Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011 | 2 a.m.
People aren’t as stupid as some politicians would have us believe.
Many decades ago, there was a conversation in my father’s office with some very young, at that time, political aspirants who were lamenting the results of a poll reflecting voter disapproval numbers. In itself, that wouldn’t be bad except that those who were doing the lamenting were on the wrong side of the numbers and were wondering what they should do.
My dad gave them a political truth that, because it was a truth, is as accurate today as it was 40 years ago. Polls change with the wind and with tomorrow’s newspaper headline. He proved his conviction with the following day’s headline and a resulting change in the polls.
In 2011, tomorrow’s headlines may not be as compelling as today’s tweets and Facebook “likes,” but the message is the same. Give people enough information and they are perfectly capable of making up their own minds which, in the case of Nevada voters, is usually a positive result. Of course, sometimes there are anomalies — such as Sharron Angle winning the Republican Senate nomination.
That is not the case when it comes to the value Nevadans place on education in the Silver State. We have heard for many years that there is a direct connection between the quality of education our young people get in our public schools and the quality of decision-making they exhibit as they get older and enter the work, social and political arenas. And now, I think the public finally gets it.
They get that it is far less expensive to educate a young person than to incarcerate a failed student who has turned to crime to make a living. They get it that, as Thomas Friedman wrote in his book, “The World Is Flat,” no longer should we worry about finishing our food because there is a child starving in China. In the 21st century, we should do our homework and excel in school because in China there is a young person starving for our job! They also get it that when Nevada’s governor wants to cut lower and higher education by amounts that would add up to death sentences while providing more money for prison construction, then something is dramatically wrong with our state’s priorities.
And, most important, the public finally seems to get it that California and other states’ businesses — fleeing because of higher taxes and increased regulation — are not coming to Nevada even though we brag about being one of the most tax-friendly states in the union. They realize that businesses won’t come to Nevada unless they are certain we can provide an educated workforce and that we care enough to invest in other quality-of-life issues so that their crucial employees will move along with the business.
So, how do I know people get it? From the polls, of course.
Nevadans have had plenty of time to understand the relationship between a good education and a great future. And many people have moved to Nevada to grow their futures. Even those who are not highly educated understand they must ensure that their kids have access to first-rate education if they are to grab their piece of the ever-elusive American dream. So, when they are asked the question about whether they want to see cuts in education or increases in their taxes, they prefer the tax increases.
That is what the latest poll, commissioned by the tax-unfriendly Nevada Retail Association, says is the mood of voters. Understand what that means. People know all there is to know about “no new taxes” and every other small-government mantra that has inundated the airwaves over the past few years. And, yes, they like the idea of not having to pay taxes, at least not any more than they do now. Who doesn’t?
But, when having to make a choice between the one institution that will define the value of their children’s lives and the value they place on low taxes, they choose the former.
That means people believe the gloomy pictures painted by trusted education leaders such as UNLV President Neal Smatresk, who last week outlined the dismantling steps he will have to take at UNLV should Gov. Brian Sandoval get his way this legislative session. The people want a growing institution of higher learning — one capable of adding more degreed residents to our mix — and not a shrinking, more elite university, the access to which will be severely limited to only those with money.
What the citizens of Nevada understand, and their elected representatives either don’t or won’t admit, is that education at all levels defines a community and a state more than any other institution of civil society. We are either committed to it or we are not.
For the first time in many, many years, the public has stated clearly that it sides with education against any cuts that would prevent its vital mission. And they have sent this message at a time of great economic distress, which should add the emphasis needed to their obvious point.
I don’t know what else the governor and Legislature need to hear from the people that will cause them to act wisely and appropriately. That means no draconian cuts in K-12 or higher education in the name of some ideological adherence to the no-tax mantra.
Do they need Cairo-like marches on Carson City?
I hope not. What I hope is that we have heard the last of the ideologies and more about how this entire state is going to work together to cut where we can and raise revenue where we must, because that is how states grow and that is how people succeed.
That’s what I hope. If you want to know what people hope, just look at this latest poll. They are saying very clearly: Raise my taxes and invest that money in the kind of education that will put Nevada at the head of the pack when it comes to 21st-century success stories.
On second thought, that is not what they hope. That is what they want. So who is going to step up and give the people what they want?
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.