Summer heat — major strikes, near-firings & political strike-outs


Expanded from the 6-2-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

State Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, may not make it out of his own party's primary. The embattled two-term lawmaker has been receiving significant prodding from GOP leaders to get his campaign off the ground. Reports from some quarters say that Sens. Bill Raggio and Randolph Townsend, both R-Reno, are distancing themselves from Washington because they fear an impending collapse.

Ironically, Washington's footdragging is reminiscent of his 1994 opponent. Sen. Len Nevin, D-Sparks, had plenty of campaign money in the bank and didn't spend much. He also didn't campaign much, despite the urgings of supporters that Washington was moving well throughout the district.

Nevin's overconfidence combined with the collapse of Clinton-disllusioned Democrats in the year of Newt swept Washington into office. In 1998, former Sparks Mayor Jim Spoo made every mistake in the book against Washington and handed him re-election on a silver platter.

Now, Washington's fortunes have come full circle. Because he failed to show up for a speaking engagement at a senior citizens meeting put together by utility activist Wanda Wright, she decided to run against him. Wright knows how to organize. As well-chronicled in this column, Wright's utility rate protest petition spread like wildfire throughout northern Nevada from Nye County to Elko.

She gathered more than 35,000 signatures which she trucked in on a little red wagon to a recent Public Utilities Commission hearing.

As I previously noted, Wright endured a lot of heartbreaking stories from desperate people unable to cope with power bills in the age of Enron. Most touching was the case of one aged couple which had to choose between heat or heart medication last winter. They chose to pay their power bill and one died.

"I'm going to help these seniors," Wright told me earlier this year.

It was just that type of utility crusade which turned Townsend into a politically invulnerable lawmaker starting 20 years ago. Last week, KOLO TV-8 news made Wright the voice of public opinion in a story about the recent rate hike won by Sierra Pacific Power. In addition to running her own ranch supply business, Wright is currently organizing a fundraiser to help Alyce Taylor School in Sparks raise money for playground equipment. Those wanting to help may call (775) 327-4677. She is also planning a September event to raise money to help senior citizens pay their power bills.

By then, she may well be the Republican nominee for senate against Sparks railroad engineer and Democratic contender Joe Carter.

Rev. Washington's troubles are mounting. Yesterday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that misdemeanor charges have been filed against Washington in Sparks Justice Court. They stem from his repeated failure to pay workers compensation insurance premiums for employees of his charter school. The school recently came close to losing its accreditation from state and local officialdom.

All of this may trigger the feds to look into Sen. Washington's school and church operations.

DOWNSIZE THIS! Less than 24 hours after this column hit the street on May 19, UPS dropped plans to fire more than 100 "day-sort" shift workers and managers at its Sparks distribution facility. I was subsequently informed that UPS is super-sensitive to any negative publicity because of national union contract negotiations now underway. Some well-placed Teamsters Union representatives put the hammer down on UPS and the termination plan was killed, at least for the time being.

UPS tried to break the Teamsters Union by causing a nationwide strike in 1997. The five-year contract expires this August. As I also reported on May 19, the Teamsters contract with the operator of the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission bus system is also up for renewal. The same outfit also contracts to run the Las Vegas paratransit system. They've got to be quaking in their suede shoes in view of the ongoing Las Vegas bus strike, now entering its third week.

Teamsters Local 533 members are scheduled to take a strike vote today. They could authorize a work stoppage beginning June 11. They came within a cat's whisker of shutting the system down three years ago. Ryder/ATE, the foreign-owned contractor which operates the system, blew big money bringing in unneeded strikebreakers from out of state. They did so without Regional Transportation Commission permission, but RTC decided to eat the huge expense anyway — with a warning that it not happen again.

Summertime has all the makings of major smoke and maximum fire.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 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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