Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2018

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Q+A: Historian expounds on political predictions in latest book edition

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John Locher / AP

Maria Nieto, right, and Alma Romo, second from left, register people to vote in Las Vegas, Aug. 15, 2018. Democrats in Nevada are working to register and engage Latino voters ahead of this year’s midterms.

Required reading for one of Nevada’s college graduation requirements is in a new edition this year, giving new predictions and taking a fresh look at Nevada politics after recession recovery.

UNLV political science professor Michael Bowers first published “The Sagebrush State: Nevada’s History, Government, and Politics” in 1996. The book is geared toward a freshman-level class that satisfies the Nevada Constitution requirement. Bowers said he was galvanized to write this new update five years after the fourth edition was published partially due to key changes in state government and economics.

A new, voter-approved intermediate court of appeals helped reduce pending cases before the state Supreme Court, according to the new edition. The book also discusses how more needs to be done to diversify the economy to brace for national downturns. Where the state was once grappling with cutting programs, Bowers said, officials are now looking at programs to bolster.

Bowers shared his thoughts with the Las Vegas Sun on these and other updates in the fifth edition, his missed prediction about a crushing blue wave in still-purple Nevada, and how the state has changed in the more than a decade since the book was first published. His comments have been slightly edited for length and punctuation.

Looking back to the first edition in 1996, what has been one of the major changes in Nevada?

One thing that has changed significantly is that the state has, since 1996, taken great effort to diversify the economy. At the time of the first edition it was essentially gaming and mining and little else. That has changed primarily as a result of the Great Recession.

There had been this sense prior to around 2008 that gaming, and thus the Nevada economy, were recession proof. Of course, that turned out not to be true and the state, led by Gov. (Brian) Sandoval and his appointees such as Steve Hill, made a very deliberate effort to diversify the economy. That has been successful but, of course, there needs to be more so that when a segment of the economy is hit the state does not suffer such devastating consequences.

What issues persist and which have fallen away in Nevada?

I would like to say that the North-South rivalry has abated since 1996 and, to some extent, it has. However, we continue to see disparities in higher education funding between UNR and UNLV. More recently I notice in the 2018 election candidates using against other candidates that they come from Las Vegas, as though that were a negative, which I suppose it might be in some parts of the state.

One thing that seems never to change is the consistent underfunding of education and social services in the state. It was true in 1996 and it remains true today that Nevada continues to lag the nation in funding for K-12 and higher education, social services, and especially mental health care.

What are some of the expectations you wrote about in 2013, and how have they or have they not come to fruition by 2018?

I suppose that the biggest failed prediction that I made was that the Democratic Party would surge and the Republican Party would wither. This was at a time when the Reid Machine was in full gear and Barack Obama had won the state twice. Of course, the Republicans came roaring back in 2014 and managed to hang on in 2016. It seems that Nevada is and will continue to be a purple state for awhile longer. I do think that long term Nevada will become a fairly reliable blue state for the Democrats, but this may be further out than I predicted in 2013.

While Nevada leans Democratic, what factors keep the state competitive for both parties?

Certainly Nevada does lean Democratic, but there are a few factors that keep the state competitive. First is Washoe County and the rural counties. They tend to be reliably Republican, although Washoe less so in some recent elections, so a Democrat must win by a sizable margin in Clark County to compensate for that.

Second is the issue of turnout. We see the Republicans do well in midterm elections especially. In large part this is due to the fact that, for whatever reason, Democrats do not come out to vote in midterm elections like they do in presidential election years. As a result of the reaction to President Donald Trump and the Democratic Party's voter drive, it will be interesting to see if the vaunted Blue Wave happens in 2018.

Which voting blocs do you see as becoming more influential in Nevada in the coming years?

Clearly the Latino and Asian voting blocs will become more influential in coming years. In part this is due to sheer numbers. Both are growing sizably in the state, especially in Clark County, and they tend to vote for Democrats. In addition, both groups are becoming more active in registering voters and getting them out to the polls.