Newspaper column: NEPA rules changes will benefit economy and environment

President Donald Trump announced this past week that his Council on Environmental Quality is streamlining the rules for major infrastructure projects — such as roads, bridges, pipelines and power transmission lines — required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, aiming to cut the approval time for such projects in half.

The council published the changes in the Federal Register on Friday, setting in motion a 60-day comment period. The changes are widely expected to be challenged in the courts by the usual self-styled environmental groups.

Businesses and labor unions hailed the proposal as long overdue, but environmental groups assailed it, saying the changes would contribute to climate change.

In an opinion piece penned for The Hill — Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions — argued that the changes would actually benefit the environment.

“Consistent with its environmental mission, modernizing NEPA will accelerate projects that improve the efficiency of our transportation and distribution systems, thereby reducing traffic congestion and associated emissions,” Donohue and McGarvey write. “It will also spur investment in renewable energy sources and transmission infrastructure, much of which is subject to delays by current NEPA procedures. And timelier implementation of conservation projects will help mitigate environmental impacts, such as damaging floods and wildfires.”

In recent years, major projects have taken an average of four-and-a-half years to be approved. The council aims to cut that to two years. A number of projects have taken far longer to be approved. An airport runway expansion in Taos, N.M., took 20 years. A highway and bridge project in Michigan to cut traffic congestion and, therefore, carbon emissions took 16 years. A Maryland public transit project stretched out for 14 years.

Trump announces changes to NEPA rules. (AP pix)

“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster,” Trump was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying at a White House press conference, where he was flanked by business and union leaders. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”

The Journal noted that business groups claim lengthy NEPA reviews are partly to blame for a nearly $1 trillion backlog in transportation projects alone.

Democratic House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva of Arizona said in a press release, “Polluting industries need more public oversight, not less, and supporting this approach means ignoring real-world consequences in favor of Trump administration fairy tales. The courts have been crystal clear that NEPA requires considering climate impacts, so this is just another inevitably doomed effort by this administration to try to illegally rewrite the rules it doesn’t like.”

Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee sent out a Twitter comment saying, “We’ve seen what happens if these major projects don’t have environmental impact reviews. Damaged ecosystems, increased pollution, and increased health risks. We can’t go backwards on this.”

Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei said Friday, “Since we’re only about 24 hours out from the release of the proposed changes, we’ll have more for you next week, but so far the concepts look good.”

Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus tweeted, “While horrific fires create a crisis in Australia, President Trump still tries to deny climate change. It is inexcusable for the Trump Administration to put the President’s corporate allies ahead of our health and safety.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the administration of blocking any federal efforts to confront climate change. “These new guidelines undermine critical building requirements that ensure that our communities are able to withstand the growing threat posed by the climate crisis,” she was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Even the liberal Los Angeles Times editorial board, in an editorial condemning the NEPA rule changes, conceded, “In truth, NEPA probably does need a tune-up. The current regulations date back to 1978 and have been amended only once since, in 1986. It’s reasonable to assume that all those years of experience have exposed flaws and shortcomings that could be addressed to improve and expedite the environmental review process. But the Trump administration, with its open denial of climate change and its industry-friendly policies aimed at expanding the production of fossil fuels, is not to be trusted with such a task.”

The streamlining of the bureaucracy will both contribute to economic growth and add infrastructure that will actually cut pollution in most cases. The naysayers are basing their projections of climate crisis on speculation and models that have yet to predict anything accurately.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Trump is reshaping the federal judiciary — for the better

Thanks, Harry, because you exercised the “nuclear option” in 2013, ending the requirement that judges had to be confirmed by at least 60 senators instead of a simple majority, President Donald Trump has secured the appointments of about twice as many federal judges as each of his three predecessors — and most of them have been conservatives sworn to protect the fundamental liberties spelled out in the Constitution.

Of the 50 circuit court judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, only 17 managed to garner the previously mandated 60 Senate votes. Among those was former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, who was confirmed by a vote of 51-44 with both of Nevada’s Democratic senators choosing politics over principles and voting “nay.”

In November 2013, then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada exercised the nuclear option, calling for changing the Senate rules by a simple majority vote. It passed, 52-48 with three Democrats voting against changing the rules.

President Barack Obama praised the action saying Republicans were blocking his nominees based on politics alone, not on the merits of the nominee, according to a Politico account at the time.

Then-Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to recess the Senate for the day to block the vote. “The solution to this problem is an election,” he said. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election on 2014.”

Republicans regained the majority in the Senate in 2014. In 2017, now-Majority Leader McConnell further changed the rules to allow confirmation of Supreme Court justices by a simple majority. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a 54-45 vote, and Brett Kavanaugh by 50-48.

