevated dialogue. It seems impossible. It sounds like a fantasy, but I’m still looking for it.
What’s your passion outside of politics?
My No. 1 passion is raising my daughter, who is the greatest human being ever. But she’s a teenager now and she needs a lot of attention and I’m a single father. She is everything to me, so making sure that she is healthy and happy is the great passion of my life. If there’s nothing else, that’s what I want to be remembered for. The other stuff is all minor.