Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's the Population

Surprise, surprise, the new Legislature maps are being challenged. Of course, the Republicans are whining because the proposed maps don't gerrymander the GOP back into power. Yet among those Republicans, there are some former and current legislators throwing a fit for another (albeit just as ridiculous) reason.

Rural lawmakers expressed dismay Tuesday with the latest redistricting maps that would add a big chunk of northern Clark County to the rural state Senate District 19.

While Washoe County would likely be represented by four state senators, the same number it currently has, rural Nevada would go from three representatives to two if not one.

“It dilutes the ‘cow counties,’ ” said Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. (He’s a rancher, and therefore allowed to use the sometimes-pejorative vernacular for the state’s less-populated counties.)

“The rurals are entitled to be represented like any other minority.”

Huh? When did the Voting Rights Act ever elevate "population minorities" to the same legally protected status as racial minorities? Is Goicoechea really trying to claim that rural Nevada is "discriminated against" when it has the most subsidized government services of any of us? I dare Pete Goicoechea to go to West Las Vegas and talk with the residents who remember the "Mississippi of the West" days, when no African-Americans were allowed to even step in the front door of any Strip casinos! And I dare him to go to East Las Vegas and talk with the residents who are still enduring the anti-Latin@ xenophobia that his party's US Senate candidate tried to tap into to win last year.

[Face palm]

Eureka County objected to the Senate maps. Former Elko Assemblyman John Carpenter, who served 24 years in the Legislature, also lodged the same complaint, saying Elko County would also include parts of Clark County including west of North Las Vegas and Mount Charleston.

Carpenter said, “My greatest fear is that someday the northern rural counties, the cow counties, would be represented by a senator from Southern Nevada.”

Oh, lordy. Oh yes, it's such an "injustice" to lump Elko and Ely into the same district as Indian Springs and Moapa! Oh, the horrors! (I'm obviously being sarcastic here, since the part of Clark County included in the new SD 19 is sparsely populated. None of North Las Vegas and very little of the City of Las Vegas [just Providence and Kyle Canyon] even touch it.)

So what's the real objection here? Simple: Population. And Power.

For decades, rural Nevada, along with Washoe County, has had disproportionate power and control over state affairs. Even though Clark became the most populous county in the state in 1960, we still haven't yet seen Clark become all that much of a force in Carson City. Again, look at the distribution of state college funds, and the distribution of public safety funds, and the constant resistance to progressive tax reform despite growing support statewide.

This really looks to be "The Cow Counties' Last Stand". Deep down, they know that Nevada is changing. Not only is Nevada's population growing more diverse, but it's also becoming more urban as Greater Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself. As we talked about on Monday, the "Bonanza" vision of Nevada is fading as the state makes the transition from bucolic desert wonderland to dynamic urban destination. And as we make that transition, our attitudes our changing on issues like taxes, land use, environmental stewardship, civil rights, and the overall needs for government.

To paraphrase James Carville's famous 1992 statement, "It's the population, stupid." And though rural legislators have long been able to maintain power in Carson City despite the rise of Vegas, time may soon be running out for them.

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