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Nevada Day Parade to political campaigns: Go away (unless you already won)

Carson City parade organizers want to turn the temperature down this year. Can they afford to?
David Colborne
David Colborne
Nevada Governor's Mansion

Carson City is, like so many of Nevada’s municipalities, a company town.

This, in and of itself, is not particularly unusual. Sparks started as a company town for the Southern Pacific railroad in the early 20th century, then arguably became a company town for the Nugget for a few decades after the railroad stopped servicing steam locomotives there in the 1950s. Elko, meanwhile, is functionally a company town for Nevada Gold. In a few years, Winnemucca will likely transition into a company town for Lithium Americas once the mine at Thacker Pass gets going.

Again, this isn’t particularly unusual. When a single company employs a few thousand people in a town and that town’s population is some modest multiple of that few thousand, the company’s fortunes will rapidly become the town’s own.

This, however, inevitably creates tension between the town and its residents. Yes, the residents enjoy getting paid by their employer, but they also enjoy doing what they prefer with that pay and the free time they enjoy once they get home from work. Sometimes, those preferences aren’t in alignment with the interests of their employer — for instance, when residents want to water their lawn downstream from a mine that isn’t particularly careful about where its wastewater ends up.

Luckily for Carson City, the company that defines the economic, cultural and social life of our state capital isn’t a mismanaged mine. Instead, Carson City’s existence revolves around, well, being our state capital — around serving as the administrative and political center of our state’s government, which, bureaucratically speaking, is the first, second, third, fourth, seventh, eighth and tenth largest employer in the city.

Carson City and its residents benefit some from this arrangement, of course. The State of Nevada is a much more consistent employer than, say, tourism, even if the pay isn’t always as good. Our state government, as an organization, is also unlikely to go out of business or get flipped to some venture capitalist anytime soon. Serving as the capital also gives Carson City a unique identity, one distinct from the nearby semi-agricultural exurbs that now largely serve as bedroom communities for Reno and Sparks.

That’s not, however, to say there aren’t drawbacks. Serving as the political center of our state government puts Carson City’s residents in an awkward spot when they just want to throw a nice event without everything getting all, well, political.

Normally, even in Carson City, this isn’t a major problem. Nevada’s part-time legislature is only a source of drama and political grandstanding for approximately 120 days every two years, plus or minus an additional week or two whenever a special session is called. Carson City is also a known quantity, politically speaking — last year, Aaron Ford became the first Democrat elected by a plurality of Carson City’s voters for statewide office since Ross Miller, Kim Wallin and Catherine Cortez Masto were elected in 2010. Finally, even though Carson City is Nevada’s sixth-largest city, it’s still a fraction of the size of nearby Reno and Sparks, much less the millions of people presently living in Clark County.

In short, if you’re running for office, Carson City usually isn’t worth visiting, much less making a scene in.

Thanks to the magic of social media and its ability to obliterate both geographical distance and uniqueness, however, that’s now less true than it used to be. If people decide to sign a document claiming they’re enrolled in the Electoral College even though their applications were rejected by a majority of Nevada’s voters, well, that’s newsworthy, even if they’re doing it in Carson City instead of a more significant media market. Similarly, if the Republican-leaning parade watchers in town decide to boo a sitting Democratic senator, well, there’s no reason said senator’s now-former opponent can’t make some national news out of that, too.

That, however, is a problem if you’re trying to put together a family friendly parade. 

If people in your community can make the national news by acting like they’re fans in a rivalry game watching the opposing team float by, how much longer will it be before some “fan” decides to do something dumb, or dangerous, or both? How many parents want to bring their young children to an event where adults are getting drunk, screaming obscenities and threatening violence at each other for several hours?

These aren’t theoretical questions — then-Gov. Steve Sisolak had to sit out last year’s parade due to significant security concerns.

Other communities facing these issues have simply banned politicians and political organizations from marching in their parades — which, by the way, is perfectly legal since private organizations, such as the one that organizes the Nevada Day Parade, can’t be compelled to platform speech they don’t approve of. 

Carson City, however, is not like most communities. Politics and politicians are why Carson City isn’t Fernley with prettier mountains. If Carson City’s parade organizers tell politicians to get lost, it’s telling the people elected to run the city’s largest employer to get lost.

Did I mention that most politicians elected to serve in Carson City, like most people in Nevada more generally, come from Clark County? Did I mention that transportation between Southern Nevada and our capital, especially during the sort of inclement weather common while the Legislature is in session between February and May, is frequently unreliable? Did I also mention that, unlike most states, Nevada never invested in grand monumental architecture in its state capital?

Point being, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to move our state capital. If Carson City’s residents and leaders don’t want politicians in their neighborhood anymore, well, maybe one of Clark County’s unincorporated townships might. Perhaps the Legislature could meet in Paradise every two years instead. Like UNLV and every casino on the Strip, they could even claim they convene in Las Vegas (observed), which seems fitting considering when we celebrate Nevada Day each year.

Carson City’s leaders and parade organizers are aware of all of this, of course. They’re not about to put their city out of business. So, instead, the Nevada Day Parade organizers chose to ban political campaigns from this year’s parade. Candidates are still allowed to walk with their political party’s float, but they’re no longer allowed to have their own float, hand out campaign literature or wave signs. Elected officials, it should be noted, can still, ah, continue to represent their offices (and their thousands of local employees).

If you’re wondering if elected officials aren’t, in fact, campaigning while they’re representing their office in the parade — of course they are.

If you’re wondering if this does anything other than protect the incumbents who were elected to control Carson City’s largest employer — of course it doesn’t.

If you’re wondering if Carson City’s political partisans will stop booing at Democratic incumbents while they represent their office in the parade — of course they won’t. Nevada still has quite a few of those, by the way, even if the Governor’s Mansion and controller’s office changed hands last year.

If you’re wondering if most of Carson City’s residents and parade watchers would prefer to watch a family friendly parade or participate in a politically supercharged sports riot — that remains to be seen.

David Colborne ran for public office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Mastodon @[email protected], on Bluesky or email him at [email protected].


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