I attended a lovely dinner last night at the home of friend. There was a group of around 25 people, most were District 2 residents. After dinner I chatted with the host about the upcoming elections and asked his opinions of how things are going in Washoe County. He is a 6th generation Nevadan. His great grandparents settled in Dayton in the 1870s and worked in local government, so I specifically wanted his views on the changes he’s seen in Washoe County in his lifetime, and the challenges our county faces with uncontrolled growth and fiscal mismanagement. He told me that he grew up as a neighbor of Bob Lucey’s and knew him and his family. He didn’t give credence to Lucey’s public campaign position that as a “fifth generation Nevadan” he is best-placed and most experienced to make sound fiscal, zoning and land development decisions for Washoe County. My friend’s comment: “Oh, really? My family and ancestors have been here just as long, and we despise what’s happening to Washoe County! But the corruption is embedded. It’s been going on for SO long that we just feel despondent. What’s the point in trying to change this county? It’s always been this way. Boom and bust. Budget problems, infrastructure problems and public-school problems. The local politicians have been lining their pockets for so long, that it will just be too hard to change.”
I asked him why he and his long-time Washoe friends have never tried to change the county governing system by proffering candidates with better governing and technical experience. He said that “outsiders” never have a chance, and even if they are Washoe natives, they have to be backed by the Washoe insiders – gaming, real estate and now cannabis. He chalked up County residents’ resignation to the boom-bust of real-estate, mining and gaming-based Washoe economy. Even the push to bring in new business comes at a huge economic cost to the county – incentivizing tax breaks that leave even larger voids in Washoe County coffers. These are then patched with higher sales taxes. This has been going on for all the “generations” that Bob Lucey and his family/ancestry have lived here. Why should Lucey and the County Commissioners change this dynamic in this economic recovery cycle where they stand to prosper so much from real estate development? He knows the drill. He knows better than anyone because he’s a “fifth generation Nevadan”! He has the privilege of CLAIMING Washoe as more his, than anyone else here? He has more right to govern because an ancestor came here to settle?
I can’t help but think there were a lot of lawless people moving to Nevada five generations ago. So, was his great grandfather a cattle rustler, or a gun slinger, or maybe a claim jumper? Also, I highly doubt that Lucey’s father’s side, Lingenfelter, was here for 5 generations. In fact, nowadays most people who live anywhere out west are from somewhere else! More importantly, the trust of the people has to be earned. Why SHOULD we think that ancestry denotes expertise? How does ancestry in and of itself promote candidate trustworthiness? And why should that be a qualification for office, if that very geography has a governing system that desperately needs to change?
This concept of “native privilege” got me to thinking about some of the commentary Steve Wolgast has heard during his District 2 campaign canvassing efforts. Some have told him that they just cannot vote for him because “he is a liberal democrat from California, trying to make Reno a suburb of California”. Um, really? Just LOOK at what’s happening now, with a majority republican Washoe Board of County Commissioners who also have real estate and business as careers. Washoe is well on its way to looking like the sprawl of ANY big city in the US (not just CA), certainly not the “biggest little city”! And who’s happy with this sprawl? Anyone making money off of it, that’s who! And who’s trying to manage growth to a safe and sustainable pace? Currently, the only governing entity that even tries to uphold and enforce the County Codes, Area Plans and zoning are the County Planning Commission, a governing group that has more applicable career expertise than the commissioners.
With pressing growth problems facing Washoe County including infrastructure development, water supply and quality preservation, flood control, fire danger and air quality, how exactly does being a “native Nevadan” give a candidate better experience to manage these issues? Do the commissioners have professional expertise in hydrology, civil engineering, traffic engineering, or environmental engineering? Not a one! Lastly, honest and robust fiscal and budgetary management needs to happen in Washoe before we fall into another bust cycle. The commissioners have so far not shown any inclination to revise Washoe’s tax revenue stream and hold developers and new big businesses to account and put some of their profits into the revenue stream.
So, unless Lucey’s ancestors were engineers, accountants or water management experts who passed along their “native” knowledge, I just can’t see how being a multi-generational Nevadan, in and of itself, gives Lucey more qualification for his position in county governance. Let’s hope that his ancestors’ experience with bust cycles serves Lucey well when the next one hits Washoe County.