The privilege of a college degree

Sign in front of the UNLV College of Engineering

By Erica Mosca

I’ve had the privilege to feel guilty this quarantine season. Because of my college degree and two masters degrees, I can work from home, continue to have health insurance, and toilet paper and hand sanitizer aren’t that hard to come by. In fact, almost everyone I know still has a job, is up to date on bill payments and can safely order groceries from Amazon. 

I am conscious enough to know this is the result of systemic inequity and an aspect of class warfare, however, so many continue to miss what’s right in front of them. As a Filipina, I identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and grew up experiencing low-income housing and public assistance. I intimately understand my privilege during this quarantine season: privilege that singularly comes from my college degree. 

To be clear, even though I am married to an active duty enlisted airman, I do not believe in the American dream. The idea that all you have to do is work hard and you’ll achieve continues to be disproven by frontline hourly workers who continue to work hard to make sure Las Vegas functions, but do so at the peril of their own family’s health — and at such a wage that they would earn more on unemployment.

I acknowledge systemic oppression and structural racism that ensures those who were born poor or with more melanin start the race further behind. However, what I experienced in my own life and have dedicated my career to empowering is equitable opportunity through educational attainment. Education remains the fastest avenue to end generational poverty in our country, yet nationally less than 10 percent of low-income students ever graduate from college. When the fastest route to gain ground and reach the finish line is blocked for 90 percent of runners, we can’t say the race was fair. 

Because I knew how lucky I was to get through the education pipeline, at the age of 22 I became a Clark County School District Teach For America 5th grade teacher in East Las Vegas. The theme of my classroom was “Leaders in Training.” Students wore “Leader” name tags and earned “Leader Bucks” and sat in college-named groups. To get students’ attention I would say: “College Class” and they would reply “2020.”

In 2008, how could we have predicted that the college class of 2020 would have no gowns to wear or hats to throw? That the parents who slaved away to ensure their children could end generational poverty through a college degree would have no crowd cheers to hear or family pictures to take?

In 2012, I made “Leaders in Training” a non-profit organization with my own savings to ensure more students like me could reach the finish line. All those 2008 5th graders and their friends were invited to join as members as they started the 9th grade. Four of those students — David Becerra, Jorge Martinez, Natalie Pen and Nestor Sanchez — should be walking across the UNR and UNLV graduation stages on Friday and Saturday. Instead, they will have small private celebrations with their families in their homes. 

And though we acknowledge and understand this is the right thing to do, we must also acknowledge and understand the momentous and tectonic plate shifting event happening for all first-generation college graduates who are part of the class of 2020. With every systemic obstacle in the way of them and their families from reaching this moment, they got through to the other side of privilege.

Many continue to say college is not for everyone. However, the opportunity to gain a college degree if one chooses must be an option for all. We are not sure what the future will hold for these four new job seekers, but if you look around at who is thriving instead of just surviving during this quarantine, our society’s inequitable odds are now in their favor. 

Erica Mosca is the founder & executive director of Leaders in Training (LIT). LIT empowers first-generation college graduates to become the next-generation of diverse leaders who change the world.

Calling undocumented farmworkers “essential” exacerbates their oppression

By Amy Reed-Sandoval

The Department of Homeland Security recently moved to declare migrant farmworkers—including those who are legally undocumented—essential critical infrastructure workers. Many employers have drafted letters for migrant farmworkers to carry in their wallets in case they are accused of violating shelter-in-place orders, hoping that this will give them some protection. This is significant for the state of a Nevada, in which the agricultural industry is extremely important, and in which approximately 32 percent of all farmworkers are undocumented.

Responses to this discursive shift have been mixed. Some are celebrating an apparent recognition of immigrant farmworkers’ importance to the U.S. economy, while critics note hypocrisy in giving farmworkers this label while leaving them vulnerable to deportation. It’s even worse than what the critics say, however. Calling undocumented farmworkers “essential” without regularizing their status actually exacerbates their oppression in the United States.

The philosopher Marilyn Frye’s influential theory of oppression helps to make this clear. Frye defines oppression in terms of a double bind in which oppressed people are caught—one in which all possible courses of action lead to stigma, censure, and other social penalties. They are constrained, caged, by social forces.

As theorists of oppression from Marx onward have argued, the oppression of some social groups is always to the benefit of more dominant social groups; it is no coincidence that the oppressed are constrained in these ways.

Legally undocumented farmworkers are caught in a double bind that benefits U.S. citizens who not only enjoy, but actually depend on, their goods and services. It is widely known that working-class, undocumented people are generally compelled by their life circumstances to pick our vegetables, bus our restaurant tables, and populate our factory lines. Abstaining from such labor could quite literally result in destitution and starvation—the first part of the double bind.

However, when undocumented people do perform this labor, they are condemned as so-called “illegals,” accused of “stealing American jobs,” and threatened with deportation. There seems to be no way out: they are boxed in by social forces.

It might seem that classifying the labor of farmworkers, including those who are undocumented, as “essential” can, in fact, alleviate the double bind by conveying the importance of their work to the U.S. citizenry. But to be regarded as essential and treated “illegal” is to be placed in a super-oppressed social role. The massive power of U.S. society over immigrant farmworkers is amplified through the message that is sent: We cannot survive without you, yet we can throw you out whenever we want. As long as undocumented farmworkers are vulnerable to deportation, their labor is remains stigmatized, and declaring their labor “essential” merely solidifies an oppressive social hierarchy.

