Rivalry between north, south mostly fantasy

Years ago, when my column was running in a weekly newspaper, a new editor was hired. She let me know that she wanted me to make some changes. As it happened, the Nevada Legislature was in session, and she said she wanted columns that dealt with north/south rivalry.

I told her that it was kind of an archaic concept, that urban Clark and urban Washoe counties had more in common than at odds. If there was regional cleavage, I said, it was more rural counties versus the two urban counties. I tried to give her columns that touched on regional rivalries, but we soon parted company. My only consolation was that she and the newspaper also parted company.

A decade or so earlier, there had been a real north/south battle. It was at the 1991 Nevada Legislature, and it was called “Fair Share.” Basically, Clark County had been subsidizing the rest of the state. That’s a traditional role of large urban counties, of course.

In most of the nation, small counties receive support from large counties. But in Nevada, Washoe County had abused the notion. That was more or less the way I described the situation and I heard from some angry Washoe County officials. I told them I was satisfied that the accusations were accurate and I wasn’t going to create a false equivalency between the positions of Washoe and Clark.

While there could be some dispute over Clark’s demand that money be paid back by Washoe, there was no doubt that Washoe had been living on ridiculous amounts of Clark taxes.

That was a rare instance — a real north/south battle over a legitimate grievance. Most north/south battles are not so real. They are often invented by reporters.

Last year, some minor issues involved in the special session of the Legislature to ratify the deal bringing a Tesla plant to Storey County were inflated into a north/south fight. It consumed more words in the public prints than it did in actual dialogue at the Legislature, where most Clark legislators I spoke with wanted to do anything they could to help Storey, even voting for corporate welfare about which many of them were skeptical.

Yet we keep inventing north/south rivalries. Recently I read a Las Vegas editorial under the headline “Going south — finally.” It read, in part, “The agenda for the 2015 Legislature is long, important and urgent. And it’s the job of lawmakers to serve all state residents, not just the ones from their districts or their counties. But Southern Nevada’s leaders also have an obligation to right decades of funding wrongs, to restore some semblance of statewide equity and address Clark County’s many acute needs, from underperforming schools dominated by students who can’t speak English to its underfunded college campuses and inadequate mental health system.”

I was reminded of those members of Congress who keep calling for increasing the border patrol, in apparent ignorance that the border patrol has been enlarged many, many, many times already.

“Decades of funding wrongs” between Clark and Washoe have already been righted, including requirements that Washoe subsidize Clark for a few years. Indeed, the same newspaper that ran this editorial ran a news story four years ago under the headline “Northern Nevada’s chokehold on legislative clout goes South.” And that story was a few years late in reporting some developments.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was often Clark County against Washoe and the small counties. Now, Clark and Washoe often find themselves fighting the small counties. The two urban counties have numerous overlapping interests and it’s absurd to think of them as adversaries most of the time.

From street gangs to transportation costs, the urban counties have so much in common that press­-manufactured rivalries are becoming less credible all the time.

Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist.

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