Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Fairness, 54 years in the making and counting

An extensive and insightful study of the 2013 Nevada legislative session is out from David Damore, an associate professor of political science at UNLV and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. You can read it online here. Yes, he’s smart.

David examines how the North-South political tug-of-war in the 2013 Legislature resulted in winners (in Reno and rural counties) and losers (where most of us live, in Clark County).

The study illuminates how the pro-North bias prevails at every legislative session, at the expense of 70 percent of Nevadans — we who live in the South.

David examines the political realities of how Southerners get the bum’s rush when it comes to legislators doling out our money.

You ought to wonder: How does this happen, if there are more lawmakers from the South than the North? The answer: confused loyalties.

Northern politicians from both parties hang tight as Northerners first, partisans second. Southern lawmakers align themselves as partisans, putting political party ahead of our region’s needs.

The South has struggled for respect since Las Vegas was a small, dusty town, easily ignored by Reno and the mining interests of the North. We grew up, but attitudes didn’t change.

Fifty-four years ago, the Las Vegas Sun’s city editor, Ed Oncken, wrote that it was about time that Southern voters send to the Legislature the strongest, smartest, savviest politicians we could muster, to wrest control of the state away from the tight-knit Northerners.

In his column, Ed lauded the strong efforts of Jim Gibson (father of former Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson) in righting the political imbalance:

“In one term of office, and two sessions of the Legislature, Gibson has done more to restore the loss of prestige to Clark County in Carson City than any other single thing I can think of. His stature in this regard among veteran lawmakers from all over the state has convinced many prejudiced Northern Nevadans and press observers that perhaps there is some hope for Clark County after all.”

But sadly, Damore’s study shows that not much has changed since Jim Gibson pled Clark County’s case to his legislative colleagues.

The reason, which bears repeating: Southern politicians vote along political lines, Northern legislators vote along regional lines. And look who loses. We do. Clark County gets the short end of funding for K-12, higher ed, highway projects and research, all of which would improve our quality of life and help lift our economy (and the state’s).

I leave you with two calls for action. The first: Remain informed. You can either read these eye-opening studies in their original forms (such as David’s report and other findings by UNLV faculty and their partners at Brookings Mountain West), or you can turn to The Sunday, the Las Vegas Sun and our websites because we will share this information with you.

My second request: Use that information to become the best possible citizens by electing leaders who will put aside their political loyalties and recognize that Southern Nevadans — whatever our political stripes — deserve equity when the Legislature meets in 2015 to dole out our money.

I’d hate it if this column is cited 54 years from now by someone arguing, still, for funding fairness in Nevada. And just imagine how Ed Oncken would feel.

Brian Greenspun is editor and publisher of The Sunday.

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