Along somewhat similar (though perhaps less troubling) lines, Frye warned of how supposedly “celebrated” feminine virtues get mocked and derided. Think of all the parodies of “appropriately feminine” women: the imitated, mincing steps, the scorned delicateness, the attributed stupidity. Often, when oppressed social groups are “celebrated” by more dominant ones, double binds get strengthened. Calling illegalized workers “essential” can become a form of mockery.

Of course, the labor of farmworkers, documented and otherwise, is absolutely essential.  But it is wrong to make note of this while maintaining a system that leaves them vulnerable to deportation and other harms. As we collectively struggle to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and its social consequences, we must halt deportations and regularize the status of undocumented migrants. We should support unions and immigrant membership therein, and stop treating people like so-called “illegals”. Only then will the label “essential”—in all its obvious, descriptive accuracy—lose its oppressive force.

Amy Reed-Sandoval is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the author of Socially Undocumented: Identity and Immigration Justice (OUP, 2020).

Nevada cities need direct federal aid

Photo of the front of the Nevada Legislature building.

By Wesley Harper

Municipalities across Nevada are facing crippling budget projections after the economic shutdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal aid that has flowed from Washington cannot be used to offset revenue loss. Aid has been intended for costs directly related to fighting the virus or to help businesses maintain payroll or to help residents, but all funding has been specifically off limits for cities to recover financial losses from the shutdown.

Without help, there will be dire consequences for cities and their residents. Cities are projecting shortfalls of nearly 35 percent. It is likely that each aspect of municipal budgets will be affected. This will likely impact public safety, fire and rescue, emergency management, youth programs, senior programs, sanitation services, and more.

Congress is currently considering the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800). It would provide $375 billion over two years in direct federal funding to counties, cities, towns, and villages to offset the debilitating revenue losses from the containment and management of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the Act is funded at its current level, it will provide the funds needed to offset the revenue loss by Nevada’s cities and it will save municipal leaders from making painful and impossible decisions.

Congress should remember that Nevada took a critical and pre-emptive step to slow the pandemic by closing our casinos statewide on March 18, which slowed the spread of the virus throughout the region and across the country. The move shattered our economy, which is heavily reliant on sales, gaming, and room tax revenue. It was the best decision for our State and our Country and now we need our federal government’s support.

Relief for cities translates directly into quality of life for residents. This money can save lives. Without investment in our local governments, our communities will be less safe, less healthy, less prosperous.

Some Republican senators have suggested that providing aid to cities amounts to giving cities a bailout, as if the financial distress that our municipalities face was the result of some mismanagement. This is a mischaracterization. Our cities’ budget woes are directly attributable to the shutdown of the economy. Prior to the shutdown, most of our municipalities had healthy budgets, and many were enjoying a surplus. Cities are the most trusted form of government and they create the atmosphere for businesses to thrive and they most directly affect the quality of life of their residents. Our cities have done and continue to do their part to combat the pandemic. It is time for the federal government to be a partner to cities and provide the direct aid required for our cities to recover.

The Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities, together with the other state municipal leagues throughout the country, is working under the leadership of the National League of Cities in support of the Cities Are Essential Campaign to ensure that every city receives the federal aid it needs to successfully overcome this budget crisis.

This opinion column was submitted by Wesley Harper, executive director of the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities.

We must seek common ground

The Nevada Legislature building

By Jason Frierson

Nevadans are embodied with a pioneer spirit. We were, after all, battle born in 1864, inheriting crushing territorial debt, and facing war as a nation. Yet, we persevered and stood up a strong state. Faced with the most devastating global crisis in a century, we now begin the work to stand strong once again. 

Governors have the unenviable task of making tough decisions. Nevada’s first governor, H.G. Blasdel, said in the first State of the State address: “…of a new State is devolved a responsibility demanding the exercise of the most patient research, and the soundest discretion.”

I supported Gov. Sisolak’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order, as it represented patient research and sound discretion. At the governor’s direction, we have stayed home for Nevada and it has paid off. We have flattened the curve and are entering Phase 1 of Nevada’s reopening.

The Nevada Legislature has been a valuable partner in moving our state forward in this time of crisis. Collectively, the Assembly Democratic Caucus reached out to those in need, delivering food and supplies to the doorsteps of vulnerable families.

We have donated thousands of meals to medical workers at hospitals and nursing homes statewide. We’ve conducted virtual town halls and answered thousands of constituent questions, connecting them with the information they need. We have worked with our partners in the federal delegation pushing for more equitable aid to our state and small business owners. And recently, I signed on with other state legislative leaders around the country to push for more federal aid to help close the holes that are gaping wide in our state budget.

Moving forward, the Legislature will also have the unenviable task of assessing our state’s financial outlook. We must put an infrastructure in place to be able to better work with public/private partnerships to ensure the delivery of crucial services. We must be better prepared to seek, receive and utilize federal dollars. We must give local governments flexibility to meet the needs of their community.

We are presently gathering data and revenue projections to better guide us in coming months. Without question, there are tough decisions to be made. We must remain committed to making decisions in ways that reflect our shared values.

All of these things have been made easier to accomplish with the Governor’s Local Empowerment Advisory Panel (LEAP) and local governments are already creating transitions for their communities going into Phase 1. In no uncertain terms, we must make sure we are better able to process unemployment insurance claims and provide timely relief to those who need it most. To those of you still experiencing frustration with the DETR system, we hear you and we are committed to ensuring you get the financial assistance you need and deserve.

The work ahead is going to be a long road but we must do it together. As speaker, I have always extended an olive branch across the aisle in order to find common ground. Real leadership is forged in a time of crisis and we must put Nevada and her citizens above political rhetoric.

As leaders and statesmen and women, we must remember that we should not only look for common ground during a crisis.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to do so all the time.

I am proud to lead the most diverse legislature in the country.

