Redistricting Blues — and Reds

District Judge James Todd Russell has accepted the redistricting maps completed by the three special masters for Congress and the Legislature. Does that end it? No.The Nevada Supreme Court still could throw them out.  That doesn’t make Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea happy. And that should matter to you.

Goicoechea,a Eureka Republican, may run for the state Senate in a district that, under the special masters’ plan, would include Eureka, White Pine, Elko, and Lincoln Counties, and parts of Nye and Clark County—even part of North Las Vegas. Beyond having to cover all of that land, Goicoechea thinks it’s unfair to the rural counties, telling a rural newspaper, “The cow counties are entitled to every bit of representation as every ethnic minority.” Seriously.

He also said rural areas need representation. That’s indisputable. That’s why they will have legislative districts. Will they be the legislative districts he would like? No, and that’s good.

There’s some fun history here. First, this is hardly the first time the judiciary has had to involve itself in these processes because legislatures refused to follow the U.S. Constitution and do their jobs. The U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in the 1960s requiring state legislatures to give urban areas their fair share of legislative representation.

Nevada had its difficulties. Finally, Flora Dungan, a Las Vegas assemblywoman and activist, sued to force the Legislature to act. It finally did, and hated to do so.

Rural lawmakers and residents were apoplectic. One warned that commies from Southern Nevada would take over the state. As you may have noticed from Nevada continuing to have less state government and fewer taxes than most other states, that didn’t happen. Nor are rural Nevadans complaining that their community colleges receive more funding per student than the one where I work here in Southern Nevada or that, despite Clark County having more than two-thirds of the legislative membership, UNR still gets more money per student than UNLV.  There are good and bad reasons for this, but rural Nevadans haven’t exactly shown signs of joining Oliver Twist in the gruel line.

Once upon a time, life was far different—in Goicoechea’s case, much rosier.  The legislative distribution the courts threw out was called the “little federal plan.”  The state Senate consisted of one member from each of Nevada’s 17 counties.  Nevada’s Assembly was seated according to population, supposedly.

Let’s return to 1961, the last redistricting before the courts forced Nevada to abandon the little federal plan. Gov. Grant Sawyer kept trying to pass progressive, even moderate legislation, and the state Senate defeated a lot of it by a vote of 15-2—the rural counties against the two urban counties, Clark and Washoe. Meanwhile, in the Assembly, Clark County had nine of the 47 members, or 19 percent of the membership. According to the 1960 census, Clark County had 127,016 residents and the state had 285,278, giving this county just below 45 percent of the population.

Thank goodness that rural Nevada saw to it that Clark County had fair representation. Assemblyman Goicoechea, be grateful: We are being far better to you than you were to us.