He can build a custom home, nurse a horse to health and litigate a lawsuit in proper person. He’s a renaissance man, your uncle, if you can only find a way to get him off the couch and away from the beer fridge.
That’s largely the way I look at government in Nevada.
Some see government as essential to each aspect of daily life. For them, the answer to every problem is a program or set of regulations. Every street corner needs a traffic camera; every kid on a Big Wheel needs a helmet.
Others like to pretend the march of progress has only come through the lack of regulation and taxation. For them, rules are for squares and sissies. They like to fantasize that if they can only get government out of the way, life will somehow return to halcyon days when free men stood around the campfire and basked in the warm glow of their Constitutional liberties.
I’m not sure, but I think Mel Gibson starred in that movie.
The recently concluded legislative sparring session in Carson City provided many examples of these conflicting approaches to government. On one side there was Gov. Brian Sandoval and a group of staunch conservative legislators calling for fiscal restraint, no new taxes and budget-carving throughout the state.
On the other side stood legislative Democrats who, to greater and lesser degrees, wanted to find new revenue sources to at least maintain Nevada’s sorry status quo in the areas of public and higher education and social services.
Although both sides could claim partial victory, neither was able to define government in their own terms. And that’s probably a good thing.
In Washington, an eerie ghost story is once again being told about the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Has it been killed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his allies from the Nevada congressional delegation? Or is it somehow managing to return from the dead to haunt the present?
For some strange reason, Yucca Mountain — one of the most oppressive government projects to come along in decades — is a darling of Nevada’s small government true believers. They’re after rural jobs and don’t seem to mind the fact that Yucca would be known as perhaps the greatest example of federal overstepping on record. It’s potentially the most malodorous and disastrous government project in the state’s history, and some people can’t wait for it to make a comeback.
Folks who wring their hands at the slightest sign of government intrusion into their lives and communities flop and foam like rescued sinners at a tent revival meeting whenever the project is mentioned. They have seen the light, and it’s coming from Yucca Mountain.
For them, that’s the right kind of government intrusion.
But while we’re on the subject, where would half the small towns in Nevada be without the jobs provided by the state Department of Transportation? Those yellow DOT rigs have helped feed generations, and a large portion of the department’s project funding comes from those mean old bridge trolls in Washington.
For that matter, where would Las Vegas be without Hoover Dam, Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test Site?
Government doesn’t provide the answers to all things, but let’s be realistic. Without it, Nevada would have all the stately appeal of the old Utah Territory.
The real question is not whether you remove government from your life. That’s a pipedream sold by ideologues and hustlers. For better or worse, Uncle Sam is part of the family.
The real challenge for Nevadans is to find creative ways to get government off the couch and working for them.
John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 702 383-0295.