Our members represent people from all walks of life, fighting for the well-being of our entire state. With an economy built on service and people of color making up a significant portion of those industries, Nevadans have had the double whammy of both being exposed to the virus as well as laid off indefinitely. We also recognize the ruthless attack this pandemic has leveraged upon communities of color, and we must confront the disparities the COVID-19 crisis has exposed head-on with data driven recommendations. 

The Nevada Legislature stands at the ready, doing the work needed to come out of this pandemic together.  Already we have taken steps in the 2019 legislative session that we can build upon, including prohibiting employers from requiring employees from reporting to work to verify an illness, passing paid family leave, banning surprise emergency room billing, and creating a Patient Protection Commission.

We will get through this crisis, but to emerge stronger than ever, it has never been more important to act as one Nevada, as we have at so many critical junctures in the past. We are battle born and together is the only way forward.

Jason Frierson, a Democrat, is the speaker of the Assembly.

A pundit’s impatience

Front of the Nevada Legislature building

If you cover politics for any length of time, it’s easy to become irritated, even irritable.

The artifice, so often clumsy and transparent. The superficiality, so much the rule and not the exception. And the hypocrisy, so bipartisan and so frequent.

I have become more Zen about all of it with experience, and politics is still, as a friend once put it, the only game for adults. But even in the Era of Zen Jon, I find myself suffering from pandemic levels of impatience during the coronavirus crisis.

You want to think that a crisis brings out the best in people – and it has, especially in the regular folks you see highlighted in our “Nevada Interrupted” series. But so much of what I have seen during the last six weeks has showcased why people hate politics:  The black and white nature of the “dialogue” sans nuance. And it has accentuated the worst traits in political animals – providing a window painful to look through but helpful to highlight for the future.

I still hope there is a reckoning for those who behaved so badly during this time, and I will do my part once it is over to remind people who rose and who fell, what was real and what was fabricated. A partial catalogue of what has challenged my Zen outlook:

—The Sisolak pile-on: Nothing has so shined a light on the current state of politics better than the reaction to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s handling of the crisis. Facts have taken a hiatus. Pandering to the LCD has come to the fore. Shamelessly looking for political advantage has won the day.

I come not to praise Sisolak, nor to bury him. My thoughts on what he has done have not been a secret. Distilled: He has had to make difficult choices, has not always communicated his intentions all that well and generally has stepped up in making agonizing life and death choices – real and economic.

I am not surprised he has been criticized – comes with the job. What confounds me is what these critics think he is thinking.

Do they believe he reveled in shutting down the state, knowing the economic devastation that would come and that eventually the budget problems would fall on his shoulders?

Do they believe that he wanted to coax the state’s biggest economic players and his largest campaign contributors to shutter their businesses, causing incalculable damage now and into the future?

Do they believe he is some tinpot dictator who wants to brandish his power and destroy the economy and people’s lives even though he will ultimately be the elected official who most wears the political damage?

It is as illogical as one of those grammatically challenged, scrawled posters by protesters posing as patriots and acting like mindless thugs. It’s one thing to criticize Sisolak’s management of the crisis – his initial lack of specificity, the unemployment insurance mess, his deadline decisions that seemed inconsistent. But this pandemic presents no benefits for a governor, even if his numbers are robust in the short term in Democratic and Republican polls. All states, but especially one as backwards as Nevada in public health and funding services, will be affected for a long, long time.

And if you want to pummel his plan, I have a question: Where’s yours? I don’t mean bullet points issued by minority caucuses seeking relevance and bereft of substance or failed foes such as Adam Laxalt, strutting around the internet like Lord Farquaad making hollow, narcissistic pronouncements. (I ask you to imagine the coronavirus cluster on Las Vegas Boulevard South if Laxalt and his sycophantic apparatchiks were in charge.)

Sisolak shut down the state before most governors closed theirs. He probably saved many lives. The rest is details.

—The Invisible Branch: I’ve already alluded to the GOP caucuses in the Legislature, which had minimal relevance last session and less in the interim, performing a combination of genuflection to their base (OPEN THE STATE NOW) and anodyne proposals that could have been written on the back of an envelope. A few have retweeted conspiracy nonsense; one went into a Twitter frenzy like a beekeeper being chased by his own bees.

Fine. That amused me more than irritated me.

But there is a real question about the solvency of the state budget, and while constitutionally questionable interim committees can do some things, one of the roles of a legislative branch is oversight – especially in a crisis. I don’t think GOP calls for a special session should be summarily dismissed – it would take the governor or two-thirds of the Gang of 63 to convene one — and my colleague, Orrin Johnson, has been on this for awhile.

Democratic lawmakers generally have been silent – except for the usual social media stuff congratulating the governor or themselves. But that party controls the Legislature, and I wonder if it has occurred to Speaker Jason Frierson or Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro that they should be calling for a special session to evaluate the governor’s plans and lay out a strategy for dealing with what is going to be a crippling deficit.

Yes, the quaint anachronism known as biennial sessions already hampers Nevada budgeting and planning. But an entire branch of state government has rendered itself voiceless during arguably the greatest non-wartime crisis in the state’s history, simply by standing on the sidelines and letting the governor do what he is doing.

Maybe it’s not feasible to have the Legislature meet because of social distancing and a Zoom session may be too chaotic. But even an agenda as narrow as voting to ratify or reject the governor’s plan for the state (even without the force of law) and to discuss possible budget solutions before the regular session next year, when it almost surely will be very damaged, makes some sense. (I wonder if they already would have met had Laxalt been governor.)

Nevada is already one of – if not THE – strongest executive branches in the country. But just because the guy is of the same party doesn’t mean you abdicate your role. (Looks eastward, sees where this is happening.)

