Sunday, April 11, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
Who is going to lead this?
It was a very simple question that Ted Quirk asked at a gathering Monday afternoon at UNLV. The answer, however, was not so simple.
The reason nearly 180 people from throughout Southern Nevada met at UNLV was to listen to Bruce Katz who, arguably, is the foremost authority in the country on urbanization and the economics of growth in our major metropolitan areas over the next few decades. I’ve known Bruce for some time. He is director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution, where I’m an honorary trustee on the institution’s board.
Bruce had a presentation entitled, “Restoring Prosperity: Repositioning Southern Nevada for the Next Economy.” Bruce’s vision for Southern Nevada’s future was as exciting as it was substantive, and it showed us how, with some prudent decisions, a few difficult ones and a lot of timely action, our region’s future could be better than ever imagined.
In a few days the video of Bruce’s remarks will be available at brookings.edu and on the UNLV Web site. If you are anything like me, you might ask a 12-year-old to find it for you. But once you have a chance to listen to what he is saying, see what he is talking about and understand the benefits for us and our families well into the future, the only question most people will ask is, “When do we get started?”
Ted’s question was a bit different because his was more of the variety, “How do we get started?”
I mention this because one thing we were cautioned against at UNLV was a need to hold out for perfection rather than accept the good and move forward toward a more perfect world. Once reasonably intelligent people accept the fact that life isn’t perfect and that doing nothing, waiting for the perfect moment, will get us exactly that — nothing — the next questions come rather easily.
That’s what happened Monday and in follow-up meetings we have had trying to flesh out the vision that Bruce presented. People who are struggling with their businesses, people trying to keep their doors open, union members trying to understand where jobs are going to come from and what kind will they be, chamber of commerce types looking to the future, and many others who believe in this community and the power of collective action and wisdom — we were all there, and almost all of us believe that now is the time for action.
It is during these very difficult and challenging times that opportunities to advance our community show themselves. We have a path to greatness, we have a way to grow that has been built for the past half century, and we have a way to make Southern Nevada the kind of place that we wanted to build when we first came to this valley.
Whether we have been here all our lives or whether we just got here in the past year, the goals are the same. We want to build a community where people care about one another, a community that provides opportunity for everyone and that leads the nation in the quality of life categories in which, until now, we have made failing grades.
So when the question was asked about who will lead, the answer was not obvious.
In most states, the elected leadership is exactly that, leadership. The answer should have not only been simple but also obvious. But it was neither simple nor obvious to anyone that Gov. Jim Gibbons should be the man to lead us toward the new economy. So far, all he has done is help devastate the very institutions that are essential for moving forward.
In Gibbons, and many of those who seek to replace him in November, we find proof that the kind of leadership skills required to take Southern Nevada to the promised land of opportunity seem woefully lacking.
Decisions will need to be made on how and how much to invest in tomorrow’s economy. Yes, that means raising revenue. Instead all we hear from the naysayers is how we are going to make magic with only a rabbit and a hat.
That may work on the stages of Las Vegas, but in real life — where education must be top notch, infrastructure must not only exist but must exist in the right places, and incentives to the dreamers and builders of the new economy must be real and substantial to get anything done — we need decisions. To get there we need people who can and are willing to lead by telling people the truth, showing them the vision and, then, assuring us that we can get there together.
All this talk about not raising taxes — specifically, not expanding taxes on those who don’t pay them — is just politics. It is designed to play to our worst fears instead of our better angels. Few Nevadans wouldn’t volunteer to pay a little bit or a little bit more if they believed the money would be invested in ways that would enhance our futures and the futures of our families.
But, rather than lead us toward that better world, our current leadership chooses to play on our fears in a way that may have short-term political benefits but spells long-term disaster. You don’t have to take my word for it. That’s the way decisions have been made in this state for the past three decades. How are you doing today?
So, here’s my idea. If there is anyone out there running for governor, for example, who wants to really lead, then step up and answer Ted’s question. You will find there are tens of thousands of small-business owners, tens of thousands of working men and women and tens of thousands of other Nevadans who want to make this a much better place to live and work who will follow you. And if you add all of those people up, you will find an overwhelming majority of people to drown out the voices of “no” and of “no way,” replacing them with the hopes and dreams of Nevadans who want to be a part of something really big and exciting.
I know it is a bit scary because elections are won these days by hoping people stay ignorant of the facts and, then, scaring them with lies. But, this time, I think people will react a bit differently.
And, if they don’t, then at least those who tried to lead can hold their heads up high while the rest of Nevada sinks to new lows.
We learned something else last week at UNLV. There is no more time to wait until the next time. So, who is going to lead?