Janice Ayres: Nevada’s political history is intriguing
June 26, 2012
Being an election year, I thought it might be interesting (especially for newcomers to Nevada) to look into some of the more interesting facts about Nevada’s political history.
“The Political History of Nevada” is a publication dating back to 1910 when it was first issued by Secretary of State William Douglas. Revised versions have been published by various secretaries of state, with the latest being the 11th edition published in 2006 by then-Secretary of State Dean Heller. It is a wonderful resource tool for teachers, scholars, students, journalists and the general public alike.
I was particularly interested to research women in Nevada’s politics. I learned that women have been involved in Nevada political activities since it became a state in 1864 and have voted since 1914, six years before the U. S. Constitution was amended to allow women to vote. This was granted to Nevada women by the state’s all-male electorate, but not without a fight. Of course, after being allowed to vote, women’s political participation increased.
One of the most outstanding female candidates for federal office from Nevada was Anne Martin, who ran as an Independent for U.S. senator in 1918 and 1920. She did very well but came in third in a field of four candidates during both general elections. No woman ran again for the U.S. Senate until Maya Miller, a Democrat who ran in 1974 and lost in the primary. It was a long 60 years before another woman stepped up to the plate after Martin’s last bid, but Mary Gojack, a state senator in 1975, ran in the general election for the U.S. Senate in 1980, but lost. Thus far, no Nevada woman has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate, but we do have one running this year – U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley. This should be an interesting and close race because she and her opponent, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, are very popular with their particular constituencies. Berkley is a seven-time elected House of Representatives Democrat from Clark County (first time 1998), and Heller is a Republican and a former member of the House of Representatives and appointed later by Gov. Brian Sandoval to finish the term of John Ensign when he resigned in 2011.
I did not realize that over Nevada’s 142-year history, many political parties came and went, and in all there were actually 22 of them with a foothold in Nevada. However, only seven – Democrat, Republican, Green, Independent, American, Libertarian and Natural Law – still have ballot access.
One that caught my interest was the Silver Party, which was the outgrowth of many Republicans and Democrats from Western states joining forces when depressed economic conditions occurred after the federal government curtailed its coinage of silver coins in 1873. The Silver Party swept Nevada’s constitutional offices in 1894 and 1898; however, the last Silver member to win in Nevada as a Democrat was in 1906. But it enjoyed many successes before it folded like the others.
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When we look at voter registration today and what it entails, it is hard to believe that before 1910, voters simply registered to vote without having to state their party affiliation. Candidates were simply listed on a single ballot, and voters could make their mark for any candidate from any party. This lasted from 1910 to 1916. In 1917, the Legislature amended the election law for separate ballots, and Nevadans had to declare their party affiliation to vote.
During the 1860s and ’70s, before women could vote, they were very politically active and effective as lobbyists. One early famous lobbyist was Hanna K. Clapp, who successfully elicited the support of the Territorial Legislature (1861-64) to establish the state’s first private educational institution, and then went on to get the Legislature to include a $300 allocation in the budget for constructing and furnishing a ladies toilet in the Capitol Building. That was a really big deal back then.
Since it is an election year, I would like to thank everyone who ran for an elected office. It takes a real commitment to do so, and without your participation, we would be a lesser state. There are no losers; it is only one person receiving more votes than another. Every candidate has his or her supporters.
So now onto the general election – it should be intense and vigorous. Stay tuned!
• Janice Ayres is immediate past president of the Nevada Senior Corps Association.