—Electing to perform: I hope what certain governments have done during this time will be long remembered, even with the Memento-like memories of too many voters. It is simply shocking to see how some have debased or embarrassed themselves.

Mayor Control Group (convenient that the initials are the same for Carolyn Goodman) has made Las Vegas a national laughingstock, and her seals on the council – Michele Fiore, Victoria Seaman and Stavros Anthony – are like some mob underlings cowering before the capo. Fiore’s production of a video with people praising Goodman was the reductio ad absurdum of this spectacle. Any mayor with remaining self-respect would have resigned in disgrace, or her friends would have helped her see that as the wisest course. Instead she faces a recall, and she meets the requirements.

The Washoe County Commission’s attempt (Kitty Jung excepted) to pander to the president and the GOP base by joining in a lawsuit hyping the already debunked drug hydroxychloroquine – and then withdrawing it would have been sitcom-level funny if it were not so dangerous. I know how ambitious Chairman Bob Lucey is – he has told people he wants Mark Amodei’s congressional seat. But Lucey: You got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Those are the two most egregious examples. (Henderson – Dan Stewart excepted — voting for $60 million in bonds for a Golden Knights minor league arena during a budget bludgeoning gets honorable mention.)

Luckily, some jurisdictions have seen strong, forceful and honest leadership. Clark County Commission Chairman Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve come to mind.

Their good deeds probably will not go unpunished. But I hope the bad the others did is not interred with this crisis.

—The real Nevadans: Finally, the so-called protesters, who made news in Las Vegas and Carson City and were glorified by one outlet despite being a very small minority, are the epitome of what is wrong with politics. Some of them, I am sure, are fine people – angry about lost jobs and near-bankruptcies, looking for an outlet. But many – probably most – are an amalgam of non-voters, out-of-staters and rabble-rousers riled up by elected officials and candidates, egged on by the Trump campaign and the state GOP.

“Trust Trump, F**k Sisolak” read one of their thoughtful signs last weekend at the mansion. Their chants of “USA, USA,” while they waved Trump banners and screamed at the sky, show what happens when raw anger is manipulated by political grifters and candidates desperate for attention.

I missed where they were denounced by GOP elected officials for that mansion performance or for some of their signs. I missed where Republican leaders called for calm and rationality. I missed where, even after SWAT was called, the GOP elite said there was not a reason in the world to bring guns to a putative political protest.

The extremes on both sides are the worst. I have often said the far left is the nastiest, but the far right is the scariest.

To see a governor fearing for his wife’s safety in his own home, to see candidates for Congress mouthing idiotic slogans and to see good people stand silent: Yes, that makes me very irritable.

Jon Ralston is the editor of The Nevada Independent. He began covering Nevada politics in 1986.

Flexibility and victory

After weeks of failing to define victory or communicate a plan to Nevadans as to how to get through the public health and economic double-whammy that is the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Sisolak finally put out something that sort of resembled a framework to reopen. A week later, he announced the reopening plan was greatly accelerated, in a way that seems inconsistent – and even at odds with – the previous week’s announcement (no more two-week wait to collect data between phases, and not all of the counties met the benchmarks). This sort of confusion and inconsistency is frustrating as hell.

Nevertheless, I salute it.

The governor recognized the pandemic problem early and rightly responded early, but failed to keep up with it as it evolved. He was not able to deal with more than one potential public health threat at a time (and massive unemployment and the blow to government service budgets is its own public health crisis). He could not shift gears or think creatively enough to find solutions to cascading problems, most prominently the unemployment insurance debacle.

When he finally came up with something resembling a plan, releasing it to the general public mere hours before his previous shutdown order was set to expire, he learned that the general public was already way ahead of him. Businesses and industries large and small were already planning, adapting, and adjusting where they could. Customers were doing the same. Every day, the increases in traffic said that people were forging their own path ahead. Every day, crowded stores said that people were working through their fear of the virus and going forward living their lives. All one had to do was look at the well-groomed hair of the Costco crowds to know how many stylists were making illegal house calls. People even (gasp!) continued to get together with their families. And through it all, our hospitals were not overwhelmed — not even close.

This week, then, the governor faced a choice. He could have dug in and tried to force reality to conform with his poorly conceived “phased” plan, which insisted that we had weeks to go before we could even consider getting out of “Phase Zero.” This would have required him to start using real force against his own citizens who were increasingly disregarding certain directives, and considering putting them in jail, or fining those who had no money to collect.

Based on his past performance, that was my fear.

Instead, he functionally ditched many of his previously insisted-upon benchmarks, allowing restaurants, retail stores, barbers, and many other businesses to get going again. I suspect gaming is not far behind, and will open much sooner than most people expected even a few weeks ago.

The governor couched this accelerated reopening as a reward for our collective good behavior, which is as untrue as it is paternalistically insulting. To the extent our behavior changed in a week, it was to go out more, not less. To go from “our experts can’t even begin to give you an idea of a date to reopen” to “dine-in at your favorite restaurant – just make a reservation first!” in just two weeks is not a shift that happens absent significant political pressure.

(It also goes to show that the governor wisely did not take his supposedly glowing poll numbers too seriously or for granted. Sharp course corrections tend not to happen if politicians are confident their previously charted path enjoyed broad or deep approval.)

It is tempting to heckle the governor for this… flexibility. Instead, I sincerely applaud it. No plan survives contact with the enemy — the key to victory is to adapt in real time along with an evolving situation, keeping the largest possible picture in sight, and never forgetting your actual goal. And if the governor merely ratified what people were already going to do without him, so what? Knowing when to fold ‘em is a crucial ingredient to successfully governing free people.

