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.

Novel weaves an authentic tale of coming of age in the old South

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when boys’ haircuts were white sidewalls, flattops and ducktails, when it was said a little dab’ll do ya, but it never really did. Back to those days in the Ol’ Dominion when segregation was strictly enforced, but liquor laws not so much.

Better yet, let longtime Nevada investigative reporter and editor A.D. Hopkins take you there in his new novel, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” 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. 

A.D.’s teenaged narrator of the tale is named Thomas Jackson Shelor, named after another Confederate general who went by the nickname Stonewall, so Shelor was called Stonewall, which was soon shortened to Stony.

The novel captures the quaint dialect — including language that can be occasionally coarse but authentic — the shabby scenery, nefarious political machinations, family feuds and strained race relations in such detail that you think you are looking at a photo instead of a painting. The plot constantly twists and turns as Stony and his friend, newcomer Jack, confront moonshiners, whorehouse operators and Klansmen.

For a guy who spent nearly half a century in newspaper journalism, which is not known for florid descriptives, Hopkins the novelist can turn a phrase, such as when he introduces jazz aficionado Jack in the opening chapter: “When the bell fell silent, we could hear only his leather heels striking the concrete like an unhurried drummer building for some fellow musician to launch a solo.”

Hopkins and I worked together for more than 20 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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. 

Here is an example of the kind of dialogue and tense action A.D. offers in page after page. This tells of Stony going to the aid of a classmate named Mary Lou who was about to be attacked by Klansmen for dating a black man named Roosevelt:

“Stony! Why’re you sneaking in my back door? And you look like a drowned cat!”

I said, “The Ku Klux Klan is coming is coming up here to hurt you. They beat up Roosevelt. Do you have any guns?

Instead of answering, she jumped up and ran to the front door and locked it, then to the back and locked it, too. Then she ran up the stairs and I followed her, trying to tell her more.

“I need a better gun,” I said. “All I got is this little .25 and just the six bullets in it.”

While I was saying this, she yanked a pair of panties on under the nightgown, so fast I saw absolutely nothing a Baptist boy wasn’t supposed to. She pulled on a pair of bib overalls, stuffing the nightgown into the overalls like a long shirt. She pulled on socks and pair of high-top shoes, which she didn’t take time to tie. …

“Where do you think we should make our stand?” I asked in a half whisper as soon as we were out in the dark.

“We don’t make a stand,” she answered. “If we make one, somebody probably gets shot, probably us. The idea is to live through it!”

The Boys Who Woke Up Early” is a satisfying page turner. Published by Imbrifex Books, it is available online and in some local bookstores.

A.D. Hopkins at book signing.

Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “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.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

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: Prevailing wage law change will cost taxpayers

A fool and his money are soon parted.

In Nevada those fools are the taxpayers who keep electing Democrat majorities to send to Carson City to pick their pockets.

Assembly Bill 154, sponsored by a raft of Democrats, would roll back the minor headway made just two years ago to cut the cost of public works. It would raise the cost of construction of university and public school buildings by reimposing the so-called prevailing wage on more projects.

Prevailing wage laws require that workers on public construction jobs to be paid no less than the “prevailing” wage in the area where the work is being done. The wage rate is set by the state Labor Commissioner based on a survey of contractors. The survey is so time consuming that in reality only union shops bother to comply, meaning the prevailing wage is the highest union wage.

AB154 would require that contractors doing any university or public school work exceeding $100,000 pay prevailing wage, down from the current $250,00. It also requires the full prevailing wage instead of the current 90 percent.

Las Vegas Democratic Assemblyman Chris Brooks, chief sponsor of the bill, testified before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee recently and actually claimed the bill would save money.

“Research shows that prevailing wage laws lead to more workforce training, a more educated and experienced workforce, safer construction and government savings because workers depend less on social programs,” Brooks said. “Prevailing wage laws are better for the economy because they support the middle-class incomes that boost consumer spending. Eliminating the prevailing wage does not save money and can actually cost more money.”

Warren Hardy of the Associated Builders and Contractors contested this allegation of savings by pointing out that a contract for construction of a middle school in Clark County received a low bid of $2.7 million during a brief period a couple of years ago when the prevailing wage was dropped for schools, but when the prevailing wage was reinstated the low bid jumped to $3.6 million.

In 2000, A.D. Hopkins wrote a series of articles for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, outlining the profligacy of the prevailing wage law. One article stated: “Nevada’s prevailing wage law costs taxpayers about $2.3 million extra on every new public high school being built in Clark County, according to a database analysis by the Review-Journal.”

In 2012, Geoffrey Lawrence penned a column for the Nevada Policy Research Institute website on Nevada’s expensive prevailing wage law. He noted how a plumber in Mesquite might expect to be paid less than $20 an hour for most jobs, but, if it is a public works project by a state or local government entity, that same plumber would be paid, by law, more than $70 an hour.

Lawrence’s piece pointed out that an NPRI analysis estimated that prevailing wage requirements cost Nevada taxpayers nearly $1 billion extra over 2009 and 2010. The state’s biennial general fund budget is less than $7 billion. “That’s why prevailing wage reform needs to be at the top of the agenda for the Nevada Legislature in 2013,” Lawrence wrote.

NPRI in its “Solutions 2015” handbook estimated the law required the state, cities, counties, school districts and other government entities to pay 45 percent higher wages than necessary — a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion a year.

