Every journey starts with a single step

When I moved to Reno in 1977, I cried.

My parents made the transition from California during the boom years in the mid-’70s when nurses were desperately needed, and salaries were doubled as an incentive. After finishing college at Sonoma State, I had no money, no job, and moved temporarily to Reno to regroup. I went to the University of Nevada, Reno to check out graduate school opportunities and was immediately offered a summer job in Mexico, teaching Spanish to American college students, and then a graduate assistantship.

So why the tears? After growing up in Monterey Bay and attending one of the most liberal state colleges in California, I found Reno to be, well, backward. Conservative. Provincial. I hated the cold weather in the winter and the emphasis on beer, hunting and slot machines. There were few Democrats and even fewer liberals. I felt like the classic outsider.

In 1977, the university cared about one thing: football. The library was poorly stocked, and I had to order all my research materials from out-of-state libraries. When I refused to give a football player a passing grade in Spanish due to poor attendance and even worse performance, an assistant coach visited me with the promise of season football tickets for a better grade. I vowed to put in my two years, get my master’s, and be gone.

Upon graduation in 1979, I did leave. I joined the Peace Corps, serving as a nutritionist in a center for malnourished children in the Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border. When I returned to Reno once again with no money and no job, I was a changed and chastened person after battling real poverty and living in conditions much of the world continues to endure today.

Frustrated at trying to create change in a foreign country where children surviving past the age of 2 were celebrated for beating the odds, I decided to get to work changing Reno, serving as the first director of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. I went on to more challenging positions, as director of the Children’s Cabinet in its early developmental years, and then spent 14 years in the Nevada Legislature fighting for progressive policies in a state that seemed to value low taxes over everything else, even its children.

But over these past decades I’ve grown to love Nevada and its libertarian tradition of “bootstraps” and self-reliance. I’ve also appreciated the decided political shift as progressives came out of hiding and started taking a higher profile in politics and community leadership. And I’m suspicious but happy about the even more dramatic shift in the last campaign cycle as many elected Republicans suddenly discovered new views on education and equal rights, and are at least pretending they’re willing to consider abandoning the Grover Norquist brand of anti-tax, anti-government philosophy.

It’s been 35 years since I moved to my adopted hometown. I raised a daughter here who had mostly wonderful teachers in the public school system, and is now in graduate school herself, studying public policy at Georgetown. But if she’s to return to Reno to raise her own family, we must have more economic, intellectual and cultural opportunities. Otherwise, she and others in her generation will settle elsewhere, taking their social and intellectual capital with them.

I continue to feel a personal responsibility to create progressive change in Reno, and I welcome the opportunity to offer weekly political commentary towards that goal. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.