Pahrump a target of scorn, but its stance reflects real Nevada |

Pahrump a target of scorn, but its stance reflects real Nevada

by John L. smith

Just when Southern Nevada’s army of illegal immigrants thought it was safe to come out of the shadows and go back to work after being demonized for six months during Campaign ’06, the Pahrump Town Board narrowly votes to send unrepentant Spanish-speakers a message.

Speak Hick, or suffer the consequences.

It’s officially known as the English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation ordinance, a mouthful of hot air cogitated by Town Board member Michael Miraglia. The ordinance makes English Pahrump’s official language.

It also makes it illegal to fly a foreign flag by itself. I wonder: Does that include the California flag? I personally believe most of Nevada’s problems emanate not from Mexico, but from California.

In addition, the ordinance denies illegals any of the many benefits available to residents of Pahrump, such as heat stroke, snakebite and 10- percent-off brothel coupons.

They had to cut out the part about “not letting your daughter marry one” for fear of offending some people, but you get the idea.

As you can see, the English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation ordinance is easy to ridicule. It gives columnists the opportunity to use the words “bumpkin” and “hayseed” and “far-end-of-the-radio-dial-listening-gopher-brain” in a sentence. And there’s something to be said for that.

Lately, mainstream and alternative media have given Pahrump’s people a thorough scolding, making the place the butt of many jokes. The community’s residents and lowly elected officials have been vilified as boneheaded hate-mongers.

While I suspect a few of the elected officials might indeed have heavy calcium deposits between the ears, and it’s just as certain that some Pahrump residents are recalcitrant racists, it’s unfair to label all its locals ignorant bigots. The impact of illegal immigration is complex and hits working-class communities hardest. The Pahrump Town Board’s reaction is far from unique, and you may expect other small towns, counties and even states to add to the tough talk on illegal immigration.

Besides, what if I told you that Pahrump vote wasn’t outside the Nevada mainstream?

It’s true, amigo.

Last April, Public Opinion Strategies pollster Glen Bolger was commissioned by the Republican Party to conduct a statewide benchmark survey of 600 likely voters. The poll took the pulse of Nevadans on several topics and was balanced by party affiliation, gender, age and ethnicity and was considered accurate to within 4 points. Knowing the immigration issue would play a sizable role in Campaign ’06, Bolger polled intensively on the issue and found 21 percent of Nevadans considered it the state’s priority above every other, including education.

Overall, 62 percent said they were “very concerned,” and another 26 percent were “somewhat concerned” about illegal immigration. A combined 44 percent of voters polled said that issue alone could rule out a candidate in their minds.

A whopping 81 percent were in favor of “increasing fines and penalties for businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.” While slightly more than half favored building a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, 56 percent favored making it a felony to enter the country illegally, and 54 percent would have them return to their country of origin before participating in any amnesty or guest worker program.

And Nevada voters weren’t much kinder to the children of illegal immigrants: 65 percent were opposed to allowing illegal immigrant students a chance to receive a Millennium Scholarship, and those polled were split on whether to allow them to pay in-state tuition.

If a majority of Nevadans (57 percent) had their way, illegal immigrants would be identified as such on their driver’s licenses. Others didn’t want them to be able to get licenses at all.

If they had their way, 88 percent of Nevadans would require immigrants to supply proof that they were in the country legally before being considered for public benefits from local or state government, such as welfare and unemployment.

Town Board member Miraglia is easy to lampoon, and his lack of logic is laughable, but he’s actually following a successful political strategy. With its legal brothels, Pahrump is way out of step with Las Vegas, where prostitution proliferates illegally and is untaxed and unregulated.

So say that Pahrump Town Board is backward. Call all the names you want.

But, in the end, admit they’re like most of the rest of us.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.