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Dennis Myers: A playful tale of Nevada voters and politics

Last week, Nevada historian Alicia Barber posted an article on the KUNR website about the Reno cribs, the remains of a longtime cathouse just east of downtown Reno that eventually evolved into just a row of small rooms for rent in an elongated brick building a few hundred yards across the river from the Reno Police Department.

In the 1970s, a friend of mine had an experience that became one of my favorite Nevada political stories. I went through Army basic training with another Nevadan named Steve Coulter. When we returned home he ran for the Legislature. He was a Washoe Democrat, elected in 1974 and serving until 1982.

During his campaigns he tried to walk door to door to talk to every voter, using lists of registered voters. It was easier than in some Assembly districts. District 27 was in the center of Reno and very compact. Midway through his first campaign one day, he was walking downtown and one street seemed to come to an end while the list of registered voters kept going.

“I kept walking around and it kept ending,” he told me. “I walked about trying to pick up the rest of it.”

He got excited, thinking he had stumbled on a scandal of phantom voters, particularly because all the addresses had Republicans registered there. Well, that didn’t pan out. He eventually found the missing addresses were the cribs, perched over the river and not really on a street. It also turned out that none of the names on the voter lists still lived there – not a surprise, given the turnover in residents at what was essentially a tenement.

So he didn’t get a scandal but he got a bit of a mystery. If there was a rooming house that was out of the flow of things in Nevada, with residents who had little stake in the community and even less incentive to vote, this was it. Why in the world had everyone in that building at some point even gotten registered?

Years later, he ran into a former state legislator, Republican Mary Frazzini, at a political dinner. At some point during the evening, he told her his story about the cribs and she told him she was responsible. Once when she was running for office, she took a deputy voter registrar down to the cribs and registered everyone she found. They had a good laugh over it.

Of course, the only reason Steve finally found the answer was that those were the days when Republicans and Democrats still talked, still socialized, still worked together and were still useful to the public. Nothing like now.

Readers can find Alicia’s article and a photo of the cribs at bit.ly/2DGlUD7

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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