Column: Two Things Nevada Can Be Proud Of





Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Gambling in America: An Encyclopedia.

This commentary concerns the new 25 cent coins celebrating events of each of the states of our union. I take what some might mistakenly consider a"parochial" perspective, as I discuss the portrayals I desire to see on the Nevada coin when it is minted.

Each day we should celebrate, celebrate as if we just pushed Sisyphus's rock over the mountain, even if we only pushed it up a few feet, even if it slipped out of our hands and all we can show is that we made the effort.

But celebrate we must--especially when we do push the rock over the top. Nevadans will soon be able to celebrate as the U.S. Mint will issue a 25 cent coin, a quarter, commemorating the state of Nevada as part of our federal Union. Appropriately, the coin will be silver plated. But what should be on the two faces of the coin? As a Nevadan I feel impelled to"weigh in" with my suggestions for our state coin.

We are a special state. O.K., every state can claim to be special, I suppose. But at this juncture in time, national political leaders recognize a special feature that has been part of the Nevadan existence since time inmemoriam--our wide open desert spaces. We have been a geographic void and also at times a political and economic void on our national landscape. Such a fact has driven much of our internal political and economic life. And now such a fact results in a nationally driven policy (made with some disrespect to our state) which will make our state the location for all the nation's nuclear waste. In exchange for this special honor, we must demand that we also be selectively honored by having two sides of a new 25 cent coin devoted to matters we think deserve celebration.

Being somewhat of a cynic and contrarian I might suggest some dark humor--maybe a mushroom cloud, a caricature of Joe Conforte and his Mustang Ranch, or an Elvis Wedding chapel. Then we might put a jack-o-lantern and a costume mask in appropriate recognition that a president (Lincoln) chose Halloween (really!) as the day he proclaimed statehood for Nevada. Talk about tricks and treats! Or maybe with a bit more seriousness, we could feature our notable industry figures along with a clock showing dice for hour numbers. We could place the profiles of Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Howard Hughes, or the latter day Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson on the coin. But I won't make such suggestions. Instead I will be very serious. Our state has very serious things to celebrate.

We are the Battleborn State, for among all the others, we were given a place in the union in order to save and preserve our national Union at a time of Civil War. We were proclaimed to be a state in 1864, one week before the national election. Lincoln thought he needed more electoral votes, and we helped reelect the president and his"Union" ticket. Statehood was seen as a reward for the fact that the mines of our state afforded the nation great wealth that was used to successfully prosecute the Civil War. While the Territory of Nevada lacked the requisite population to justify becoming a state, Lincoln and Congress promoted the notion as a way of mustering extra needed support for war policies and for anti-slavery and civil rights amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The new state legislature met in December 1864 and elected William M. Stewart and James W. Nye as the first two U.S. Senators from Nevada. H. C. Hollingsworth had been elected the first member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the November election. The three rushed to Washington where they voted in favor of the constitutional proposal (13th Amendment) to end slavery. In January the measure was sent to the states for ratification and the Nevada legislature ratified the amendment on February 16, 1865. The state and its delegation was also important for the proposing and ratification of the 14th and 15th amendments. Nevada was the first state to ratify the Fifteenth.

We must always celebrate the fact that the existence of Nevada means national union and freedom. Appropriate events from the 1860s should be placed on one side of the new coin.

On the other side of the coin we should recognize a recent event that still cries out for a celebration that never was held. For reasons stated above, I should never apologize for seriously offering this idea: the State of Nevada and the nation should now join in celebrating the stunning accomplishment of the 1990 UNLV Running Rebels basketball team led my coach Jerry Tarkanian and his cadre of all American players.

It is funny that any small Iowa farm town will place a sign at its borders proclaiming that its high school girls softball team won the class C regional title in 1983. And the sign is still there.

However, the interpersonal battles between a university president and a coach stopped Las Vegas and Nevada from having a real celebration after a victory unmatched in American college sports history. No where in Las Vegas is there now (or has there even been) a publicly visible sign saying we won the national basketball championship. Instead of celebrating, we retrenched and held but a singular rally in which we shouted out one word--"Repeat." Ergo we stood as if we were losers and cried out"Wait until next year."

But alas, there was no"next year," we were UNLV, not UCLA, we did not"repeat." We keep waiting, and we keep retreating into the malaise that is an inferiority complex--a sense we are losers--that has gripped the state through most of its history. We very much need to break this cycle, our state desperately needs a celebration, and what the 1990 team accomplished in the sports world was so big, that we can still celebrate--it was so big that we must celebrate. If we never do, we may always be clinging to the notion that we are losers.

But Nevadans are not losers. We are a state that helped win a civil war that restored our national unity, we are a state that helped achieve the political victory that ended the scourge of slavery in our midst, we won freedom. Our state is a state of victories. Our state is the state of champions. Let us celebrate those victories and championships on our new national coin.

This celebration will be a celebration we can personally"own." This celebration will encompass the spirit of celebration that will preclude others from coopting our loyalties in a way that may endanger our liberty. Basketball, cheering crowds, and Freedom: Celebrations for Nevada's 25 cent coin.


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