In addition, the Senate has confirmed 133 of Trump’s federal district court nominees. While most of those garnered more than 60 recorded votes, many were confirmed by a voice vote.

In an editorial praising the caliber of the Trump judicial nominees, The Wall Street Journal noted, “The Trump-McConnell judiciary may be Harry’s finest achievement.”

The editorial noted that when Trump took office, Democratic appointees made up a majority on nine of the 13 circuit courts. Trump’s 2019 appointments flipped the majorities in the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Circuit Courts, meaning seven circuits now have a majority of Republican appointees.

In addition, the longtime uber-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which VanDyke was appointed, now consists of 16 Democratic appointees and 13 Republican appointees. “Expect fewer headlines featuring nationwide injunctions out of San Francisco,” the editorial opined.

The Journal editorial predicts, “The new wave of conservative judges is more likely to protect such core liberties as religious freedom, political speech and assembly, gun and property rights. Many will also be more alert to violations of the Constitution’s separation of powers, including regulatory abuses. Yet there are varying opinions on criminal law, executive authority, and the scope of judicial restraint, among other issues.”

Reid is nothing if not consistent. In a recent op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, Reid complained, “Senate Republicans have hijacked our Supreme Court. They stole a seat that should have been filled by President Obama in 2016 and they rushed to confirm Brett Kavanaugh last year despite ample evidence that he lied to Congress. The result is the Supreme Court is now a ticking time bomb, set to blow up any meaningful progressive reforms for decades to come.”

He concedes his own role in the outcome, saying, “Changing the rules to confirm Obama’s highly qualified judges was the right and necessary thing to do. If we had not done it, Donald Trump would have inherited more judicial vacancies than he already did, and then even more of his right-wing ideologues would be on the bench today eviscerating rights Americans have long held dear.”

Like the Second Amendment right to gun ownership? Or the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion? The rights delineated in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments?

A recent Washington Examiner editorial also notes what Reid has unintentionally wrought and concludes, “During his run for the presidency, Trump regularly and energetically promised to make a priority of putting well-credentialed conservatives of excellent character and scholarship on the federal bench. It is a promise he has kept, much to his credit and for the country’s greater good.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Congress continues its spending spree

Just days before Christmas, Congress played Santa Claus, doling out billions in pork to those who have been nice to them and sending the bill to our grandchildren. Talk about taxation without representation.

The two spending bills totaling $1.4 trillion and covering more than 2,300 pages were debated for just 90 minutes in the Senate but passed with huge bipartisan support in both chambers. While Republicans got funding for a border wall and the Pentagon, Democrats wrangled billions for domestic programs.

There was more money for Head Start and early childhood education — which has failed to show any longterm education improvements — more money for the Environmental Protection Agency, extension of the Export-Import Bank corporate welfare, a bailout for miners’ bankrupt pensions and health care funds, repeal of all the taxes meant to fund ObamaCare, more disaster relief for farm states, money for gun violence research, tax breaks for biodiesel, distilleries, race-horse and Nascar owners and renewable energy.

The bills did manage to forestall a “shutdown” of the federal government during the holidays, unlike last year’s 35-day federal worker paid vacation.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — responsible federal budget, now there’s an oxymoron — the additional $500 billion in spending over the next decade combined with an earlier $1.7 trillion lifting of discretionary spending caps will add $2.2 trillion to the national debt in 10 years. This will increase the debt as a percentage of gross domestic product from 79 percent to 97 percent.

But don’t try to blame the deficit on President Trump’s tax cuts. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Congressional Budget Office “says tax receipts grew 4% last fiscal year, through September, and 3% in the first two months this year. Economic growth is feeding the Treasury. But spending is growing much faster: 8% last fiscal year, more than four times the inflation rate, and 6% in October and November this year.” With more of the same to come.

Nevada’s delegation joined in the spending spree, though Democratic Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas voted “nay” on the bill that included funding for the border wall. “I could not vote in good conscience to reward this Administration with over a billion dollars in border wall funding after they’ve stolen money from our troops to build an ineffective barrier,” Titus said in a press release. “We must stand up stronger to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

On the other hand Nevada’s lone Republican in the delegation, Rep. Mark Amodei boasted of the fact one of the bills included border wall funding. “Look at what we can actually accomplish when we make it a priority,” Amodei’s press release stated. “In terms of the reforms, funding priorities, and responsible spending reductions included in these bills, Nevadans can certainly claim a number of victories. More specifically, these packages will increase funding for Department of Interior (DOI) operations including wildland fire management, Lake Tahoe restoration efforts, hazardous fuels reductions, watershed restoration, and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program.”

