Nevada is a state of contradictions

In the days following the 2008 presidential election, I was so thoroughly elated that Barack Obama had won the state of Nevada I wanted to remember the moment forever. I scoured newspaper reports on the election for graphic evidence that my home state had gone blue, but when I found them, I was quickly brought back to reality.

Although Washoe and Clark Counties are able to dominate the outcome of a statewide election with their disproportionately large populations, the remainder of the “blue state” state is unmistakably colored red.

This fact weighs heavily on what it means to be a liberal in Nevada. Nevada liberals may never be on the same level as our marijuana-decriminalizing neighbors in California or even our gay-marriage-allowing counterparts in New York. We come from a different place, where few bother to bat an eye at rampant gambling and prostitution, and many would sooner die than enforce stricter gun control laws.

Nevada’s political climate cannot help but be shaped by the unique culture that exists here. Large amounts of rural land very much steeped in the Old West, Native American tribal lands and reservations, and two of the most well-known hubs for showgirls and penny slots in the nation—how could the Nevada zeitgeist not be wholly unusual?

Considering its history and its image, it makes sense that this state is not always an easy place to be a liberal.

In 2007, I walked with the Democratic Party in the Nevada Day parade in Carson City. The liberal turnout was feeble at best. While the conservative groups—there were more than one, way more than one—marched triumphantly down the street amid a sea of cheers, I felt out of place and unwelcome with my handmade signs and buttons as elderly gentlemen holding American flags scowled at me.

At an anti-war peace protest at Reno City Hall a number of years ago, some passers-by even shouted at me, “Go back to your country!”

And, while I’d like to say that liberal-conservative relations in Nevada have probably improved since then, I have also seen evidence to the contrary. However, I would also say that struggling to espouse your liberalism in an often-unwelcoming environment is part of the excitement. What good is a political debate in which there is no real conflict? The dichotomy of Nevada—the liberal-leaning metropolitan areas contrasted against the small town conservative values of rural areas—is at the core of Nevada politics.

In Nevada, the battle has not already been won. In Nevada, we are not preaching to the choir. In Nevada, the tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans is alive and well, which makes each election, each debate and each piece of legislation all the more unpredictable and significant.

Last week, I rooted for Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall during the special election to fill Dean Heller’s vacant seat in Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, despite the fact that the district has never elected a Democrat. And that isn’t even a hyperbole— a Republican candidate has won every election since the district was created in 1983.

But these are the sacrifices one sometimes has to make as a Democrat in Nevada—heading into the voting booth hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

It’s an uphill battle. But Nevada liberals have to be up for the challenge. And I believe we are. We’ve been toughened by the harshness of the Nevada desert, and if we can handle maneuvering downtown Reno for an evening stroll, we can handle any manner of political discourse that can be thrown at us.