If you want to understand not only the recent election, but how to resolve some of Nevada’s budget problems, you must first understand baseball and California.
On Dodger Thoughts, the best baseball blog around, Jon Weisman marveled at the number of San Francisco Giants fans “looking to rub in their World Series appearance on Dodger fans,” adding, “In all the times the Dodgers have been in the playoffs in my lifetime … I never once gave a thought to how Giants fans felt about it.”
H.L. Mencken called Los Angeles “19 suburbs in search of a metropolis.” Las Vegas is the 20th suburb, befitting Nevada tradition: just as San Francisco influenced and helped define Virginia City and Reno, Southern California has been inseparable from Southern Nevada, and not just geographically.
One connection is how the regions view each other. Much as Giants fans complain about their Southern California enemy while Los Angelenos barely give San Francisco a thought, Northern Nevadans will vote for a Southern Nevadan only if they have no alternative, but a Southern Nevadan doesn’t care about that, or much else, when it comes to the North.
Regional rivalries always have been part of Nevada life, partly because one region has usually dominated the state politically, economically and culturally. How Nevadans historically apportioned their Legislature also contributed to this attitude. From 1915 to 1965, they used the “little federal plan,” basing the Assembly on population and the state Senate on one member per county. In the 1950s, Las Vegas passed Reno to become Nevada’s largest city. But even when the mal-apportioned Assembly voted Las Vegas’ way, the Senate usually voted 15-2 if the measure benefited both Reno and Las Vegas, and 16-1 if it only benefited Las Vegas.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s reapportionment rulings in the 1960s ordered legislatures such as Nevada’s to reflect their state’s population in both houses. This inspired a Northern Nevada Republican to complain that the “hippies, beatniks and communists” from Southern Nevada would overrun the state.
Well, no, and not just because state Senate Republicans replaced their longtime leader from Reno with one from Fallon. Consider the last two governor’s races. In 2006, Northerner Jim Gibbons won 43 percent in Clark County, losing the Democratic stronghold to Southern Nevada’s Dina Titus by six percent. In 2010, Northerner Brian Sandoval nipped Southern Nevadan Rory Reid to win Clark County. Why would Southern Nevadans think a Northerner would favor them over the rest of the state—especially a Republican who knows Clark is Nevada’s most Democratic county?
In the recent election, Democrats’ Assembly majority fell to 26-16. This struck some as significant because it eliminated their two-thirds majority, the amount needed to raise taxes or override a governor’s veto.
But it’s less significant than most think. First, Democrats had (and have) a smaller majority in the state Senate, so agreement still would have been hard to reach. More important, there remains a two-thirds majority: Clark County’s legislative delegation—29 of 42 Assembly members and 14 of 21 state senators.
Nevada faces a huge budget shortfall. State agencies are supposed to plan for a 15 percent cut. After all, why make businesses and mining pay their fair share?
But let’s consider: According to the Nevada System of Higher Education’s website, higher education outside of Clark County costs more than $300 million, or about 10 percent of the shortfall. If our legislative delegation votes together to eliminate all state spending outside of Clark, how much money would that save? In the higher ed system, most of the suggested cut.
Elko voted 8,100 to 3,200 for Sharron Angle, and 9,400 to 2,200 for Sandoval. Clearly, Elko dislikes government. Why should need state money of any kind? Clark County will take it—and should.
Isn’t that selfish? No more so than the Northern-dominated legislature before reapportionment, or too many lawmakers since. And why should a Southern Nevadan vote to cut UNLV or CSN, or some other local service while protecting those outside his or her district?
It’s time for Southern Nevadans to start thinking like Northerners.