Despite the hard-to-explain presence of the current occupant of the White House, I’m still not convinced anyone can grow up to be president.
But I do believe anyone with enough supporters to fill a high school gymnasium can compete for a seat in local government in burgeoning Southern Nevada. Despite tremendous growth and changing demographics, politically speaking Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and especially Boulder City still have a small-town feel.
And the town is changing. More than one town, actually.
For proof look no further than “clean, green” Boulder City, where a loose collection of like-minded slow-growthers called the Boulder City Alliance on Tuesday helped bounce from office well-known and well-funded Mayor Rod Woodbury and City Councilwoman Peggy Leavitt. During the campaign, members of the Alliance were chided as “cavemen” by some of Woodbury’s friends.
Despite enjoying the fruits of incumbency, a well-known family name, the support of developers, conservatives, members of the LDS Church, and even help from some Democrats, Woodbury still lost by nearly 10 percentage points to Councilman Kiernan McManus. Woodbury repeatedly attempted to blend his own track record with the more substantive and better-recognized successes of his father, retired County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury. Alas, the apple rolled quite a distance from the tree.
Woodbury the younger even had allies try to link him with the hyper-partisan policies of President Trump. Nothing seemed to work. With only 4,658 votes cast, and some controversial questions on the city ballot, he courted the trouble he received on Election Day.
Of the four ballot questions placed before voters, two were particularly problematic nonstarters. One called for $5 million in capital funds to start improvements to the community’s nearly 40-year-old public pool. Another called for approval of the issuance of $40 million in bonds to fund construction of a new aquatic center.
That’s right: A $45 million aquatic center in a town of about 16,000, all of whom already had access to a municipal plunge and many of whom even had their own pools.
Why bother with the politics of a seemingly idyllic small town?
Because small towns are big business. Boulder City’s estimated budget for fiscal year 2020 is $35.4 million. That includes a $2 million increase and an assortment of new hires. The city’s government grows more complex each year.
Successful ballot questions a few years ago called for $20 million in draw downs from the community’s Capital Improvement Fund (CIF) to finance utility infrastructure improvements. Solar field revenues largely fill Boulder City’s CIF pot. For some reason, it made more than a few locals suspicious that their small-town feel was about to be replaced by the sense they’d become a Las Vegas bedroom community. With solar leases, a longtime federal government footprint and constant pressure to grow, there’s no shortage of areas deserving public scrutiny.
Some Boulder City residents started scrutinizing Woodbury more closely when the attorney in 2016 stipulated to a non-willful state ethics violation after voting to award $200,000 in city contracts to a legal client without consistently disclosing the relationship. He downplayed the misstep and kept moving with the full backing of the city’s establishment and a bevy of political players. Many were colleagues and admirers of his father.
As the days passed and it became ever more clear that his mayor’s seat was in jeopardy, the political missives grew decidedly more partisan in the nonpartisan race. A widely circulated mailer from the Republican Nevada Action PAC called McManus an unrepentant “Democratic Party activist who was a local leader in the Hillary Clinton campaign.”
Meanwhile, “Rod Woodbury is a Republican-Trump supporter who is opposed to any tax increases, opposed to a sanctuary city, opposed to gun control, opposed to ‘transgender males in girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, as well as the rest of the Democrats’ platform, which McManus has embraced.”
That message was complicated by another pro-Woodbury mailer, this one from a group calling itself “Democrats for Woodbury.” Topping the list of endorsers was popular former Gov. and U.S. Senator Richard Bryan. He was accompanied by an esteemed collection of current and former county commissioners, council members, political insiders and even a former AFL-CIO leader. Pro-Trump or staunch Democrat, Woodbury had no shortage of help in paddling his boat to victory.
Instead, he sunk like a stone. A guy named McManus will be the town’s next mayor.
If you’re still among those who believe your ballots don’t count, you couldn’t be more wrong. When it comes to local government, your ballot actually counts more.
Especially in Boulder City.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith