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Different Century, Same Old Political Chicanery

Schrantz at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons
Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

We all tend to think politics today is worse than ever.

But just take a tour of the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, and you quickly learn that the mediums might be different but the messages and the divides are age-old.

State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith is playing tourist this month in Northern Nevada, where he recently toured the museum. It’s there that he was reminded that government hasn’t changed all that much in more than a century.

The museum is in a building that once housed an outpost of the U.S. Mint. Between 1870 and 1893, millions of dollars in silver coins were made there. 

Smith points out that Carson City was picked because of its proximity to the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. While the location made sense, Smith said construction of the building was done in typical government fashion.

“It’s one of those classic government jobs. The appropriation of $150,000 to build the mint was approved in 1863. So, of course, the mint doesn’t open until 1870, at a cost of $426,000. So, it’s basically government as usual," he said.

Politics and workforce issues were blamed for the delay.

And even the workforce issues of the day, reflect some of the same discussions being had now.

The man in charge of getting the building constructed wanted to bring costs down so he hired Chinese workers. That decision did not go over well in the community.

“They didn’t want the Chinese immigrants in the neighborhood. They were upset that these strangers were taking jobs – does all that sound familiar?” Smith said.

Eventually, the Chinese immigrants were pushed out and the building was finished.

And while we tend to believe nasty partisan discord between opposing parties only started recently, the mint was also the center of a fight between Democrats and Republicans. 

“We think these issues have been created for us by CNN and Fox News but way back in the 1860s and 1870s the Democrats and Republicans were going at it and they used the silver and gold standard as ground to fight over,” Smith said.

The Democrats favored the gold standard. The Republicans favored the silver standard. They battled over that issue for years with Democrats wanting to shut down the mint and Republicans insisting it stay open.

It finally closed in 1893.

Carson City wasn't Smith's only stop in Northern Nevada. He also dropped into Reno.

The city is being considered as a home for the Raider's practice field. Gubenortial candidate Steve Sisolak toured the area with Raiders representatives, who are looking at several locations.

“This appearance has the potential to pay dividends for him if they can sell the city on the idea that a practice facility is a positive thing. If they can do that, that will be great for Sisolak, I think, down the home stretch,” Smith said.

Sisolak was a big supporter of the Raiders Stadium in Southern Nevada. 

Smith said Reno is debating whether the practice facility would be a good idea and where the money to pay the estimated $50 to $75 million price tag would come from.

However, he thinks there is a natural connection.

"This is a pretty substantial football community that has a big identity with the Bay Area. So, the idea that the Raiders would have a kind of a practice facility in Reno, it makes a lot of sense to me that they would do that," he said.

John L. Smith, KNPR contributor

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.