Learning from walking

Successful primary candidates are now regrouping for the long campaign months leading up to Nov. 6. The field is set and strategies change, especially in the races that had large numbers of primary candidates. Many will move toward the middle in their policy pronouncements, hoping to attract cross-over and non-partisan voters without alienating their bases.

But canvassing door to door is still the best way to learn what’s currently on voters’ minds. It’s especially important that candidates for Reno’s mayor and city council listen more than they talk. While walking precincts for state candidates this spring, I got an earful from people who were primarily concerned about Reno’s metamorphosis from an affordable, friendly community to a place where housing is ridiculously expensive, freeways are choked during commuter hours, and the working and retired classes are being shoved aside to make room for the employees of companies lured here by tax incentives.

I heard these complaints consistently throughout my walks in west and southwest Reno, stable communities filled with long-term families who have a lot invested in their city. They aren’t against progress, but they worry about the seniors priced out of their apartments and young families paying exorbitant rents. More than once, people pointed out to me they wouldn’t be able to live in their neighborhood if they were trying to buy their house now, as the price would be far beyond their means.

They aren’t very happy with the Reno City Council right now either. One elderly woman expressed it to me this way: “They aren’t focused on the right things. The beached whale art is nice, but that shouldn’t be the priority when people can’t afford to live here anymore. Why aren’t they doing more to take care of us?” Indeed.

People seem especially mad at the council for approving the huge new development north of Reno. The lack of water and infrastructure stoke a simmering anger. Candidates must engage these voters and listen carefully to their concerns.

Primary voters also lamented their meager knowledge of the candidates for sheriff. Several voters told me they didn’t know where candidate forums were being held or how they could get the information they needed, especially given the volume of flyers in their mailboxes from the high-profile governor’s race. As Nevada gears up for the U.S. Senate feature contest, it’s likely the deluge of mail pieces will only get worse. People get overwhelmed by all the mail that arrives in the last few weeks of the campaign, and a lot of the expensive flyers go straight to the recycle bin.

Voters are already sick of TV commercials and complain bitterly about the negative attack ads with grainy pictures portraying opponents in awkward and unflattering images. And yet, I was questioned often about the substance of such ads, showing they do raise questions that linger. People want candidates to talk about their own policy intentions, but it’s clear they also listen to their opponents’ attacks.

Although national political themes will continue to play an outsize role in this era of polarization fueled by the xenophobic and outrageous actions of President Trump, Nevadans still want to see and talk to their politicians. Knocking on doors is a time-honored tradition here as are numerous public appearances where citizens get to ask their questions and be heard.

I can’t resist a few parting words for Adam Laxalt, though. If he were walking door-to-door, he’d know that no one is worried about Nevada becoming California or cancer warnings on our coffee. And the tiny tax on the big-box stores is hardly impeding Nevada’s booming economy. Better respect our intelligence and start talking about real issues, or you’ll risk alienating large groups of voters well before Election Day.