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UNLV Profs: 'New' Nevada Nothing New And Not A Good Idea

Two UNLV professors find little to like about a Pahrump attorney's call to create a new state out of rural Nevada--excluding Clark County and Las Vegas.

At the same time, they admit that Nevada's top-down, one-size-fits-all governance structure doesn't work.

Discussion of a "New Nevada" state came to light in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, during a failed attempt last year to overturn the presidential election. The brief was written by retired California attorney Robert Thomas III, who identified himself as being from "New Nevada."

People in other states are saying similar things--that the rural parts of their states are very different than their cities; and they don't believe they have enough political representation.


But how would that play out in Nevada? Would it create even more division? 


UNLV professors Robert Lang and David Damore have focused on the division between urban and rural politics in their new book, "Blue Metros, Red States." 

“This is more like some groups within states where there’s largely a sparse rural population and then a big metro have decided that they just don’t like this arrangement,” Lang told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Lang noted that the U.S. Senate already gives more power to rural states because rural states like Wyoming have the same representation as large states like California. 

He also said that it is unlikely that the New Nevada movement or those of other states with similar problems like Colorado and Washington will actually be successful. 

Damore said in reality there is a bias towards rural areas in Nevada's government structure because of how the state was established.

“Look at Nevada, who founded Nevada – mining interest. What did they do? They put their tax rate in the constitution. As a consequence, they don’t pay much,” he said.

He said the whole state's apparatus favors rural counties.

“That often gets overlooked because the population discrepancies are there but you have these legacy effects because of the institutions there. Nevada is a perfect example of that,” he said.

Damore said the movements in other states and in Nevada are often tied to a feeling of losing status as demographics shift.

“It’s about status loss," he said, "That you had this shift. That not only are you shifting power geographically but then that also leads to a shift in demographic differences. That sort of undoes a lot of the traditional hierarchy of who is in charge of major institutions."

There is also an economic element to the shift. Damore pointed out that President-elect Joe Biden ended up winning counties that accounted for 75 percent of gross domestic product or GDP. However, those counties account for a fraction of the actual physical space in the country.

Beyond the economics of the movement, Lang questions when it will end. If the dream of a New Nevada materializes, Washoe County would stay within its boundaries, but for how long? 

Washoe County is already leaning blue. Lang said it may not be long before there would be a separatist movement within a separatist movement.

“20 years from now, people will be trying to get Washoe out of New Nevada and call it ‘New New’ Nevada," he said, "You can’t just run from this. You’re going to have to accommodate urban growth. You’re going to have to figure out a way politically to manage it.”

Robert Thomas, the Pahrump attorney behind the push, told KNPR's State of Nevada that there is no sense of community between rural counties like Elko and population centers like Las Vegas.

Damore said Thomas "hit the nail on the head," and that there are actually three Nevadas: Southern Nevada, Reno and the rural counties.  

"We are a state of regions, but we govern as if we’re some sort of unitary structure that we can’t change because the people of 1864 thought it was genius to have everything concentrated at the state level,” he said.

While he agreed with Thomas' assertion, he disagreed with his solution. Instead, Damore said the state needs to adopt an approach similar to the separation of powers between the federal government and states.

“I think there is a solution to that and it’s just simply to allow the regions to have much greater autonomy over what happens in their spaces,” he said.

For Lang, Nevada's division into three parts is actually much better than some states, which have a lot more regional areas. He estimates North Carolina has seven separate regions. 

He noted that states, like Tennessee, have formalized those divisions as a way to address regional divisions.

“Every other state has managed to balance regional interests. I don’t know why we can’t do it,” he said.

The idea of giving more autonomy to regions and local governments is called home rule, and it is something that has been discussed but never really materialized in the state.

Damore said the time has come to discuss home rule in Nevada.

“This whole absurd notion of one Nevada when it’s a clearly regionalized state – different economies, different demographies, all these differences here, but we want to pretend that it’s one thing and it should be governed as such,” he said.

Besides the regionalized nature of the state, Damore also criticized the state's part-time Legislature, which meets every two years for only 120 days.

That structure means local governments have to wait two years to change policies that directly impact them. Damore said that is an "absurd" way to rule a state that is growing in population and economic power.

Lang agreed.

“Rather than walking away from each other, joining other states, creating separate states, whatever the proposals may be, a smarter strategy here is to acknowledge that there is not one Nevada,” he said.

Lang believes the whole "One Nevada" idea should be abandoned without question. 

Instead, he wants the state to acknowledge it's different regions and resource them to compete with other western regions. 

David Damore, UNLV political science professor, author; Robert Lang, UNLV public policy professor, author

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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.