The year in review

A look back at the stories in local media that defined the year 2003

The Columbia space shuttle exploded on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all aboard.

The Columbia space shuttle exploded on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all aboard.

Courtesy Of NASA

It’s a little disconcerting to look back at an entire year’s worth of news, leafing through the electronic archives of the local and national media, news archiving services and at the various Internet news sites to determine the events that changed the world during the last year.

Perform this exercise a couple years in a row, and the realization cynically dawns that the “news” is really in the details—all that changes are the names, home states and dollar amounts. Do you have trouble remembering which missing wife and mother is capturing the nation’s imagination and concern? Do the differences between one corrupt official or CEO and another seem somewhat blurry?

The news this year belonged to one man, U.S. President George W. Bush. Say what you will about the guy, he’s been extremely efficient and successful at getting his agenda put into action—whether it be War in Iraq, undermining those pesky environmental and civil-rights protections or invigorating the national economy with borrowed money. Virtually any change in the national landscape—from airports to hospitals to government communications to pop music—has road signs that point the way back to his administration.

It’s been said that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, but it’s pretty easy to see that it doesn’t matter who remembers the past. It’s going to be repeated, anyway.

Despite fears casinos would cancel New Year’s fireworks displays, Reno citizens began 2003 under the clock at the Cal-Neva. The year began with more security restrictions at the nation’s airports (all baggage being screened for explosives), a change that now seems as natural as kicking off the boots before passing through the metal detectors. The news was bad for Reno-Sparks casinos in 2002, prompting a belated Christmas gift with assessors lowering appraised values of six of the area’s largest casinos. Gov. Kenny Guinn sent a cannonball across the bows of some legislators when he said those who opposed his tax plan might have a tough time getting reelected. Bush gave his annual State of the Union address. Remember the phrase: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” A 21-year-old disturber of the peace was killed by police as he fled the Sparks Municipal Court. Longtime Reno Gazette-Journal writer/editor and RN&R contributor Guy Richardson died, as did Travis Linn, a fixture at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism, where he taught broadcast journalism, served as interim dean more than once and helped design the new j-school building.

The nation mourned after the space shuttle Columbia exploded and killed seven astronauts. The 72nd Nevada Legislature began; abandon all hope, ye who entered here. Peace rallies against a possible war in Iraq. Owners of the Chophouse restaurant in Reno made a pro-war stand by dumping out bottles of French wine. Jane Long was fired as dean of Mackay School of Mines at the University of Nevada, Reno after voicing her opposition to the president’s reorganization plan. More than 100 people died in two separate nightclub fires. Seventeen-year-old Jesica Santillan got the wrong heart and lungs in the Duke University hospital. Marvin, a Jack Russell terrier from Reno, won the American Fido contest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Here came the Mormon crickets. The state gas prices hit a new record with an average of $1.97. Reno celebrated its 100th year as an incorporated city on March 16. The war in Iraq began. Back at the Nevada Legislature, the battle over taxes started in earnest. An anti-war rally at the Virginia Street Federal Building was cut short by a pro-war rally which had been scheduled for West Street Plaza. Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted by a homeless preacher in Utah, was found and returned to her parents. Second Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney became Nevada’s first casualty in the Gulf War.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won the position of California governor when voters ousted Gray Davis on Oct. 7, 2003.

In the interest of moving along with spending bills, the Nevada Legislature voted to table the governor’s tax plan. Karen Craig, co-founder and executive director of Artown, resigned. Lawmakers decimated the state’s “rainy day” fund to pay for state services. A convoluted deal that transpired between the city of Reno, the Old Reno Casino and Harvey Whittemore to possibly build a casino on the southeast corner of McCarran Boulevard and South Virginia Street sent the owners of the Atlantis Casino Resort into apoplexy (and court). An outbreak of the Norwalk virus, a stomach illness, made the national news when it hit volleyball tournament participants in Reno. Washoe County had its first possible case of SARS.

Bush made his “Mission Accomplished” speech. Budget cuts caused layoffs at the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority. We got ready for rush hour; more than $270 million worth of major road and highway projects are planned for the summer. Two months after canceling “Madama Butterfly,” the Nevada Opera laid off three of four full-time employees. The owners of the Peppermill Hotel-Casino planned to build a $55 million casino and entertainment center on the northeast corner of Longley Lane and South Virginia Street. As part of a defense against the lawsuit brought by Atlantis owners, the city of Reno claimed the Old Reno Casino would be torn down by the end of the year to make way for the train trench project. The Nevada Museum of Art opened to the public. Renowned photographer Don Dondero died.

