I was delighted that Jon Christensen did an article on Elko County, Nev. (HCN, 10/30/95). I just wish he had done so while I was still living there. I worked as an engineer for one of the gold-mining companies in the area until I decided to leave after being informed that my political advocacy would affect my ability to be promoted.
When I moved to Elko, I found a small community surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the West. Then I became aware of the extremism of the local politics - an extremism that was more anarchist than conservative. I was surprised that, given the large influx of people over the past 10 to 15 years due to the gold-mining boom, local politics remained solidly in the hands of the "good old boy" ranching community. It took awhile, but I think I finally found an explanation for it.
Most of the recent increase in population has been related to the mining industry. Western miners have always moved from one boomtown to another, making them far less likely to get involved in local politics than those who intend to remain there for the rest of their lives. So ranchers remained in control. Add to this a local newspaper edited by two narrow-minded publishers, and you have a recipe for ultra-conservative control. The Elko Daily Free Press has done everything in its power to keep the fires of confrontation burning between protectors of the status quo and those who would bring change. The federal land-management agencies, along with "evil" preservationists, provide scapegoats for all that they perceive to be wrong with the West.
What has happened in Elko County is an excellent study in group dynamics: A small group with extreme views gains a foothold due to apathy; the local paper squelches all opposition by blasting those who dare to speak out against them. (I myself have been trashed in print at least three times for opinions I chose to express in letters to the editor.) Eventually, what should be rightfully seen as extremism gradually becomes the norm.
Mr. Christensen's article, however, failed to adequately present two important points: Leaders of the local political establishment are far more base than presented in his article, and would stop at nothing to see to it that the status quo (i.e., 1885) remains in effect indefinitely. I am also disappointed that we did not hear from Merlin McColm of the Elko County Conservation Association and employees of the Nevada Division of Wildlife, who endure the same harassment in the field experienced by federal employees.
As for me, I have moved to a smaller town where people are not as quick to jump on the Sagebrush Rebellion bandwagon. And I don't miss Elko one bit.
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