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Sen. Joe Neal singlehandedly surrounds the opposition


Expanded from the 5-26-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Former Sparks businessman John Hanks once told me about an ace fighter pilot he served with in World War II. One day, the top gun became separated from his squadron and was jumped by a half-dozen or so German fighters.

The American quickly got on the radio to his buddies and announced the opportunity.

"Get on up here while I've got 'em surrounded!"

The ace, who lived to tell the tale, dispatched several of the enemy planes before help arrived.

Which brings me to State Senator Joe Neal. The North Las Vegas Democrat knocked the political establishment of the Gaming Party on its collective ear last Monday.

Just when it looked like Gov. Dudley Do-Right was going to get a free ride through November, up popped the joker in the deck. Make no mistake, this joker is both wild and a political ace.

The outward veneer of calm assuredness ever-exuded by Gov. Guinn's apparatchiks quickly evaporated as the full moon rose into the Nevada sky last week. They quickly went into full damage control mode, aggressively challenging critical commentators they previously ignored.

Why? Sen. Neal is an unabashed African-American liberal in a state until recently known as Mississippi West. While less overt today, there remains a strong undercurrent of racism and prejudice in these parts.

In contrast, Gov. Kenny Guinn is the Warren G. Harding of Nevada politics. Harding's principal qualification for being elected president in 1920 was that he looked like one. Some things in follytix never change.

Guinn has been true to the legacy of every Nevada governor since 1979. Republican Robert List, Democrats Richard Bryan and Bob Miller, and now Republican Guinn — all have been shallow shills for the gambling-industrial complex. I don't mind someone being totally sold out to his patroons, especially if he's upfront about it. I do mind when such fearless leaders don't spread the wealth a little.

History backs up Sen. Neal when he says that the casinos have broken the bargain with the citizenry which allowed their legalization by the legislature in 1931. In exchange for allowing a predatory vice, the industry was to adequately support the public institutions which were then starving during the Great Depression.

Instead, gambling evolved into "a billion-dollar parasite," in the words of muckraking journalists Sally Denton and Roger Morris, authors of "The Money and the Power," the book and Arts & Entertainment Network television special of the same name. Gambling is an obscenely profitable business, well capable of making Nevada a nice place to live, they note.

Instead, we rank worse than the most deplorable inner cities in most categories of social blight and pathology. Joe Neal has been one of the few voices speaking out against these inequities for the past 30 years. For his trouble, heavy hitters in both wings of the Gaming Party have reviled him.

I've watched in amused amazement over the past four years as this jovial man has driven the overlords nuts and cost them hard money and political capital in the process.

Casinos have spent millions intimidating their underlings. In 1998, the worker bees were told that if Neal became governor, he would close down the gambling industry, as if anyone had (pardon the expression) the money and the power. Two years later, when Neal circulated an initiative to raise the world's lowest gross gaming tax, suppliers were ordered to tell their workers not to sign Neal's petition or they would lose their casino accounts. Hotel-casino and supplier employees were told that if their names appeared on the petition, they would be fired. Intimidating people so that they don't exercise their constitutional right to petition their government is illegal, but that's never stopped the plantation owners before.

They heavily funded a candidate against Neal in 2000. Despite taking fire from both the Democrat and Republican wings of the Gaming Party, Neal prevailed. He became one of only two incumbent lawmakers to spend less than the opposition and win.

The gamblers moved heaven and earth to find a gubernatorial primary opponent to Neal in 1998, finally interposing Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones on the last day of filing. Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn pushed Jones into the race and promptly damned the Gaming Party nominees with faint praise, endorsing both Jones and Guinn as acceptable to his wonderfulness.

Neal filed for governor just before 5:00 p.m. last Monday. From the vibes I've gotten around the state, I have a hunch Gov. Dudley Do-Right's campaign manager, Snidely Whiplash, is actively reviewing the unknown Democratic filees to see if one would be worth funding ala Jones. The more they spend against Neal, the less the GOP will have to slush into other campaigns.

What would a Neal administration be like? Look at his record. Had Sen. Neal not sponsored the nation's toughest fire sprinkler law over the objections of the gambling industry, last year's fire at the Reno Flamingo Hilton might have consumed a city block instead of one or two rooms.

Neal has consistently opposed utility deregulation and as governor would have vetoed the deregulation bill which Guinn signed last year. Neal would fight to reduce the hundreds of millions in corporate welfare given to corporations by Nevada governments and put that money to good use elsewhere.

The "Yellow Dog" Democrat vote — those who always vote a straight Democratic ticket — is about 30 percent in the north, more in heavily Democratic Las Vegas. The Independent American Party has filed an anti-BLM rancher, someone who will undercut Guinn's Republican support in the rural counties. Powerful anti-incumbent forces are loose in the land this year.

At minimum, the Gaming Party rightly fears the issues Neal will force to the front burner, unlike the milquetoast campaign run by Jones four years ago. (She's now vice-president in charge of looking out the window for Harrah's.)

The news media have rejoiced in Neal's late entry. They now have a race at the top of the ticket which will not bore everyone to death.

Joe Neal has the Gaming Party surrounded.

Let the games begin.

Happy Memorial Day.

Be well. Raise hell.

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Copyright © 2002, 2014 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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