Nevada doesn't get a lot of respect. It has been called "The tag-end of Creation," "America's Great Mistake" and "the Rotten Borough." John Muir said it was "irredeemable now and forever." The Almanac of American Politics, considered by many to be the bible of basic political research, says, "Its existence as a state is happenstance."
More accurately, its
existence is due to politics (HCN, 10/13/97). Nevada became a state
in 1864, even though it didn't meet the population requirement,
because Republicans thought they needed its three electoral votes
to win re-election for Abraham Lincoln.
silver and gold booms of the late 1800s and early 1900s petered
out, the population dropped again, the state nearly went bankrupt,
and there was even talk in Washington, D.C., of revoking statehood.
But in the early 1930s, Nevada legalized gambling and reduced the
residency requirement for divorce to six weeks. "Catering to what
most Americans considered sin - casinos, pawnshops, divorce mills,
quick wedding chapels, even legal brothels - turned out to be good
business," the Almanac notes.
Today, no one talks
of revoking statehood. Nevada has been America's fastest-growing
state since the 1960 census, when the population was 285,278. In
1970 it was 488,738. In 1980 it was 800,508. In 1990 it was 1.2
million. And today it is estimated to be 1.8 million and is still
Most Nevadans - around 1.2 million -
live in greater Las Vegas, which also happens to be one of the
fastest-growing cities in the country. Most of the state's 4,000 to
6,000 new residents a month move to Las Vegas. The greater
Reno-Carson City-Gardnerville-Minden front range along the Sierra
Nevada in the northern part of the state is home to around 400,000
The rest of Nevada is known as the
"cow counties." Although the number of cows is down, cattle still
outnumber people there by at least two to one. Around 87 percent of
the state is federal land, and most of that is leased to ranchers
by the Bureau of Land Management.
In addition to
seeing cows in central Nevada, you might see low-flying military
jets. The Pentagon controls 4 million acres in the state and even
more air space.
Mining is also important,
especially in northeastern Nevada, where around 60 percent of the
gold produced in the United States is mined.
it is gaming, Nevada's euphemism for gambling, and tourism that run
the state. Around 30 million tourists spend $22.5 billion a year in
Las Vegas. Another 5 million tourists come to Reno each year and
spend almost $4 billion.
gambling-hotel-resort industry employs 26 percent of the workers in
Nevada, while an additional 18 percent are employed in other
services. Retail trade jobs account for 16 percent and wholesale
for 4 percent of Nevada workers. Governments employ 12 percent
(this figure includes most teachers).
percent are in construction, building houses for newcomers and new
casinos. Fourteen percent is divided among manufacturing; utilities
and transportation; and finance, insurance and real estate. Two
percent are engaged in mining.
traditionally sent "Dixiecrats' to Washington - conservative
Democratic senators dedicated to bringing home the bacon to a state
heavily dependent on the federal government. The state's current
senators - senior Sen. Harry Reid and junior Sen. Richard Bryan -
are both Democrats. But the two representatives in Congress are
Rep. John Ensign is
running for the Senate this fall, trying to unseat Reid. Since
1994, when he won in an upset, Ensign has represented the
traditionally Democratic First District in Nevada, consisting of
the densely populated core of Las Vegas and its nearby suburbs.
Shelley Berkeley, a former Democratic Assemblywoman and university
regent, is running for the open House seat against Don Chairez, a
former District Court judge, who switched parties to run against
her as a Republican.
In the Second District,
which encompasses 99.8 percent of the state's land area, Rep. Jim
Gibbons is a runaway favorite to be re-elected, since no Democrat
is running for the seat. Gibbons faces only Independent American,
Libertarian and Natural Law candidates.
the candidates hew to the state religion in Nevada, which is
antinuclear, at least when it comes to waste. It was not always so.
The powers that be in Nevada celebrated and defended testing of
nuclear weapons in the desert north of Las Vegas up until George
Bush signed a testing moratorium in 1992. But since the 1970s, when
there were still a few politicians willing to consider storing
nuclear waste as an economic development policy, politicians have
realized that appearing weak on accepting waste is political
So despite perennial defeats in
Congress, Nevada's delegation filibusters in the Senate and hatches
arcane maneuvers in the House to delay the day that Yucca Mountain
becomes the nation's nuclear waste "suppository," in the words of
one-time Sen. Chic Hecht (the unfortunate quote contributed to his
defeat by Richard Bryan in 1988).
political gambits pay off. President Clinton has vowed to veto a
temporary nuclear storage site in Nevada - a promise that helped
him carry the state in 1992 and 1996. And House Speaker Newt
Gingrich pulled a bill to set up a temporary waste dump in Nevada
in 1996 to help John Ensign win re-election.
the state level, current Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat, cannot run
again, having served the limit of two terms. Jan Jones, the
Democratic mayor of Las Vegas, is running against Republican Kenny
Guinn for the governor's office.
Legislature, Republicans held a 12-9 majority in the last state
Senate and Democrats controlled the Assembly 25-17. The perennial
battle is the "fair share" debate between southern and northern
Nevada - Las Vegas and Reno - over how to divide the spoils of
gaming taxes. The cow counties have been mostly irrelevant since
the 1960s, when state Senate seats began to be assigned according
to population rather than land area.