***

Speaking of the hecklers, the importance of flexibility, adaptability, defining victory, and proper prior planning should not be lost on Republicans. I’m glad people went to Carson City, fired up to peaceably vent their displeasure at the governor. His changed behavior suggests the message was received. But physical protests in modern America are more social events than serious efforts at policy changes. To really make a change, you have to win elections, and that takes a lot of hard, tedious, and unglamorous work. It also requires understanding your goals and knowing how to achieve them.

Take the “Recall Sisolak” efforts. Imagine just for a minute that enough signatures are obtained to actually get a recall question on the ballot. Imagine that Sisolak is actually recalled. Now what? If they want a replacement on the ballot alongside him, that person needs to already be campaigning. If not, the Democratic lieutenant governor will fill in, and then what have you gained? Even if a candidate to finish the term is found, how would that person govern instead? I stand by my previous arguments that Mr. Sisolak’s failure to adequately plan ahead has diminished him — it’s hard to not say the same of his opponents.

I don’t think Mr. Sisolak has covered himself in glory during this crisis, but it also could have been much worse — at least he didn’t kill thousands of people by ordering nursing homes to take in COVID patients or something like that. 

The problem with politicizing a pandemic (or any other emergency) is that it drives everyone into hardened, tribal positions, when the situation calls for maximum flexibility and adaptability as we get new information. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing our leadership – there is much to criticize – but you have to be ready to sell the public on real alternative policies and candidates.

A few Republicans have constructively pushed against the governor where he’s been wrong or feckless. Several, like state Senator Ben Kieckhefer and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, have correctly called for a special session (which I was arguing for a month ago, but I’m glad they’re making the push now). Still others advocated for swifter openings for certain industries where that was logical, like hair salons and retail outlets. But there has been precious little candidate recruitment or long-term planning for the health of the party.

We have seen that Mr. Sisolak responds to effective political pressure in a way which improves his policy stances. How much better off would we be with a healthier and more effective GOP, which could insist upon additional needed voices to this and other policy discussions?

***

I am glad that the governor is moving in the right direction at a faster speed. Now he needs to focus on making his ongoing directives more coherent and consistent. This, too, requires a great deal of flexibility along with a far more clear understanding of what his actual goals are. Again, he continues to fail to clearly define victory, which makes it impossible to craft strategies to achieve it.

For example, the idea that we shouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day with our family but can go dine-in at a restaurant is absurd. Closing “crowded” hiking trails while further opening retailers is even more ridiculous. And telling counties that no one can open until they all can open (after paying lip service to their autonomy and diversity) makes absolutely no sense. Grossly inconsistent and logically irreconcilable pronouncements send a signal that the powers that be don’t really know what they’re doing, and further encourages people to ignore government mandates (or even suggestions). Indeed, at this point the entire “essential/non-essential” paradigm should be scrapped in favor of “practice aggressive sanitation and social distancing measures regardless of your business or profession.” 

The reality is that government policies have trailed, not led, the pandemic mitigation efforts, not just here, but all over the world. There seems to be little correlation between the forcefulness of government orders and per capita infection or death rates either within the US or internationally. As is often the case, government vastly overestimates its competence as compared to individuals armed with information making their own choices.

We as citizens will adjust our behavior and our votes to conform with the reality of our situations. We already have. No government, no matter how well managed, can manage (or micromanage) a robust free market economy — that is up to us as individuals, making millions of self-interested choices every single day. In order to ensure maximum acceleration of our economic recovery, government regulators will do well to recognize this, and will conform their evolving rules to the strength and flexibility people are already demonstrating. And as is always the case, the creativity of millions of people looking for new ways and new opportunities to provide for their families will be what leads us past this crisis.

Semper Gumby, Nevada.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

Speak up for Nevada

Turmoil has engulfed the Libertarian Party. The proper venue for a convention that complies with parliamentary procedure is in dispute.

This, admittedly, is not gripping stuff if you’re in the Libertarian Party. I can only imagine what it feels like to read those two sentences if you’re not. To be honest, I’ve been imagining that a bit more than usual as of late. Before I get into that, however, let’s first talk about the stupidest thing to happen at the Governor’s Mansion since Gov. Gibbons and his wife argued over who deserved to live there during their divorce proceedings. 

Yes, I’m talking about the impromptu tacticool convention that took place last Saturday.

I’m not going to bury the protesters — with all the body armor and high BMIs milling about that day, anybody that could reliably hit the broadside of a barn could safely pick each one of them off without too much trouble. Besides, there weren’t very many of them. However, it didn’t escape my notice, and it surely didn’t escape theirs, that Gov. Sisolak was talking about implementing Phase 1 at some indeterminate date — until, that is, they waved their guns around and a couple of rural counties threatened to go rogue. Then we were suddenly ahead of schedule and counties could implement their own roll-out plans.

Surely this was a data-driven decision. Surely.

Snark aside, Gov. Sisolak is probably responding to political incentives as elected officials should and do. Trouble is, Nevadans are only giving him very bad ones, which brings me back to the Libertarian Party.

The morning before the protest, the Libertarian National Committee (the governing body for the Libertarian Party) voted, 9-7 in favor of postponing the 2020 Libertarian National Convention until sometime before July 15 at a place and time to be determined. This might seem mundane at first glance, but stop and think for a moment — who would host a thousand-attendee convention this summer? 

Don’t worry, Las Vegas is off the hook. None of the potential venues there can guarantee that they’ll be open for business in July. Yes, they checked.

