The late writer Wallace Stegner once described the West as America, only more so. And Nevada is even more so.
Nevada was the fastest growing state over the first decade of the new century, so much growth, more than 35 percent, adding a fourth congressional seat.
Nevada is the Western idea of new and old. Flashing lights. Go, go, go. Technology. Gambling Halls. Mining and extractive industries. And, of course, tourists.
American Indians live in cities and on 19 reservations and colonies. They range from the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe – surrounded by city – to the remote Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada-Idaho border.
The population of American Indians in Nevada is America, only more so, as well. Of the 2.8 million Nevadans, Native people are about 2.1 percent, slightly more than the 1.2 percent nationwide.
But even that small percentage is nearly invisible in policy terms. A month ago, Sherry Rupert, executive director of the state’s Indian Commission, and Paiute and Washoe, was meeting with legislators. She was asked, “Do Indians vote?”
“It shows we must do more to educate legislators,” she told The Las Vegas Review Journal, “there are a lot of new legislators who may not know our history.”
Nevada also reflects the political divide. Yup. Only more so.
Like Arizona, Latino voters are shifting the balance of power, some 15 percent of the vote, but more than half of all the new voters from the past decade. President Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 but Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s campaign sees this state shifting back.
And Romney’s natural base – members of his own faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons – is shrinking. A decade ago the Mormon vote was around 12 percent, today it’s about 7 percent. But as CNN pointed out: Mormons “punch more than their weight. Less than half the state’s eligible voters bother to register, but Mormons almost always do, which gives them about a quarter of the likely turnout.”
In a speech in Las Vegas earlier this year, Romney told the audience that Obama had not done enough for Nevada falling short on the home crisis among others. “Nevada,” he said, “has had enough of your kind of help.”
John Oceguera, speaker of Nevada’s Assembly, is a candidate for Congress from Las Vegas. He’s a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe and has picked up support in past elections from Native American political funds. He’s a former fire fighter and an assistant chief.
His campaign website does not mention his tribal affiliation. It does say that Oceguera was: “Raised by a single mother, the family did not have much, but it was a home filled with love and perseverance. As the Oceguera family struggled to get by, John suffered from a medical condition that required him to wear special leg braces and corrective shoes. Along with the help of friends and neighbors, his mom worked hard to help him get the treatment he needed.”
While not campaigning on Native issues, Oceguera has challenged his opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, on the Violence Against Women Act. Republican House “proposal rolls back key protections in the Violence Against Women Act. It denies protections for victims of abuse, and puts more power in the hands of abusers – leaving them on the streets, primed to strike again. Making matters worse, they have stripped out provisions that protect Native Americans and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence,” Oceguera wrote.
Indeed one of Oceguera’s TV ad – a stark piece called “Eyes” – asks why Heck opposed funding for rape crisis centers.
The Nevada Poll shows Oceguera trailing by double digits. That lead is because of strong support from white men, seniors. And in Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal said, “that’s a tough coalition for any challenger to overcome.”
But more recent polls show the race tightening, as close as four or five points.
That means that Nevada is exactly like the rest of the country. Only more so.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.