Titus did make a point of the fact the spending bill she did vote for contained no funding for revitalization of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Democratic Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen also mentioned the lack of Yucca Mountain funding. “I’m glad to see both Democrats and Republicans come to the table with a bipartisan deal that does not fund Yucca Mountain, keeps the government open, and invests in Nevada’s health care, workforce, education, and infrastructure,” Rosen said in a press release. “This deal does a lot to help Nevada’s hardworking families by repealing three costly health care taxes and includes my provision to invest in telehealth programs, making health care more affordable and accessible.”

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford made much of the fact one spending bill increases the pay for members of the military. “Our military service members are the greatest asset to our national defense and it is an honor today to vote to approve funding that includes crucial improvements for their everyday lives and the lives of their families and loved ones,” a Horsford press release said.

Remember who will be paying in the coming decades for all that spending now.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The more things change the more they stay the same. This a Gary Varvel editorial cartoon from 2013:

This is a Gary Varvel editorial cartoon from a couple of weeks ago:

Newspaper column: Articles of impeachment are flimsy ploys

This past week Donald Trump became only the third president to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. Neither of the other two were convicted by the Senate — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 — and neither will Trump, because Republicans hold a majority of Senate seats and there is no way to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority to remove Trump from office.

Not a single House Republican voted in favor of either article of impeachment, because they were flimsy to the point of being wisps in the Democratically driven wind. Even a couple of Democrats rejected them.

Both “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” are so nebulous that they can be defined as disagreeing with someone or anyone.

“Through their depraved actions today, crazy Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame, and it really is, it’s a disgrace,” Trump correctly informed a rally in Battle Creek, Mich., shortly after the vote, according to the Washington Examiner. “They think the Washington swamp should be able to veto the results of an election. That’s what they think. There’s never been a time like this.”

What constituted “abuse of power” was Trump suggesting in a July telephone conversation with the newly elected president of the Ukraine that someone should investigate past dealings by 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. “So, if you can look into it …” Trump said, according to the transcript. This was not a request to “dig dirt” on a potential political opponent as so many in the press have described it, but rather a suggestion that an investigation might be warranted. Trump was accused of withholding military aid to coerce the investigation.

Since Trump has been investigated by countless government bureaucracies since he raised his hand to take the oath of office, might that be construed as abuse of power and an attempt to influence the next election?

As for “obstruction of Congress,” The Wall Street Journal notes that this amounts to nothing more than Trump going to court to protect the powers of his office from politically motivated snooping, something many presidents have done, including Clinton and Barack Obama. Democrats didn’t give the courts a chance to rule on what the law is.

Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee — all voted for both articles of impeachment. In a statement Titus said of Trump, “He tried to rig the 2020 elections by soliciting foreign interference, and then engaged in an unprecedented cover-up once he got caught. No president can be permitted to abuse the power of the office for personal, political gain, nor try to hide his misdeeds by demanding that his subordinates withhold key documents and refuse to testify before Congress.”

Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada voted “nay” on both articles. Amodei noted in a statement explaining his votes, “What happened after the phone call is also essentially uncontested. Ukrainian aid was slowed for several weeks but provided by mid-September. There was a meeting between President Trump and President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy. There is no evidence that the Ukrainian Government has investigated the Bidens and therefore, no announcements regarding the same.”

As for obstructing Congress, Amodei listed a litany of refusals by the Obama administration to cooperate with requests from Congress — everything from Fast & Furious gun dealings with drug cartels to the Iran Nuclear Deal to Obamacare subsidies to Solyndra and Benghazi.

Regarding the attack in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, Amodei quoted the White House counsel’s explanation for refusing to answer questions from Congress, “If the President were to answer your questions, his response would suggest that Congress has the unilateral power to demand answers from the President about his official acts.” Which is what Congress just tried to do with Trump.

The congressman concluded that he didn’t believe Obama should have been impeached for obstructing Congress and neither should Trump.

This entire process has been an affront to American voters, who should remember how their current representatives abused the system for the sake of political power come the November election.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: All provisions of state Constitution must be adhered to

The lawyers for Nevada’s lawmakers appear to have finally stumbled onto a provision of the state Constitution worthy of being adhered to.

In mid-November the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced that four-term Las Vegas Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank had been selected to head up the Division of Outdoor Recreation, which had been created by the 2019 Legislature and funded with $657,000 during the current two-year budget. The salary of the new director has not been disclosed. The new unit is tasked with promoting outdoor recreation businesses and conservation of public lands.

