North and south—hold the north
Sure, it was called the state convention for the Democratic Party, but where were the folks from northern Nevada?
The signs on the walls last weekend at Bally’s in Las Vegas all said the gathering was the Nevada State Democratic Party Convention. But, except for the signs, it looked an awful lot like a meeting of southern Nevada Democrats.
A look around the convention ballroom revealed a grand total of zero signs for Democratic candidates from northern Nevada. A late-morning introduction session for all the local candidates featured some 50 Democrats at the microphone, and not one of them was from the north.
And the scheduled speakers were an almost exclusively southern bunch, too. The only candidate who makes his or her home north of Tonopah to speak was Reno’s Tierney Cahill, the likable but longshot candidate who was taking on District 2 Rep. Jim Gibbons for the second straight election. (Two non-candidates from the North also spoke: Reno resident and outgoing Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, and Washoe County party chairman Chris Wicker.)
And get this: Cahill was treated so poorly at the convention, she announced Tuesday that she was dropping out of the race.
In recent memory, the state’s Democrats who make their home outside of the Las Vegas metropolitan area have gotten the shaft in many ways.
A couple of years ago, during the last election cycle, former Washoe County party official Martha Gould spoke out against the state party leaders, saying that they had essentially left the north out to dry.
“It’s difficult to separate the party in the state from the party in Clark County,” she told the RN&R in November 2000. “They don’t have a farm team [up here], and they’re not looking to develop young people.”
Gould said that at one point the state party’s disregard for the Washoe County party got so bad that she and then-County Chairman Shane Piccinini had to pay the rent for the party’s Reno office out of their own pockets.
“It was only after we made a threat of closing the office that they got us the money,” she said.
Well, the party says it’s making a renewed effort in the north. During the convention, Wicker told the assembled party faithful that 300 people were present at a recent dinner honoring Del Papa and Nevada AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson in Reno. Also, Pam Egan, the new executive director of the party, has promised to reach out more to Democrats in the rest of the state.
“We’re in a strong rebuilding mode,” Wicker said, reminding the audience that the party organization needs help in the smaller counties.
One positive sign for the North is that one of the most oft-mentioned state Senate battles during the convention was the one over the seat held by Maurice Washington, D-Sparks. Joe Carter has emerged as a potentially strong opponent to take on Washington, a conservative Republican.
But that begs the question: If the party’s prospects are improving in Washoe County, where were all the candidates at the convention?
Cahill, the Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School teacher who stunned many by gaining 30 percent of the vote against Gibbons in 2000 despite a bank account of only $7,000, speculated that many of the candidates, such as Carter, did not make the trip to Vegas—to preach to the converted—because their time and money were better spent up north.
“You have to think of the demographics of the [predominantly Republican] north,” Cahill said during a lunch break at the convention. “Maybe they’re more worried about spending funds on getting out the vote with signs and walking. … I don’t see why [someone like Democratic Assembly-woman] Sheila Leslie would have to come down here.”
When all was said and done, Cahill herself wondered why she’d come.
Strengthening its base in Washoe County, of course, may be the least of the Democratic Party’s problems, the most glaring of which is that it has no candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state or treasurer—and only two or three long-shot candidates for governor.
Democrats hoped they’d get an early surprise from Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, the only person who poses even a remote threat to Gov. Kenny Guinn at this point. He opened the convention with a speech that almost every Democrat hoped would be an announcement. It wasn’t. Instead, Goodman primarily railed against the Republicans for lying to Nevadans regarding Yucca Mountain and told the audience that more Democrats needed to step forward to run for office.
“We [Democrats] need more candidates out there,” he said. “We have to debate the issues. A Democrat can win any office in this state. All a Democrat has to do is run for it.”
That’s ironic, considering that Goodman has thus far declined to be “out there.”
The Democrats also seemed to be fielding contradictory messages, with some speakers pumping up the Democrats as the party of the working man, the party of inclusion, but then excluding long-shot candidates who have stepped up to run.
Cahill and gubernatorial candidate Matthew Dushoff, a deputy attorney general and criminal prosecutor, both felt the brunt of this exclusion. Both are intelligent 30-somethings who are single parents. Both know the issues and seem willing to work hard for change. If you were looking for two good examples of young Democrats, you couldn’t find a better pair than Cahill and Dushoff.
Yet, in some ways, they were treated like the bastard stepchildren of the convention. They were both given “featured speaker” status, but that was where the party support ended.
Dushoff and Cahill were given the two speaking slots just before the lunch break. Of course, these conventions always run long, and this one was no exception. So only the few die-hards ignored their grumbling stomachs to listen to Dushoff, whose speech started at 12:32 p.m., and Cahill, whose speech started at 12:57 p.m. While other statewide candidates, including congressional candidate Dario Herrera and incumbent Rep. Shelley Berkley, had theme music and high-powered officials introducing them, Cahill and Dushoff did not.
This treatment irked Cahill.
“It really bothers me that it’s not an equal playing field,” she said. “If we’re going to be team players here, let’s play fair, or at least in appearances.”
Yet that did not happen. A very telling example of this hypocrisy: The day ended with Sen. Harry Reid introducing Berkley. He called up all the candidates for office to stand behind her as a show of solidarity. After her speech, Berkley closed by turning her attention to grabbing the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We need six votes!” she said. “We are six votes away from the majority. Hopefully, Dario Herrera can be one of those votes.”
Then, because she “always puts [her] money where her mouth is,” she turned around to hand Herrera a check.
Meanwhile, Cahill—a Democrat who, at least in theory, could provide another of those six Democratic votes—stood three bodies away from Berkley, unmentioned and unfunded.
By Tuesday, Cahill decided she’d had enough.
“It’s very clear they’re not supportive of me,” she said. “I guess [Gibbons] will just run unopposed.”
It just showed how far Washoe County Democrats, and Democrats from around the state, for that matter, still have to come.