Las Vegas Sun

November 13, 2019

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Where I Stand — Mike O’Callaghan: A man before his time

MY INTEREST IN THE HISTORY of our state and nation has kept me reading whenever having a spare moment. In addition to reading, the history channel of our television set gets plenty of extra play. The HBO presentation of "Band of Brothers" has kept me up on Sunday evenings for the past several weeks. This television adaptation of the Stephen E. Ambrose history of a combat company during World War II has been exceptional.

Next month, closer to home, a book published by the University of Nevada will be in local bookstores. "A Liberal Conscience" is the oral history of Boulder City's Ralph Denton as told to historian Michael S. Green. The combination of Denton and Green makes good reading. This book, along with the oral history books of the late Gov. Grant Sawyer and Sen. Alan Bible, also published by the university, should be required reading for state history students.

The special value of this Nevada history comes from the real life experience of the person being interviewed. So much of our history has been written from records and hearsay that encourage the repetition of errors and ignorance. Also Denton is telling his experiences without a slant to sell his recollections for profit.

Denton's recollections of his personal life from boyhood in Caliente up until today, 76 years later in Clark County, is a view of our society. His political philosophy and personal participation in several campaigns, including his own for Congress, reflects the man Nevadans have come to enjoy.

Denton's strengths have always been visible when it was necessary for a leader to swim upstream against what he considered is wrong with society and government. This probably cost him a seat in Congress, but many of his liberal political stands 35 years ago would be accepted as middle of the road today. Although a Democrat, Denton, like most Nevadans, has crossed the political party line at least once or twice. His 1952 letter to Democrat Tom Mechling spelled out why he was going to support Republican Molly Malone for the U.S. Senate. He listed seven reasons he couldn't support Mechling and among them was his "Unwarranted attack upon the character and integrity of Senator McCarran. I point out to you that your opponent in this election is George Malone, and not Senator McCarran." McCarran was a mentor for Denton and had his loyal support. Personal loyalty is a theme woven throughout the life of Denton. Denton didn't agree with all of the senator's political views or policies.

Although the late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun had been a strong opponent of McCarran, Denton became his attorney. The lawyer and publisher came to recognize the strengths and abilities of each other. Denton recalls, "I described Hank as 'tolerant.' I do not recall us having disagreements over a matter such as civil rights, Vietnam. We had political disagreements, which we voiced, but he didn't think everybody that disagreed with him was a bad person. He was tolerant of other people's views, unless they reached the point of what he thought was idiocy. (laughter) As badly as he hated McCarran, he understood my loyalty to him."

After being elected and serving as Eureka County district attorney and practicing law in Elko County, Denton came to Clark County. His recollections of the next 46 years show every aspect of life in this changing and growing area. He names everybody from Z Louie to Las Vegas Mayor C. D. Baker. Denton, running two successful campaigns for this friend Gov. Grant Sawyer and practicing law, saw it all -- and remembers.

The last three chapters of the book show the heart and soul of Denton. After more than 31 chapters the reader learns exactly what drives the author -- his family and home.

"A Liberal Conscience" will wrinkle more than a few noses and result in laughter and memories for many others. It's what Nevada was all about and would become. As a reader I found it so loaded that a full review, which will come later, isn't possible in this space.