I’d heard the stories of politics in Pahrump but I got to see it for myself for the first time Tuesday night.
What a show.
I walked in late to a series of political debates held at the Pahrump Nugget Hotel and Casino to catch the two candidates for Nye County Assessor going back and forth about how the office is run, how it needs to be run and a whole lot of other comments.
The only issue incumbent Shirley Matson and former employee and challenger Sheree Stringer seemed to agree on is the office’s need to stay out of the newspaper. Not getting visited by the FBI might be a good place to start.
Unfortunately, I arrived in Pahrump 11 days ago so I am in the position of not having a lot of information on the candidates. I have what people tell me, but I often hear different stories on the same topic being preached to me as gospel truth. Some of what people have told me is either unverifiable or straight out hearsay.
There’s your truth, their truth and the true story somewhere in the middle.
What was obvious from the debate is the two candidates have no love lost between them.
Looking at the June primary results, it is apparent Matson has an uphill battle if she plans to retain her seat. Stringer captured 43 percent of the vote in the five candidate primary, while Matson finished a distant second with 29 percent. Will the incumbent be able to close such a large gap from voters unwilling to vote for her four months ago?
Coming late to the debate — I had to finish Wednesday’s newspaper — I missed the debates for county clerk and Fifth District Court judge. Walking in the door to the ballroom, I joined approximately 200 people who were attentively watching and listening to the discussions. I was struck by how respectful the crowd was, applauding when their candidate made a point of which they agreed. There didn’t seem to be any interruptions from the crowd. I have been to many debates or candidates forums that turned into less than civil gatherings.
I enjoyed the discussions between the County Commission District 5 candidates, as well as District Attorney Brian Kunzi and challenger Angela Bello.
I was disappointed, and this seems to be a widespread sentiment, that challenger Sharon Wehrly was not there to debate Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall. She said she had a prior commitment so I take her at her word. But this is the race I’ve heard the most about since my arrival and I’m curious about what will be said.
Wehrly, an investigator for the district attorney, took the most votes in the 10-person primary with 23.8 percent, but Marshall was not that far behind 16.3 percent. Unlike the assessor’s race, there appears to be a lot of votes on the table in this race to be had, making the race a toss-up.
Wehrly was scheduled to be at the Veterans of Foreign Wars debate last night, and has committed to some others during the upcoming weeks. I look forward to the discussions.
By the last debate three hours after the forum started, there were still 90 people in the audience. I plan to be in that crowd for all the remaining debates to make up my own mind.
Thursday morning, I made a decision that was a difficult one to make but I feel is in the best interest of our readers and the community of Pahrump. After a discussion with various staff members, publisher and Stephens Media’s legal counsel, I made the decision to shut down the comment section on our website. We issued the following statement on our Facebook page and Twitter:
To our loyal readers,
The newspaper is in the process of reviewing policies and improving security on our website’s comment section due to a recent increase in abusive anonymous commenters.
We plan to bring back the comment section to allow civil discourse on issues important to the community when these issues have been resolved.
The postings on our website are made by less than half of one percent of our readers, but those readers have traditionally been able to have a lively discussion on topics important to the community. Just as we can’t run any letter to the editor in print for various reasons, I will not allow the comment section to be a place to bully, harass or intimidate our readers or staff.
Facebook remains a forum for readers to comment on stories as we have become more active posting. Our initial feedback to this decision posted on Facebook said, “Happy to hear this…” followed by another poster stating, “Me too. Some of the commenters are very mean and rude.”
This is also not a freedom of speech issue. The government affords you the freedom of speech but we are not allowed to print anything we want, just as people are not allowed to incite violence, bully or yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Our website was becoming an online version of a back-alley brawl.
I want to be clear, I’m not shutting it down because of comments made about me. It comes with the job. But I also don’t hide behind some made-up handle or other people’s names.
I put my name on it.
Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind.