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The state at 150: A preemptive strike

2014 isn’t just an election year. It will also mark 150 years since Nevada became a state.

“When the clock strikes on our 150th anniversary,” Gov. Brian Sandoval says in a sesquicentennial message, “Nevada will be Nevada again.”

What does that even mean?

Nothing, most likely. Sandoval’s assorted utterances often as not are deliberate studies in hazy pointlessness.

Northern Nevadans, like Sandoval, seem much more invested in the anniversary of statehood than southern Nevadans, and observance of the sesquicentennial promises to be mostly a northern Nevada affair. Yet three-fourths of the state’s population is in Southern Nevada.

Maybe the governor of Reno pines for Nevada to “be Nevada again” because he’s nagged by a gubernatorial conviction that Nevada has too much Southern Nevada in it, and thus Nevada is somehow failing to truly be Nevada, the real Nevada, now.

If “Nevada will be Nevada again,” as per Sandoval’s sesquicentennial prophecy, then … what? Will Nevada revert to a frontier peopled by a smattering of sheepherders, a handful of would-be cattle barons, inhabitants of mining man camps/future ghost towns and a governor whose responsibilities consist mostly of doing whatever the richest interests in the state tell him to do?

Maybe Nevada is already Nevada more than Sandoval thinks.

Meantime, virtually every gathering, festival and picnic in the state will be billed as a sesquicentennial event, and Sandoval will attend dozens of them. Did I mention next year is also an election year? Whenever some hamlet in the sticks has a parade, Sandoval will be there. Every time cheesy crafts masquerading as art are sold out of tents in a park, Sandoval will be there. Mrs. Ferguson’s fourth grade class is performing a play about Mark Twain’s visit to Virginia City? Sandoval will be there, nodding, smiling and, asked to say a few words, marveling at how very exciting Nevada’s 150th anniversary is and goshdarnit “Nevada will be Nevada again.”

All of this raises the important sesquicentennial question: Won’t someone think of the children?

A few weeks ago, a confluence of events, surreal, in retrospect, resulted in my attendance at an actual sesquicentennial event at the old Mormon fort north of downtown. A group of schoolchildren were there, forced to sit and be talked at by Sandoval, who told everybody how to say sesquicentennial and then might have said something about pioneers and their mules going through Nevada to get somewhere else in the oldy timey days. Or, then again, maybe not because really when he speaks he’s unlistenable.

The kids also got talked at by some guy named Brian Krolicki, who apparently has some meaningless government job, and a host of other people. There was much talking – certainly more talking than could hold my attention. And then the poor children had to sing the official state song, which shockingly is not Viva Las Vegas but some drivel about sagebrush and ungulates and that river that runs through Reno. (Like the sesquicentennial, the state song is, you know, a northern Nevada thing.)

True, most children welcome any field trip at all if gets them out of class, but does that hold if the field trip demands enduring prepared remarks from Brian Sandoval?

The best outcome of the sesquicentennial might be that all that public speaking will finally make Sandoval a better public speaker. The droning and awkward delivery that has characterized Sandoval’s statewide addresses as well as the speech he totally bombed at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Yeah, those presentation skills are featured on the aforementioned sesquicentennial video, too.

Sandoval is not the only Nevada Republican on the ballot next year who has a video on the internet. Remember Jim Wheeler, that legislator from the sticks who said he’d vote for slavery if his hick voters wanted him to? He recorded a video, too. Wheeler noodles about his horrible enemies and the evil press and mostly his argument seems to be that everyone should know better than to pay attention to anything that Wheeler says. Fair enough.

But the indisputable takeaway and most striking part of Wheeler’s video is that he is much better, like orders of magnitude better, on camera than Sandoval. To be fair, although he styles himself a backcountry cowboy and simple good ol’ boy, Wheeler was born and raised in Los Angeles, and maybe picked up some telegenic charm by osmosis or whatever. Poor Sandoval was born way up on the other end of California, in Redding.

But back to the sesquicentennial. Even though it’s mostly a Reno/rural thing, we should all come together and get the state a nice present for its 150th birthday. One suggestion: A tax on business.

At 150, Nevada has reached the age where it must take on new responsibilities. It’s time to leave behind childhood partners like Wyoming and South Dakota, and instead associate with the other 47 states that already have a business tax. And a business tax is a particularly practical gift for the people who make up official Nevada – legislators, industry leaders and lobbyists, the governor of Reno – because it’s clearly the sort of thing they would never get for themselves.

HUGH JACKSON’S column runs every other week.