2002 elections: Lessons learned

To paraphrase old P.T. Barnum, You can fool some of the voters some of the time, but you can't fool all of the voters all the time. That's one of the lessons we learned in last Tuesday's nationwide, off-year elections.

Here in Carson City, California carpetbagger Ron Knecht fooled enough voters to get himself elected to the State Assembly. Some folks still thought they were voting for the other Ron Knecht, a longtime local businessman married to popular Hispanic Services Director Raquel Knecht.

I'm convinced that name confusion helped candidate Knecht defeat GOP stalwart Tom Keeton by 400 votes in the Republican primary. With newcomer Knecht in the Assembly, we'll really miss retiring Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, who was an outstanding legislator. OK, it's sour grapes, but that's how I feel about it. Sorry if I've offended any of my Republican friends.

But out-of-staters couldn't fool Nevada voters on the very controversial Question 9, which would have legalized possession and use of up to three ounces of marijuana -- enough pot to make more than 100 "joints."

I'm pleased to report that Question 9 came out on the short end of a 61 to 39 percent vote and that a Washington, D.C.-based group of wealthy pot heads spent nearly $2 million for nothing. Nevada voters handed the drug legalizers a humiliating defeat by rejecting arguments that their proposition was about "medical" marijuana, or that it would raise millions of dollars for education.

I join Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick in a final message to Question 9 proponents: "Pack your baggies and go home. We don't need this stuff in Nevada." And good riddance!

Closer to home, the Burke Consortium -- a shadowy front for certain local officials and commercial developers -- tried to fool the voters by claiming that the sale of the Fuji Park fairgrounds would be good for our city. But the voters didn't buy what Burke was trying to sell, and defeated Carson City Question 1 by a comfortable 54-42 percent margin.

That "small, militant special interest group" invented by the Consortium turned out to be the local Board of Supervisors, City Manager John Berkich and their developer friends. Supervisors promised to follow the will of the people. Let's hold them to it.

At the same time, voters in neighboring Douglas County opted to combat their county commissioners' plan to pave over the northern end of the county by ousting Commission Chairman Don Miner and approving a slow-growth initiative. My congratulations to the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Douglas County Sustainable Growth Committee for mobilizing voters against misguided development projects in textbook examples of successful grassroots politics in action.

Locally, the Fuji fairgrounds and marijuana ballot questions, combined with hotly contested races for Assembly and Sheriff, pushed voter turnout to a record 77 percent; statewide turnout was closer to 50 percent. It seems that Question 9 attracted young voters in record numbers.

The Clerk's Office told me that more than 100 first-time voters showed up at the Community Center, and I saw many young voters at the Carson Mall -- a distinct change from past elections, when most voters looked like me (a scary thought).

In Nevada and around the country, last Tuesday was a good day for Republicans as they swept all Silver State constitutional offices and gained control of both houses of Congress in a strong national showing. "Republicans succeeded because of (President) Bush's personal popularity and his smart strategy," opined the liberal New York Times. "(He) risked his own personal political standing by campaigning long and hard for Republicans in close races, energizing the Republican base and reminding undecided voters whose side he was on." As it turned out, Bush had long coattails. Meanwhile, Democrats are in near-total disarray in Nevada and almost everywhere else.

Most Democratic candidates never articulated a coherent message as to why voters should oppose a popular wartime president. As a result, they were unable to capitalize on the current economic slowdown. Recognizing his failure as a party spokesman, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., resigned his powerful post last week; Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., should consider doing the same. His deputy, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), told local journalists that he'll now have more time to devote to Nevada issues, putting the best possible spin on a huge political setback that left him and Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas as the only Democratic officeholders in a strongly Republican state.

And while we're at it, Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe should step down too. A close ally of former President Bill Clinton and ex-Vice President Al Gore, McAuliffe has been an embarrassment to his party. Hopefully, last Tuesday's election marked the end of the Clinton-Gore era and closed the book on the Kennedy dynasty after Bobby's daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lost the Maryland governorship to an obscure Republican in a heavily Democratic state.

Frankly, it's time for Democrats to stop obsessing about the past and move forward into the future. Put simply, they need new leadership at the national level and here in Nevada. Otherwise, President Bush is a shoo-in for a second term in 2004.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, was a Carson City election worker last Tuesday.


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