Fearful Predictions From a Silver State Seer

It’s hard to predict the past. Seriously. In the history biz, experts and nonexperts constantly find new information or come up with new ways to think about what happened before, so the past is never set in concrete.

Predicting the future is easier, especially in Nevada. If I’m wrong, I can always blame it on living in a weird state. But here are some issues and personalities to watch for in 2012:

• Most incumbents on the ballot will be re-elected, despite all of the supposed anti-incumbent fever, which Nevadans always suffer from until they vote. But Nevadans are likely to become even more ornery than they are now about the economy. Yes, signs of recovery are around, and that’s heartening. But consider the states voting before Nevada does in the presidential caucus: Iowa’s unemployment is below 6 percent, New Hampshire’s is just above 5, Florida and South Carolina both hover above 10. Nevada’s is above 13, and we thrill to the slightest drop. More candidates will run into unhappy or downright angry voters, confrontations you will see on the local news.

• Nevada, and especially Las Vegas, will recover more slowly than the rest of the U.S., but Zappos boss Tony Hsieh’s continued and growing interest in changing downtown, the opening of the Mob Museum, the Neon Museum and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts will inspire more community leaders to call for a legitimate, honest discussion of where this place is and where it’s going. This will lead to too many debates about who controls municipal politics and not enough discussion of real issues. But downtown will benefit from a couple of other big announcements, one involving Oscar Goodman but not necessarily beef, booze and broads.

• Yucca Mountain will be a more important issue than it has been in a long time. Not because Barack Obama will go back on his word or Harry Reid will restore it to the budget, but because House Republicans will push for it to try to embarrass them—note their attack on former Reid aide Greg Jaczko, the anti-Yucca Nuclear Regulatory Commission chief. Two Nevada representatives, Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, have shown signs of wanting Yucca used for other purposes—bringing nuclear waste in for research purposes—that would presumably benefit our economy. Thus the question will recur: Is economic benefit worth dying for?

• Nevada is No. 46 among states in health-care spending per capita, and this could become an important point during the campaigns—and probably into the 2013 Legislature. Both parties court senior voters, and this issue is tailor-made for Shelley Berkley to pound her Senate-race opponent Dean Heller, who was the only member of Congress to vote twice for Paul Ryan’s plan that would destroy Medicare.

• Higher education will be more controversial than K-12 education. Scandals will dominate the news. So will discussions of outsourcing and privatizing. This moronic idea will be beaten back, but not without controversy. The continued improvement of UNLV’s basketball team, and UNLV fielding a football team that can win more than two games, will help ease tension about higher education in Southern Nevada for all of the wrong reasons.

• Ah, yes, electoral predictions. Berkley narrowly beats Heller, thanks to Reno Democrats and a strong Clark County vote. Dina Titus defeats Ruben Kihuen in the House District 1 Democratic primary, having no effect on Hispanic turnout in the general election, which Titus will win in a safe district. Look for a major surprise in one of the other House races—a much closer race than expected in the new District 4, which will barely go Democratic.

Meanwhile, Nevada will go for the winner in the presidential race. Who will that be? Since it’s 2012, Republicans will think the Mayans were right: It is the end of the world.