Somebody to love

Here's “Kaya,” a song by another legendary Bob, who—unlike Mayor Bob—was not an original investor in this newspaper:

Just when progressives were looking forward to the end of the era of Reno Mayor Bob Cashell’s good-old-boy elected endeavors, the mayor made a sharp turn towards the left this month, coming out publicly in support of marriage equality and access to medical marijuana.

Since both of these policy changes will no doubt bring economic benefits to the city of Reno, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. But the mayor’s about face seems to have to do more with his humanity than any pro-business sentiment.

Like many politicians, but especially like Republicans on these two issues, the mayor’s change of heart can be traced to his personal experience, since he has a gay relative and a family member who has used marijuana to treat a serious medical condition.

Nevertheless, the mayor has a long history of supporting human rights. It’s worth remembering that he was the political force behind completing the homeless shelter, actively lobbying the Legislature for matching funds. He also supported the creation of the Triage Center, a place where law enforcement can take people who are suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse, rather than dumping them at the jail.

Newer Nevada transplants may not realize that Cashell wasn’t always a Republican. He changed party registration in 1983, less than a year after being elected lieutenant governor as a Democrat, when he felt the party was becoming too anti-business and too liberal. He wasn’t alone in switching parties during the wave of President Reagan’s popularity, but he has since mentioned to some, including me, that it’s a decision he perhaps made in haste.

After being courted at various times to run for governor, Cashell decided to set his sights on becoming mayor of the Biggest Little City, a position he has held now since 2002.

He is often credited with bringing civility back to the City Council, actively recruiting and supporting candidates who were committed to working together on the city’s problems. All too often, however, that translated into something of a “group think” process lacking rigorous review. Poor financial decisions were made, benefiting the private sector while leaving the citizens hundreds of millions of dollars in debt with many thinking there’s not much to show for it.

But still, it’s hard to dislike Mayor Bob.

He’s frequently seen around town, attending charity events, political activities of both parties, and at St. Mary’s health center, where he seems to spend more time talking than working out. He’s very approachable and people like to give him their views on city matters wherever he goes. He seems to thrive on the attention his booming Texas drawl attracts.

Cashell is also prone to the grand gesture, once crawling into my legislative office, literally on his knees, to beg forgiveness for incredibly rude and hostile behavior by one of “his” City Council members. Like most politicians, though, he has a thin skin and doesn’t forget a slight or someone who double-crosses him. He can be as petulant as the next guy, with a quick temper to match.

The mayor’s legacy is certainly enhanced by his public and sincere statements of support for access to medical marijuana and marriage equality, delivered in the direct and plain language Nevada voters prefer. And there’s no telling how many others he will sway, as one of Reno’s most popular opinion leaders.

He is eminently quotable, explaining his views on marijuana to the Reno Gazette-Journal by declaring: “I’m for medical marijuana. “I’m not for smoking pot out on the street and all that crap.”

And he boiled down the marriage equality debate to its essence when he told reporters, “For somebody who has been married 49 years, I can’t imagine someone telling me I couldn’t marry the person I love.”