If that sounds like a rather important piece of information that strongly implies throwing an in-person convention this summer would be utter madness, well, apparently nobody told the LNC. All that a majority of the LNC heard, over and over again, were the problems and potential costs of cancelling an in-person convention — and none of the problems and potential costs of hosting an in-person convention. They heard all of the reasons why refusing to hold an in-person convention this summer would be impossible and none of the reasons why holding an in-person convention this summer is obviously impossible. They heard from member after member who wanted to visit their friends and throw a party and not from member after member after member who had already cancelled their travel reservations and planned to stay home for the year.

Then, unsurprisingly, they voted accordingly. 

Those of us who assumed that the sheer lunacy of trying to throw a thousand-attendee convention in the midst of a pandemic on less than two month’s notice was self-evident were shocked. Stunned. Dismayed! How could the LNC fail to see what SXSW and Burning Man and Insane Clown Posse (none of which are hosting in-person events this year) saw so clearly? Do Burners and Juggalos have more sense than Libertarians? 

That question was rhetorical. 

Seriously though, no, Burners and Juggalos aren’t any more (or less!) sensible than Libertarians or anyone else (no, really). They just got a little luckier. Their voices of reason were heard. Unfortunately, the voices of reason in the Libertarian Party took for granted the obviousness of the party’s predicament, stayed quiet, did other things and called it a day. That’s being fixed, but it’s taking a lot more effort than it would have taken if we had simply spoken up with a clear and concise message in the first place. 

Now I fear the same thing is happening to Nevada. 

Reality is incredibly complicated and the message of the protesters and rural county commissioners is simple — why shouldn’t businesses have a right to stay open? If someone wants to cut hair and someone wants their hair cut, what’s the problem? It’s a clear and simple message, even if it’s obviously wrong once you look at the regulatory and financial details of running a business. How do you run a business if half of your customers are suddenly afraid to do business with you? How long could you last like that? Is it any longer than you’d last without any income but also without most of your expenses? 

Trouble is, most of us who know these details are doing a terrible job of being as angry and loud about them as the people who think “herd immunity” means “give everyone COVID and let God sort it out.” Those of us who understand why masks are important are being shouted down by people who think that being required to wear a mask before entering private property is some sort of civil rights violation (I wonder how some of them would feel about a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding?). We’re dying from public choice theory, where a few individuals benefit from becoming plague vectors while the rest of us suffer from a thousand viral cuts. 

Unless we want to let these people control the narrative and push our politicians around, it’s time to get loud and angry. It’s time to get every bit as loud and every bit as angry as the people shouting and waving firearms on our streets.

What do I mean by that? For starters, the armed activists who escorted black lawmakers in Michigan have the right idea. Those armed activists didn’t have to threaten anyone; on the contrary, they were peacefully protecting people. They also made their point, both to the protesters and to the lawmakers. An armed society is only a polite society when everybody knows everybody else is or could be armed. A society in which one group is armed and assumes everyone else is unarmed gets very impolite – and very dangerous – rather quickly. 

Having said that, though extremism in defense of liberty may not be a vice, that doesn’t mean it’s mandatory. There are other, less potentially violent ways to demonstrate support for the public health measures most of us are already performing voluntarily. Wear a mask. Refuse to shop at stores that don’t require customers to wear masks, if you can. Advocate for more testing and volunteer for tracing. Call your city councilperson. Call your legislators (half of them are running for re-election right now, so, believe me, they’d love to hear from you). Call the governor’s office — but please call no more than once a day. The state needs all of the phone trunk capacity it can get to adjudicate unemployment claims. 

The protesters and their political enablers have benefited from being the loudest voice in the room through this pandemic, but they’re not the most numerous, not by a long shot. That’s good for the rest of us because it means we don’t have to shout quite so loud to be heard, but we still need to speak. 

Don’t just stay home for Nevada. Speak up for Nevada — preferably from home.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org.

Will yahoos and medical science deniers spoil the Las Vegas comeback?

Las Vegas, famous for flouting convention, now finds it must follow new rules or retreat deeper into the coronavirus pandemic’s shadows.

Will it happen? I’m not optimistic — but not for the reasons you might think.

Facing the rise of deadly COVID-19, Gov. Steve Sisolak put lives ahead of profits when he issued nonessential business closures and stay-at-home instructions. The decision to follow the advice of medical science over political expediency caused very real pain for a lot of small businesses and paycheck-to-paycheck Nevadans. The state’s crushing unemployment rate and miles-long food lines are but two signs of the real strife playing out each day.

As of Saturday, Nevada began to emerge from its burrow as Sisolak loosened some restrictions on businesses and reopened some parks. It was an act of cautious optimism the administration calls Phase 1 with a return to partial action in the state’s economically essential casinos tentatively set for Memorial Day weekend. Lots of rules, but a few less restrictions.

I’d like to think we’ll get there on the way to an even more open society, but that’s not the way I’m betting. Why?

It’s not just because of the news out of California, perennially our most reliable visitor base, that the state faces a $54.3 billion budget deficit and a projected unemployment rate of 18 percent. No one will blame Californians if they want to wait for better times before coming to Las Vegas to play.

Nor is it the ongoing crisis in the airline industry, where traveler volume has plummeted and gas mask-wearing passengers look like characters out of a Philip K. Dick novel. The Las Vegas we knew can’t return until the skies are friendly and safe again.

That’s not what worries me most.

Call it the yahoo factor. In short, there are too many of them for my comfort. The state has too many medical science deniers, too many internet prevaricators and bug-eyed provocateurs. Ground Control to Wayne Allyn Root, are you listening?

For heaven’s sake, we have too many people who believe not wearing a mask at the grocery store is making some kind of Trumpian political statement. And they’re all pulling in the wrong direction in the name of the Trump agenda and the GOP’s next Nevada dream ticket.