The agency told The Nevada Independent — a donor-funded, web-based news outlet — that there were dozens of applicants for the job and several people were interviewed.

DCNR’s Director Bradley Crowell was quoted as saying, “Heidi’s extensive professional and legislative experience combined with her vision for the new Division are the perfect match to ensure outdoor recreational opportunities reach every corner of and every community in Nevada.”

Swank chaired the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee in each of the past two sessions. She was quoted as saying, “I look forward to bringing all of these entities together to further Nevada’s outdoor recreation economy and get more Nevadans outdoors.”

Nevada Legislature

Two weeks later, an attorney for the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), the lawmakers lawyers, approached Swank and basically said: Not so fast.

It turns out there is a section of the state Constitution that reads: “No Senator or member of Assembly shall, during the term for which he shall have been elected, nor for one year thereafter be appointed to any civil office of profit under this State which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during such term, except such office as may be filled by elections by the people.”

There is a similar provision in the U.S. Constitution barring members of Congress from being appointed to any civil office they created while in office.

Such provisions are intended to prevent lawmakers from creating lucrative sinecures for themselves. Swank voted for the bill creating the new executive branch job.

“I can’t blame anyone in this,” Swank resignedly told The Independent. “It was a bit of bad luck.” She did not say whether she now plans to seek re-election.

Now that the LCB has discovered this prohibition in the state Constitution, perhaps there are a couple of other sections they should reconsider.

For example, there is the provision approved by Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996 amending the Constitution to state “an affirmative vote of not fewer than two-thirds of the members elected to each House is necessary to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form …”

But during the spring legislative session the LCB — after stating otherwise in 2011, 2013 and 2015 — opined that a two-thirds vote was unnecessary if a bill delayed a scheduled reduction in tax rates — in this case the modified business tax. The bill continued the then-current tax rate, which was scheduled to be cut on July 1, though it failed to garner a two-thirds vote in the state Senate. Senate Republicans are currently suing to overturn the action as unconstitutional.

Then there is the section of the state Constitution that reads, “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

But the LCB has determined that public employees can serve in the Legislature so long as their “public employment does not exercise any sovereign functions appertaining to another department of the state government.”

“Any function” became “sovereign function,” whatever that means. In some years, as many as 20 percent of lawmakers have been public employees able to hold life or death sway over the budgets of their bosses.

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 47, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

The state Constitution spells out these prohibitions in unambiguous terms and for a good reason. The flippant misinterpretation of the language results in abuse of power.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Court should block enforcement of Red Flag law

A citizens’ rights organization has filed a lawsuit in Carson City District Court seeking an injunction to prevent the enforcement of the “Red Flag” provision of a law passed by Nevada lawmakers earlier this year.

Under the Red Flag section of the law persons accused of being a potential danger to themselves or others may have their firearms confiscated by order of a judge.

The suit filed by attorneys for NevadansCAN (Citizens Action Network) argues the Reg Flag section of Assembly Bill 291, which was passed on a near party-line vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, is unconstitutional, violates the right to due process and the right to keep and bear arms — as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Nevada Constitution, which states, “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms for security and defense …”

The suit, filed earlier this month, asks that a judge stop the law from taking effect as scheduled on Jan. 1.

“A person accused of being a danger may not even be aware of the court action against him, and his guns can be forcibly taken by law enforcement and his premises searched. Due process never enters into it,” a press release announcing the litigation quotes Mary Rooney, a plaintiff in the suit and a co-founder of NevadansCAN, as saying.

Another plaintiff and co-founder, Julie Chen Hereford, said, “The Red Flag provision violates both the Constitution of the United States and the Nevada State Constitution by giving judges the power to take away an individual’s right to keep and bear arms based on the accusation that the individual is dangerous and should not have a firearm.”

One of the principal arguments by the group’s suit is that a September ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court essentially found that gun ownership is such a fundamental right that it cannot be taken away merely by a judge’s ruling.

The court ruled a person charged with misdemeanor domestic battery is entitled to a trial by jury, because the state Legislature in 2017 enacted a law saying someone convicted of such a crime could have their right to keep and bear arms denied.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that only those persons charged with a “serious” crime are entitled to a jury trial, which was defined as a crime carrying a sentence of greater than six months.

The unanimous Nevada opinion written by Justice Lidia Stiglich stated the change in state law to prohibit firearms possession by someone convicted of domestic violence effectively increases the “penalty” and makes the crime “serious” rather than “petty.”