A bill that would allow funding for a minor league baseball stadium next to the Sparks Marina Park passed. Nevada lawmakers began a special session, after they failed to pass tax and spending measures. Burning Man organizers sued to get a special use permit for a staging area near the Black Rock Desert playa. Thunder Valley Casino, near Auburn, Calif., opened. Reno officials expressed mixed opinions about its impact on northern Nevada. U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas anti-sodomy laws. The latest installment in a famous children’s book series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released. UNR reorganization plan approved by the Board of Regents. Mormon crickets attacked. Second special session of the Nevada Legislature convened. Music industry announced plans to sue individual music file sharers.

Northern Nevada’s annual nod to non-casino culture, Artown, begins. The Nevada Supreme Court ordered the state legislature back to work, lifting the constitutional provision that allowed Republicans to block a tax plan and public education funding since February. Gov. Kenny Guinn signed a $836 million tax bill on July 22. Hottest July on record. Another northern Nevada son, Army Capt. Josh Byers, died in Iraq. Uday and Qusay Hussein killed in Iraq. Eagle County, Colorado, authorities charged Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant with sexual assault.

In the momentary respite between Artown and festival season in the Truckee Meadows, Artown officials announced 140,000 people attended events. Hot August Nights took over the streets—dozens said to be intoxicated. Work began on the white-water rafting course on the Truckee River downtown. California governor recall began to heat up. There was a massive power blackout Back East, but northern Nevada’s power grid proved inviolate. After more than a week of hard-core art appreciation at Burning Man, the RG-J’s headline required little commentary: Festival’s final day becomes a time of purging for many.

Nevada’s energy prices continued upward trend. The Great Reno Balloon Races returned. So did Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, kept in fine company by Reno National Championship Air Races and Street Vibrations. In comparison to the month-long Artown event, the September events expected to draw more than 750,000 local residents and visitors. Then, the numbers were in: Hot August Nights injected $132.5 million into the Northern Nevada economy during its weeklong run. Washoe District Judge Steven Kosach opened the way for popular conservative radio host Rusty Humphries to pursue a new job. Barflies raised a toast when the new .08 blood-alcohol limits went into affect.

Do-not-call list went into affect. No, it didn’t. No, it was on. Sparks Mayor Tony Armstrong posted God Bless America signs around City Hall. Sundowner Casino announced plans to close on Dec. 1. The FBI looked into complaints of improper lobbying practices during the 2003 legislative session. How did it feel to say, “Governor-elect Schwarzenegger"? Roy Horn of the duo Siegfried and Roy mauled by a Royal White tiger while on stage. Countess Angela Dandini, benefactor to Nevada community colleges, died at 88.

First big storm of the year boded well for the Sierra snowpack and ski resorts. Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and members of the new council dream team won backslaps after a year in office. Sundowner closed ahead of schedule on Nov. 10, employees screwed. U.S. Senator Harry Reid filibustered to protest Republican partisanship stalling bills. Yes, it’s presumed he got the irony. Schwarzennegger took office amid a quiet fanfare. King of Pop Michael Jackson was booked on suspicion of child molestation. The memorial to murder victim Krystal Steadman was removed by the state of Nevada from Highway 50 between Carson City and Lake Tahoe. The Tamarack Junction Casino and Restaurant on South Virginia Street asked the Reno City Council to allow it to triple in size.

Chris Tormey got the ax as UNR’s football coach. Athletic Director and legendary coach Chris Ault took the job. Sierra Pacific looked for a nearly 10 percent rate hike. Assistant state Archivist Guy Rocha made the national news for suggesting George W. Bush learn the correct pronunciation of Nevada’s name. Saddam Hussein, former dictator, captured in Iraq. Eldorado’s quarterly net profit tumbled 63 percent from a year ago. Secretary of State Dean Heller chose voting machines which will leave a paper trail. The good news: Nevada halted import of Washington beef; the bad news: too late, the diseased cow parts were already here. Casinos said fireworks downtown to celebrate New Years may be at risk. Mayor Cashell and the city council vote to contribute $10,000 to the party.

The year in News & Review
A year on the RN&R’s news desk