Three Stories and the Soul of Nevada

If you woke up on Tuesday, Dec. 4, and opened the Las Vegas Review-Journal, you saw two pieces side-by-side. One was a news story: “Strip club mogul Jack Galardi dies at 81: Entrepreneur built empire, survived scrapes with law.” Beside it was an obituary—the kind for which families have to pay—for Shannon West-Redwine.

Later that day, the U.S. Senate rejected the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, already approved by more than 125 countries, by six votes. All Democrats present voted for it. Eight Republicans joined them, not including Nevada’s newly elected U.S. senator, Dean Heller.

The three stories speak volumes about politics and priorities in Nevada.

Galardi owned 30 topless clubs, including some in Las Vegas. He donated to both parties and to charities. The “scrapes” he survived aren’t too clear from the report, but something is: His adopted son, Michael Galardi, was involved in bribing Clark County commissioners a decade ago. For their role in the “G-Sting” scandal, four of the commissioners went to prison.

The elder Galardi wasn’t involved and didn’t get along with his son; his formal obituary didn’t list Michael Galardi as a survivor. Jack Galardi’s obituaries mentioned his military service, his rise as “a self-made entrepreneur” and his popularity among politicians.

Shannon West-Redwine’s life was substantially shorter. She was only 45, having battled cancer for years. She served as Clark County’s regional homeless services coordinator, trying to help those on society’s margins. She helped start a gang task force, the county’s neighborhood services unit and various programs designed to help young and old get off the streets, to safety and into jobs. She devoted time to bringing together politicians and staffers who bickered over their responsibilities and budgets, and to spending hours among the homeless, trying to persuade them to seek help.

When she retired in 2010 for health reasons, the shelter became the HELP of Southern Nevada Shannon West Homeless Youth Center. She fought cancer with as much determination and spirit as she fought for the homeless, and even found love, marrying an old friend who stood by her.

On the day these obituaries appeared, the Senate considered the treaty on disabilities, which is based on the Americans With Disabilities Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole arrived in a wheelchair to advocate approval. Whether he helped convince anybody is unclear.

Rick Santorum, once a possible Republican presidential nominee before the party chose the far more lovable Mitt Romney, helped lead the opposition to the treaty. Its supporters, like Dole, who lost the use of his right arm fighting in World War II, hoped it would improve access around the world. Santorum and his allies claimed it might lead to a ban on home-schooling or be used in lawsuits to help, as he put it, “deny parents the right to raise their children in conformity with what they believe”—although the Senate already barred the treaty from being used in that way.

Heller voted against the treaty and with Santorum. You may remember Heller’s campaign ad and post-election pronouncements about being “bipartisan.” So much for that.

Hubert Humphrey, who will be remembered for his contributions to the Senate and American society while Heller will remain a footnote, once said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

Galardi’s life apparently brought enjoyment and benefits to some, and good for him. It’s too bad West-Redwine’s death didn’t receive quite the same media attention, but she passed that test and any other you could name. As for Heller, he’ll have a chance to think about the meaning of his vote: The treaty may come up again.

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