One woman band

Patty Cafferata

Photo By David Robert

Patty Cafferata has served as a member of the Nevada Legislature, state treasurer, district attorney three times in three different counties, and was the Republican nominee for governor in 1986. She became an attorney in 1990. While representing the National Trust for Historic Preservation, she sued to try to stop the demolition of the Mapes Hotel, and she’s author of a book on the hotel. Cafferata has also published books on the Lake mansion and the Goldfield Hotel, helped her mother (former U.S. Rep. Barbara Vucanovich) with her autobiography, and is now researching a book on Piper’s Opera House. Somewhere in all that she also raised a family. Cafferata was appointed last month to be executive director of the Nevada Ethics Commission.

Looking at your job history, do you have a short attention span or have trouble holding a job?

[Laughs] But you know, they’re all sort of related to Nevada history and politics. I mean, every single thing that I have done in my adult life is related to one of those things, so they may be different interests, but they’re still the same underlying theme. When I ran for office, my youngest was 16, I think. When I got elected to the legislature … my kids were going off to college. So I was looking for something—I don’t want to say something to do, because I was always involved in politics, I grew up in a political family … I ran for governor, not too successfully, and then I had a chance to go to law school. Women didn’t become lawyers when I was growing up so it was an opportunity for me. And when I had been in the Assembly, I noticed that it didn’t matter how much research I did or how hard I worked, all the lawyers there always knew more about public policy and procedure than I did.

Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?

Oh, please, that’s like picking one of your children. … They’re all my favorites in different ways. My mother’s book is certainly a major contribution to Nevada history. The era that she was involved from the 1950s to 2000—I mean, she’s still involved—and certainly it was a view of campaigning and politics and the politicians here, so my little books on Nevada history don’t compare to that at all.

When you started writing books on history, and you were doing your own research, did anything surprise you?

Oh, absolutely, and I think that’s the biggest shock about doing Nevada historical research. You read something, and you think it’s true because it’s in print. You know, it was written in the 1800s … you find out that it’s not even close to being true. I’ve been caught up in that a couple times myself. It’s been embarrassing [Laughs]. You have to put the erratum in the back of the book. You have other people read it that are knowledgeable about Nevada history, and I’ve had family members read it and say, “Oh, this is OK.” And then it’s in print, they say, “Well, you know, there’s a little problem.” So that’s always a challenge. My latest book that I’ve been working on is the Piper’s Opera House and anything you’ve ever heard about it, it isn’t true.