Three pillars of Nevada history recently died: civil rights leader Bob Bailey, gaming attorney Bob Faiss and media magnate/education advocate Jim Rogers. A study from the Pew Research Center shows we could learn a lot from each of them.
Pew recently released a study of where we stand as partisans and ideologues. “If you thought that political polarization in America was bad, think again,” said Bruce Stokes, director of the Pew’s Global Economic Program, “because it’s worse than you thought.” Pew found that in the past two decades, “Partisan animosity has increased substantially,” and “the ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished.” Growing numbers view their opposition as “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” Are both sides equally to blame? Well, both sides agree the other side is to blame. But the numbers show Republicans are more ideological than Democrats.
Nevada certainly reflects the trend. You need only read the comments section under any article that doesn’t suggest Senator Harry Reid is the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or notice the very right-wing Republicans attacking right-wing Republicans for being too liberal. You can also see it in the way liberals react to the fact that Barack Obama’s health care bill didn’t cure cancer. Longtime participants and observers in Carson City have decried how the Legislature has lost its ability to compromise, due partly to the departures of the likes of Bill Raggio, the Reno Republican who spent nearly 40 years in the state Senate before his death in 2012.
Granted, we often hanker for a golden age that never existed: For many years at the Legislature, compromise was defined as Southern Nevada giving up something it needed so that Northern Nevada could have something it wanted.
But in Bailey, Faiss and Rogers, we do see aspects of a golden age—and perhaps a template for a new one.
➜ Bailey spent most of his life as a Republican and worked in George H.W. Bush’s administration. In 1958, he switched parties for a while to support Democrat Grant Sawyer, who advocated civil rights and named him to chair the state Equal Rights Commission. But other civil rights leaders, including businessman Woodrow Wilson and Rev. Donald Clark, remained Republicans. As James McMillan, a Democratic civil rights leader, put it, “In Las Vegas black Democrats and Republicans alike knew that unless we were together, we had no chance at all.” On the issues that really mattered, their commitment to their ultimate goals trumped partisanship, and they pushed Las Vegas into desegregating and the Legislature into passing civil rights laws.
➜ Faiss, a Democrat, worked for Sawyer and Lyndon Johnson, and often supported Democratic candidates. But at his memorial service, Governor Brian Sandoval spoke of Faiss as a mentor and an idol, and of how Faiss helped him prepare his testimony for a congressional committee that included Senator John McCain, a staunch critic of Nevada’s sports-gambling laws.
Faiss didn’t have to agree (and didn’t) with Republicans to be able to work with them. Republicans knew that when he talked about gaming and the law, and Nevada’s responsibilities and needs in both areas, he knew his business. Faiss was proud of legislation that required gaming businesses to help the community; he also championed the creation of gaming enterprise districts, which gave the public a voice in decisions about local casinos.
➜ When rumors floated recently that Rogers’ TV station, KSNV Channel 3, might be sold to right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting, the talk around town was that he was a liberal. But until 2005, he was a registered Republican, when he became an Independent. At the time, Rogers was the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, and he had long kicked and fussed about the need to improve education in the state. His views and actions were sometimes controversial, but he was ready to work with anyone who shared his concerns. He was still working on the issue when he died.
In 2010, Barack Obama spoke to the House Republican caucus and said, “The fact of the matter is, many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable with your own base, with your own party, because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, ‘This guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.’” The Pew Center found that we don’t know that today’s enemy may be tomorrow’s ally. Bailey, Faiss and Rogers knew it, and got something out of it: results.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.