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Swatting gnats, swallowing camels & political animals


Enough, already. Lighten up. Sparks Mayor Bruce Breslow and recently-resigned Reno councilperson Judy Pruett Herman have been subjected to ripe tomatoes and worse over the past week.

Herman resigned rather than fight to retain her council seat. She let the lease on her apartment lapse while out of the country seeking cancer treatment for her husband. When she returned, she rented another apartment in the same complex but also resided at her husband's home outside her northeast Reno district.

Worst of all, she was honest about it, an affront for which elected officials are always punished. Her political enemies at Reno City Hall went for the throat.

Almost all Reno council members live in southwest Reno in gerrymandered districts, a fine Nevada tradition. Back in the 1970s, Assemblyman Bob Robinson (D-Las Vegas), publicized his residing in a sleeping bag and cooking on a Coleman camp stove in the shell of his under-construction home. His attempt to legitimize his residency worked and he went on to an undistinguished state senate career.

"Constructive residency," meaning the place in which you reside or intend to reside, is a difficult concept to prove or disprove. It provides irresistible grist for the mill of short attention span follytix.

In 1972, the late Emerson Titlow ran for the southeast Reno assembly seat against incumbent Republican Randy Capurro. Polls showed Titlow winning.

Then, he made a fatal error: he told the truth. Titlow went to the Reno newspapers and told them he was building a second home in southwest Reno where he intended to move after the election. He still could have legally kept the assembly seat under the law at the time. The new house was only about two miles away from his condo. When he saw the hassle the truth was creating, he informed the media he would simply stay put. Too late.

Capurro began running spots "paid for by people in Assembly District 26 who think their representative should live in Assembly District 26." Game over.

Nevada residency requirements are highly inconsistent and easy to flout. Political junkies know that my old friend and former client State Sen. Randolph Townsend (R-Reno), has long been basically a resident of Las Vegas. But people are apparently more forgiving of wealthy people with multiple homes.

Gov. Bob Miller spends much, if not most, of his time in Gomorrah South, not the capital. He certainly remembers all the political damage Johnny Carson did to Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown by poking fun at Brown's extensive travel. The news media have never focused on these away games.

Recent financial disclosures show gubernatorial candidates Jan Jones (D) and Kenny Guinn (R) with "vacation homes" outside of the state. As with Sen. Townsend, "constructive residency" issues don't seem to arise, but a maverick newcomer like GOP gubernatorial madman Aaron Russo gets terminal media attention.

When people like Mrs. Herman and former Sen. Titlow tell the truth about residency, they pay a heavy price. Those who shut up, move up.

Such moral obtuseness keeps cynics like me in business, but once in awhile I cut some slack. No one has been more critical of Sparks Mayor Bruce Breslow than I have.

He has recently been trashed for overusing his city-issued cellular phone, among other things. Like residency hassles, compulsive yakking provides easy shots for my media colleagues to take.

As the great talk show host Travus T. Hipp once said, sometimes cheap shots are the only shots you get. But if we want virgins in office, we should pay them well, forbid all outside income and pay for their campaigns with taxpayer money. Then we could get righteously angry when a Bruce Breslow calls somebody to set up a golf game.

Tempests in teapots are easy to report. Gang rape by the powerful is often complex and thus easy to overlook. The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority is broke after financing the white elephant Reno bowling alley. After orgies of corporate welfare, the Reno and Sparks downtown redevelopment agencies are likewise too broke to proceed on needed projects.

Now, the dons of Reno's casino center want a new convention hall built at their doorsteps. And they want your tax money and mine to do it with.

All this comes after a legislative session which facilitated increased taxes and fees on you and me while giving millions in new freebies to the gambling-industrial complex.

That's where the fire of public criticism should be directed, not at the minor peccadilloes of two public officials who will face the voters soon enough.

Prediction: Watch for calls to increase the sales tax on you and me to pay for the Circus-Carano convention mecca.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 6/7/98.