Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Politics and prostitutes.
There is a difference, although at times, I admit, the lines get blurred. Where they are very much the same, however, is that professionals in both industries provide a service to the public. That raises the question: Which services are necessary and which are luxuries?
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the door to the discussion last week when he spoke to the Nevada Legislature. His words were upbeat and his vision was spot on when he spoke about the kinds of opportunities that lie ahead for Nevada and its ability to create diversified businesses and the many thousands of jobs that will result.
It is not like Harry to speak about such positive things without throwing in something provocative, whether intended or not. This time he intended to shock the sensibilities of a part of Nevada that has seemed for decades and decades to be insensitive to the needs of the greater population while tending to the needs of its own.
Harry came back to Nevada, the state that gave him birth amid the rough and tumble of a mining town replete with the vices commonly available in such places, to lay out a vision of a Nevada that no longer condones or approves of the practice of legal prostitution. It caused quite a stir.
The story, of course, went worldwide. It didn’t drown out the voices of freedom and whatever else the protesters are clamoring for in the streets of the Middle East, or the devastation in Christchurch, New Zealand. But it did provide some relief for people worried beyond measure that the world is about to blow up in our faces while we can’t seem to do much to stop it.
Think about it. There is prostitution in every city in America. In every one of those cities prostitution is illegal. But the problem is people everywhere think it is illegal in every city in this country except one — Las Vegas.
Oops! You mean it isn’t legal here? I dare say a goodly number of tourists climb aboard airplanes, buses and automobiles to visit this No. 1 destination because they believe everything is legal, including the world’s oldest profession. What they find is that to be square with the law, you have to take a cab or limo to someplace beyond Clark County to fulfill expectations — legally.
My point is that we are painted with the broad brush of government-condoned and approved prostitution in Las Vegas, and it just isn’t true. But drive down the Strip and look at those mobile billboards which, admittedly, are something to behold, but which scream at our tourists and residents that something is going on behind closed hotel room doors and, if it isn’t legal, it sure looks like it should be!
Now couple that picture with Reid’s desire to help create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs from industries not yet located in Nevada and you can see that our image is one issue with which we must deal if we are going to make a deal.
I accept the fact that the good senator was rebuffed by a company whose leadership couldn’t handle the image of his business and the world’s oldest business cohabiting. But I suspect that there were many other reasons that allowed the opportunity to slip away.
Whether it was our lack of commitment to education, our inability to address an inequitable and unsustainable tax structure, our failure to pay for the kind of city infrastructure that turns a good place to live into a great one, or our singular lack of leadership at the highest levels of state government, it is easy to understand why sophisticated industries choose other states over Nevada to relocate or build.
Throwing in the hard-to-explain addiction we have in some parts of the state to legalized prostitution and the very difficult discussions a parent must have with a young daughter about government-condoned and encouraged life choices, and it is no wonder that selling Nevada is difficult.
I don’t believe the Legislature is going to change the law to outlaw prostitution, especially when those houses of abundant activity are some of the only places that are doing business. Now may not be the time to reduce the number of jobs in places where there ain’t much else going on.
But I do believe we should have the “adult” conversation because Nevada has reached that point in its young life where being adult about our situation is the proper course of action if we want growth and prosperity. In every other part of this country, people are talking about Nevada and its legalized prostitution. We should be able to talk about it here, where it is happening.
Besides, those folks in the Legislature who think that prostitution is too hard a challenge to tackle right now may come to the conclusion that there are easier problems to address.
I would gladly shuffle prostitution off the legislative agenda for the time being in favor of resolving much easier problems that seem to be vexing us. Like education! Like revenue-raising! Like caring for the sick and needy!
Politics is the art of compromise. Perhaps Reid will back off his challenge to criminalize prostitution if legislators and the governor will stop acting like ideological prostitutes who are supported and encouraged by the most reactionary elements of their party to stay on their backs, refusing to stand up to do what is right.
The compromise will be three steps forward for jobs, industry and a better quality of life in return for allowing the world’s oldest profession the only safe haven in the United States of America.