“In our opinion, this new penalty — a prohibition on the right to bear arms as guaranteed by both the United States and Nevada Constitutions — ‘clearly reflect[s] a legislative determination that the offense [of misdemeanor domestic battery] is a serious one,’” Stiglich wrote in a case out of Las Vegas.

NevadansCAN argues that AB291 allows a secret process in which a judge can issue an order for gun seizure from an individual who has not been accused or convicted of violating any law and there is no role for a jury as the state high court deemed necessary.

The lawsuit itself declares, “This law makes mincemeat of the due process of law, will endanger law enforcement and the public, and is a tool for stalkers and abusers to disarm innocent victims. Empirical data is available that nearly a third of such orders are improperly issued against innocent people, in states with experience of the operation of such a law.”

There are seven legal processes that safeguard due process, the suit states, and this law deprives the accused of five of those: “notice; opportunity to make an oral presentation; means to present evidence; cross-examination and response to evidence; and the right of counsel at critical junctures.”

NevadansCAN’s suit notes that under such Red Flag laws those accused receive notice of the case against them when the police show up to confiscate their firearms. It also points out the accuser need never appear in court but merely submit an affidavit.

AB291 defies the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, the Fifth Amendment right to not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law and the 14th Amendment prohibition against states abridging the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens.

An injunction is needed.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching you may be casting about for suggestions for what to give that special Nevada friend or family member. What could be better than books about Nevada or by Nevadans? The choices are as varied as the Nevada landscape and its denizens.

Doubly apropos this holiday season is Patricia Cafferata’s “Christmas in Nevada,” a collection of seasonal anecdotes from across the state and across the years.

Cafferata — a former state legislator, state treasurer, district attorney in three counties and daughter of Barbara Vucanovich, the first woman from Nevada to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives — has penned and collected short takes that capture the spirit of giving and community pride. They start with the budding traditions established in mining towns during the territorial days of the 1860s and progress chronologically up the huge modern celebrations.

The small and tall tales from the early days include such scenes as the Virginia City butcher who in 1863 advertised his Christmas wares by parading 184 turkeys down the frozen dirt street to his shop; the huge Christmas fest in the Magnolia Hotel in Winnemucca in 1870 that included fish, oysters, chicken, green vegetables, tea and coffee, liquor and cigars; the “nevergreen” Christmas trees cobbled from scraps of wood in the Tonopah mining camp miles from any real pine trees; the mother in Silver Peak who started making mincemeat in November and preserved it for the holiday by storing it in the cellar draped in brandy-soaked cloths; the Christmas in White Pine County in 1907 during which three miners were trapped inside a collapsed copper mine for 45 days before being rescued and feted with a holiday banquet; and one family’s custom Christmas card tradition that has lasted more than 50 years.

Modern depictions include the Christmas festivities at Opportunity Village in Las Vegas, which helps those with intellectual and developmental disabilities develop life skills and find employment opportunities. It started in 1981 with the Magic Forest of lighted Christmas trees, raising about $3,000, but growing in recent years into a major holiday theme park attended by about 10,000 people and raising $1.5 million. Also mentioned are the “12 Days of Christmas” in Elko, the Santa Pub Crawl in Reno and the Santa Run in Las Vegas that have grown from modest beginnings to huge crowds.

Just out earlier this year is native Nevadan and decades-long newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice.” The biography introduces you to Joe Neal, the first African America to serve in the Nevada state Senate. It traces his rise from impoverished Madison Parish, La., through his three decades in the state Senate until he earned a place in the Senate’s Hall of Fame.

Smith uses countless sources as well as his own considerable knowledge of the man and the times — both as a journalist and through his parents’ civil rights and union activism — to paint a detailed portrait of the scrappy Neal, who fought for the things he believed in.

For those who seek to experience Nevada and the region for themselves there is the latest edition of Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Another book published this year, if not about Nevada, is a piece of historic fiction by decades-long Nevada journalist A.D. Hopkins, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era, looking at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Yes, the boys might’ve awakened early on occasion, but what they “woke up” was rural Early County and Jubal Early High School, named for a Confederate general. The book is laced with homespun conspiracies, displays of chivalry, dirty tricks, righteous revenge and conflicts that frequently result in gunplay, fisticuffs and the strategic use of ax handles and baseball bats. The plot is compelling and the dialog authentic.

For a cornucopia of books about Nevada and the West, turn to Range magazine’s website where you will find books and calendars depicting the ranching and farming lifestyle and attitudes. Among my favorites are the two “Brushstrokes & Balladeers,” coffee table books featuring Western-themed paintings and cowboy poets, including Elko County native Waddie Mitchell.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.