Today’s Nevada Republican Party resembles nothing so much as the far-right Independent American Party writ large. It has embraced in fact or in spirit most of the IAP’s long-time positions while making unwavering fealty to President Trump the ultimate litmus test.

In that light, the recent series of glorified pro-Trump, anti-Sisolak rallies flying under the breathless banner of “Reopen Nevada” are easier to understand. “Recall Sisolak” efforts are underway only because it’s too early to trot out Adam Laxalt, 2.0. But thinly veiled political rallies aren’t the issue.

The increasing presence of heavily armed protesters and members and associates of the Proud Boys neo-fascist network sends a more troubling message. This isn’t a display of liberty, but thuggery and intimidation masquerading as a constitutional lesson. But that’s grist for another column.

It’s the crowds. Almost no masks, or social distancing. They may choose to believe in survival of the fittest, the divine inspiration of the Constitution, or that Jesus is their vaccine, but the lack of respect for the apolitical medical science courts calamity.

If basic statistics were of any real use, debunking the Trumpian patriots’ argument about COVID-19 being “just like the flu” would be a simple matter. By the numbers, of the millions who contracted the flu in 2018-2019 in the United States, 490,600 were hospitalized and at least 34,200 died, according to the estimates of the Centers for Disease Control. COVID-19 has killed far more in a fraction of the time.

Faced with a rising death toll and revelations of incompetent response to the crisis, the Trump administration is doing what it always does — disregarding the experts, changing the subject, shirking responsibility, and calling to “liberate” states (with Democratic governors). And Trump has plenty of true believers, yahoos who simply choose not to believe medical science.

On Saturday, a Trump rally hand-wringing as a freedom demonstration was scheduled for Las Vegas City Hall, where anti-Sisolak protesters have several allies on the City Council and in the mayor’s office. During Wednesday’s council meeting, Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who continues to downplay the pandemic, read letters from desperate unemployed residents and reportedly received a standing ovation from a group of her boosters. She also again called for the reopening of Las Vegas despite the fact the governor’s gradual rollout was already being scheduled.

Like Sisolak, Goodman also finds herself facing a recall effort.

At this point, it may be all they have in common.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

We have to improve our schools

By Matt Nighswonger

As I am working from home trying to motivate 250 students to do an assignment online, I ponder how things will look when we do return to the classroom. This needs to be the time when parents, lawmakers, and our communities realize how chronically underfunded our public schools are. We all need to take a look at how students are jammed into classrooms and schools. There is a lack of support staff helping out at the school. Even the buildings are not properly maintained. 

We can’t go back to how it was. We have to come up with a way to adequately fund education. I know we will be facing a severe budget crisis. Schools won’t be spared the pain of budget cuts. But, since we weren’t funding education properly before the quarantine, our students and their opportunities will be even more limited when funds are cut from education, once they return from the lockdown. 

I hear a lot of talk about having social distancing at schools. It will be a challenge to keep students at an acceptable distance from one another with about 20 to 25 students in a class, but with 40 to 45 students in a class it will be impossible. I am lucky when I have a class with fewer than 40 students. If I ever have 30 or less I feel fortunate; the kids and I look around the room wondering where everyone is because we have all grown so accustomed to having no personal space. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic we are now aware of being too close to one another and that kids bumping into one another just to get in and out of class is probably not healthy. It is not okay to have this size of classes for our students. Given today’s crisis it  is even worse for the teachers and the students to be in classrooms without any personal space. 

Not only are the classrooms bursting, the buildings are well past capacity. It is hard to drive around Clark County and find a school that does not have portable classrooms. We hastily throw up a double wide trailer with no windows and shove more students into those rooms. We also have to use every available room in the school, even if it is not an actual classroom. Offices have become classrooms, conference rooms have become classrooms, even computer labs become non computer classrooms. Most schools around town look like they have a trailer park out back. Even with the lack of space and rooms there are no plans for building more middle or high schools and as soon as we build an elementary school it is already full. 

Kids don’t pay attention to cleanliness. They don’t always wash their hands. These habits will continue when we return to school, despite the virus. But, we can have the buildings cleaned more often. We could have the desks wiped down, the doors cleaned, and other high contact surface areas sterilized every day. But, most buildings don’t have enough support staff to have the garbage picked up and the rooms vacuumed at the end of each day, let alone adding more duties to these overworked employees. Many times teachers have to be the ones that vacuum their own room or wipe down all the student desks. It’s not as if the janitors don’t work hard; they do. But, they are severely understaffed. If the schools are going to be cleaner then we will need more workers.

On top of all this, we don’t keep up with maintenance at schools. On a regular basis, with the changing of the seasons at school, the heat and the air conditioning do not work at all, or do not work properly. We get an email about an hour or two into school letting us know the issue is being worked on and will hopefully be fixed soon. The schools can’t afford to replace the heating and cooling units, so repair jobs are done when the seasons change, just to put off the expensive task of installing a properly working heating and cooling system. In the warmer months many of us bring our own fans and in the colder months we pack an extra coat because we all know the centralized air system will fail at some point. 

Distance learning is not the answer. Students are missing out on so many facets of a standard education. We need to get them back into the buildings. We as a society have to provide our students the resources they need. Our kids have to count on us to pitch in more so that school is a comfortable learning environment for them. We have to be willing to do this, even though it will be difficult. 

There are a lot of aspects to consider when we work on sending our children back to school which we haven’t thought about much. It is time to have some serious discussions on the size of classes we send them back to, the overcrowded schools they attend, the lack of support staff at schools, and our refusal to maintain the schools that we do have. Without attention to these details of our kids’ education we aren’t giving them all the resources they need to be successful. 