For a little historical perspective, the prevailing wage law is a vestige of the Jim Crow era and is modeled on the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 that was expressly intended to keep cheaper Southern black laborers from getting jobs on public works projects.

The discriminatory nature of prevailing wages persists to this day.

Hardy of the Associated Builders and Contractors said during testimony on the bill that his organization does not have a problem with federal prevailing wage law but does object to the way the wage is calculated in Nevada, which results in unions setting the prevailing wage.

“The overwhelming majority of small businesses, the overwhelming majority of minority-owned businesses, the overwhelming majority of women-owned businesses are non-union,” Hardy said. “These folks are not union contractors. So what you’re saying is, we need to build laws, which is what the prevailing law does in this state quite frankly, to incent the hiring of union contractors. That disenfranchises small businesses, women- and minority-owned businesses because they are overwhelmingly nonunion contractors.”

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.

Some things just don’t seem to hold their value — such as induction into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame

Some things just aren’t as significant as they used to be.

I’m sure there was a nice story and photo in the paper back around the turn of the century when Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick was inducted in the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame. That was before electronic archives.

When longtime R-J investigative reporter A.D. Hopkins was inducted into the Hall in 2010 there was a nice writeup in the paper and I penned a column on the topic.

When R-J capital bureau chief Ed Vogel was inducted in 2012 there was a glowing account of his storied career. I mentioned Vogel’s Hall of Fame status in a blog once.

In 2014, the induction of Dave Sanford, whose family ran the Mason Valley News in Yerington for decades, and Brian Greenspun, editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, warranted a sidebar in the paper.

But in 2015 when the late R-J political reporter Laura Myers was inducted the news was fully contained in the third paragraph of a story about the paper’s Nevada Newspaper Association awards. AP carried a short story. I defended Myers’ reputation in a blog earlier this year and remarked on her passing at the time.

On Sunday the paper reported the induction of former, 30-plus-years columnist John L. Smith. The news was contained in the third from last paragraph of an awards story: “John L. Smith, a longtime columnist for the Review-Journal, was inducted to the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.”

Talk about deflation in value. I wonder why that is.

Smith doing commentary at KNPR

John L. Smith doing commentary at KNPR

 

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

 

Ed Vogel

Ed Vogel

 

A.D. Hopkins

A.D. Hopkins

 

Sherman Frederick

Sherman Frederick

Lawmakers exempt schools and universities from prevailing wage requirement

The Legislature finally has gotten around to ending the requirement that contractors building public schools and university buildings have to pay workers the so-called prevailing wage.

A similar bill sponsored by state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer got nowhere in the 2013 Legislature, thanks to Democrats protecting their union constituents.

The prevailing wage is wet by the state labor commissioner from a survey of contractors. It is so time consuming that in reality only union shops bother to comply, meaning the prevailing wage is the highest union wage.

In 2000, an investigation by A.D. Hopkins in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the prevailing wage law inflates the cost of labor on public works projects by 41 percent and cost the taxpayers of then-booming Clark County an extra $2.3 million for every new public high school being built.

In 2013, writer Michael Chamberlain illustrated the insanity of the prevailing wage law by reporting that while Census data showed median household income in Clark County declined by nearly 14 percent from 2007 to 2011, prevailing wage rates from between 5 percent and 12 percent.

“So while workers in Clark County were losing their jobs and seeing their incomes decline by double figures, and state and local finances were in dire straits with legislators forced to choose between some combination of budget cuts and tax increases to balance the books, prevailing wage rates, already far above market rates, continued to climb even higher,” Chamberlain wrote.

Nevada Policy Research Institute in its “Solutions 2015” handbook estimated the law requires the state, cities, counties, school districts and other government entities to pay 45 percent higher wages than necessary at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion a year.

Perhaps after the schools calculate their savings lawmakers will conclude that we can build more roads and cheaper buildings without this Depression-era law and repeal the prevailing wage law entirely and close down the office of the labor commissioner.

NPRI chart showing prevailing wage rates.

 

A suggestion as to who should pay for Obama’s security during a weekend of golf

Obama plays golf in North Las Vegas. (AP photo)

I think Brian Greenspun should pick up the tab, don’t you?

It turns out President Obama’s weekend trip to Henderson in November to putatively sign off on an amnesty plan for millions of illegal immigrants but really to play golf all weekend with the Sun newspaper owner and various celebrities is costing state and Henderson police $170,000, according to the Review-Journal newspaper.

Though officials plan to bill the Democratic Party no one really expects to be paid. It took the school district four years to get paid by the Obama campaign for a 2008 political visit.

Since the Greenspun family made its fortune off the city of Henderson with a shady land deal so the family could build Green Valley, it is only fair that Greenspun pay the security costs of his golfing partner, right?

According to an R-J report by A.D. Hopkins, in 1971 the city sold 4,720 acres to Hank Greenspun, Brian’s father, for about $280 an acre. “They did so largely because he promised to include it in his proposed Green Valley development, increasing the city’s tax base and establishing nearby residential areas and amenities, which would attract further development in the stagnating small town,” the story says. “Instead, Greenspun sold much of that land at $3,000 to $5,000 an acre” — around $15 million at the low end.

The city also gave Greenspun a deadline to build and called for a $1.7 million penalty if he did not comply. He did not and the city never enforced the penalty. How much would that be in 2014 dollars with interest?

Henderson should send Brian Greenspun a bill.