Tim Burke: Rural Nevada lacks representation in Legislature

Last week we discussed how the rural areas of the United States are feeling unrepresented in their respective state governments and how they are pushing to form their own states.

Since last week’s article, several more areas in California have voted to not follow that state’s liberal sanctuary laws pushed on them from the capital in Sacramento.

The lack of representation can be traced back to the Supreme Court rulings of 1962 and 1964 that changed how states apportioned their elected representatives to state governments.

In Nevada, we followed a system modeled after the U.S. Congress until 1965. Each county had one senator and the rural counties controlled the Senate. The first election after the judicial intervention and newly-adopted apportionment law was 1966 and its subsequent Legislature consisted of 40 members from the Assembly and 20 members from the Senate.

Nine incumbent senators from 1965 were not present in the Legislature in 1967. In the 1981 Legislative Session, the size of the Senate was increased to 21 because of the population growth in Clark County. Following the 2008 election, Democrats took control of the Nevada Senate for the first time since 1991.

The rural counties in Nevada are now represented by only three senators from Districts 14, 17, and 19. Washoe (the Reno area) has four senators. Southern Nevada (Clark County) controls the remaining 14 Senate positions. For the rural counties, the lack of representation will continue to be an issue.

Every 10 years, following the Federal Census, the Nevada State Legislature is responsible for reapportioning and redistricting the districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Nevada State Senate, the Nevada State Assembly, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, and the State Board of Education. The districts will be reapportioned again in 2021 after the 2020 census.

Faced with a lack of representation and the growing divide between rural conservatism and urban liberalism, the one savior for the rural counties has been the governor’s office. The last three governors were from the Republican party but there is a strong possibility of a Democratic governor being elected this year. That means all three branches of our state government could be controlled by the Democrats for the 2019 Legislative Session in Nevada.

Faced with this lack of representation Nevada’s rural counties may take a hard look at the new state movement. But can the rural counties afford to be their own state? There is no major industry in rural Nevada. Consequently, there is no major tax base to pay for services like fire, police, ambulance, schools, roads, and rural health.

A financial study was done for the proposed “State of Jefferson.”

That study concluded that the new state would be viable without cutting services, but it would be a much larger state with a much greater population than rural Nevada. Another proposal splits California into six smaller states.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office analyzed the proposal and found that there was a large disparity of per-person income between the proposed urban states and the rural states.

For example, the state that would encompass Silicon Valley would average almost $30,000 more per person per year than the state from the central agricultural region. This is the scenario that Nevada’s rural areas would more likely fall into.

The trade-off for Nevada’s rural areas like Nye County is that we would have better representation in a new state government but probably could not afford even basic services without a sizeable increase in taxes.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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