We weren’t funding education adequately prior to the pandemic and economic contraction. Now, it is going to have even more deficiencies and be less safe. That is, unless we are willing to step up and acknowledge that education in Nevada needs a significant increase of funding. 

Matt Nighswonger is a teacher and coach in the Clark County School District.

Gov. Sisolak is not the enemy

By Daniel H. Stewart

On my office wall hangs a framed rendering of the Nevada Governor’s Mansion. Painted during the early years of Gov. Sandoval’s administration, there is a red toy car on the porch. Sandoval is my former boss, and the car belonged to his young daughter. A reminder that whatever else it is, the mansion is also a home.

Last weekend the mansion involuntarily hosted an anti-Sisolak protest. I recoiled at what I saw. Don’t get me wrong, I hold no ill-will towards the protesters, even as I disagree with them. I am also ill-equipped to judge anyone’s response to what may end up being the worst crisis in generations, if not ever.

No, it was not the messengers that concerned me, but the message. The protest felt personal; as if the collective cacophony were Moses demanding hard-hearted Pharaoh Sisolak end the plagues by letting the people go. Outraged and armed Nevadans targeted the governor at his home on a sunny Carson weekend in a quiet Carson neighborhood and, from what I can tell, demanded the impossible.

Gov. Sisolak has plenty of loud voices in his ear already. Death, historic unemployment, and decimated state and local budgets. If the data he sees and the advice he receives forces him to stay the course despite this triple-crown of worst-possible news, what weight do you think he will give to a block party?

Of course, I doubt mind-changing topped any protestor’s agenda. They were there to shame as well. Do they think Gov. Sisolak does not care about our hurt? From what I know about him (and most human beings) this is an untrue and offensive claim. But even assuming the worst, what possible incentive does an elected official have to “cause” his constituents pain? Chances are, likely Sisolak voters are suffering more than most right now. Maybe Gov. Sisolak has something bigger on his plate than politics.

Even the protesters’ battle cry for freedom was off-key. We are still pretty free. How would gun-carrying trespassers fare if they stomped on Putin’s yard? As far as I know, Gov. Sisolak has not thrown anyone in jail during the shutdown. The protestors violated the prohibition of public gatherings of more than 10, but they returned home without even a stern talking-to.

Those who seem to think the least of government apparently expect the most from it. Gov. Sisolak could rescind his mandates tomorrow, but if 80 percent of Nevadans wanted to stay home, or nobody wanted to travel to Nevada, our economy would be open in name only.

Sure, a tremendous amount of reasonable daylight exists between absolute shutdown and not-closed-at-all. But public protests are usually not the place to find sensible proposals. The difficult and inevitable trade-offs looming over the horizon need serious, rational discussion, not signs and chants.

For those complaining about any missing specificity in Gov. Sisolak’s plans, general criticism is not the answer. Consider the wisdom of President Lincoln when faced with radical Senator Wade’s demand that President Lincoln fire the Union’s top General, George McClellan. Lincoln asked for a recommended replacement, and Sen. Wade replied “Anybody.” “Wade” Lincoln shot back, “anybody will do for you, but I must have somebody.” 

If you have a levelheaded plan to move forward, by all means share it. If not, don’t mistake noise for knowledge. Nevada’s chief executive is a governor, not a pamphleteer.

Has Gov. Sisolak’s response been perfect? Of course not, but I do not even know how we measure perfection. Without question, he has saved lives. Despite being one of the first states with the virus, our death and infection rates have remained low. Other states have taken more draconian measures and had worse results. Gov. Sisolak has been honest and forthright, even when indefinite, and has never passed the buck. I am proud of the job he is doing.  

I realize I am biased, but not in the way most people may think. I am a Republican; Gov. Sisolak is not. But I have seen the governor’s job up close. On normal days the burden is enormous. The weight of a mostly resource-strapped state government rests on his shoulders. He oversees all state agencies; he chairs almost all of the state’s most important boards and commissions. Everything from road building to prison fights land on his desk.

To help him, he has one of the smallest staffs in the nation. His other constitutional officers (and the judiciary) are independently elected, with their own agendas, and sometimes different party affiliation and ideology. The Legislature sits for only 120 days every other year, and term limits and Nevada’s political swings mean legislative leaders and allies regularly change. During Gov. Sandoval’s four legislative sessions he had four different Assembly speakers and four different Senate majority leaders.

Despite the office’s difficulties (or maybe because of them), Nevada has been blessed with outstanding governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, who put Nevada first. Gov. Sisolak is cut from the same mold, living up to the high bar his predecessors set even in unprecedented times.

Nevertheless, I did not pen this piece just to defend the governor. He does not need it. I am not a health-care worker or a scientist. I don’t run or work in a hotel or casino. The virus poses low risks for my family. What I have to say is probably (and rightfully) way down the list of things Gov. Sisolak cares about.

Nor do I intend to disparage the protestors. They, like most Nevadans, have honest worries and aspirations. And I get the unquenchable urge to name our misery and fear. But Gov. Sisolak is not the enemy. None of our fellow Nevadans are—whether they look like us, vote likes us, or think like us.

Between both the virus and fear itself, we are currently fighting two invisible enemies the likes of which we have never fought before. Only our combined efforts will see us through. From where I stand, we have a fine man leading the charge; let’s do what we can to help him.

Daniel H. Stewart is a partner with Hutchison & Steffen, where he leads the firm’s Election, Campaign and Political Law practice.  He has practiced law in both the public and private sectors, representing elected officials, candidates, campaigns, social welfare organizations, and other political and policy-focused clients.