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March 1, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

New life for Sahara as the state Capitol?


Leila Navidi

Why not reopen the domed Sahara hotel on the Las Vegas Strip as the new state Capitol building?

Click to enlarge photo

J. Patrick Coolican

On the Sahara’s final weekend, I walked into a pathetic scene: A bunched crowd of patrons, arms outstretched, reaching and yelling as employees distributed free T-shirts. It was like something out of a disaster zone where the crowd is pushing up against the relief workers giving out sacks of food.

Later, I looked out a 24th-story window of the Sahara’s Tunisia Tower at the sad empty lot across the street — it was once to be “City Center II: Attack of the Inflated Real Estate Bubble” — and walked around the decaying north end of the Strip. I ruminated on our troubles here in Las Vegas and in Carson City, where the state Legislature will yet again fail to solve our myriad problems.

Later, this got me to thinking, and I came up with a classic win-win: We should move the state capital to Las Vegas, and make the Sahara the Capitol building.

Hear me out.

Doesn’t it strike you as ridiculous that nearly three-fourths of the state’s population live 450 miles from the place where, according to the state constitution, we have the right to “instruct” our representatives and “petition the Legislature for redress of Grievances”?

It would be like if people in Massachusetts had to travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to lobby their legislators. Actually, Harrisburg is 50 miles closer to Boston than Carson is to Vegas.

How did this happen anyway? I talked to Nevada historians Michael Green and Guy Rocha and got the story. It’s interesting history.

In 1857, Brigham Young instructed his Mormon followers to return from western outposts, including what is now Carson City, to defend the Mormon church against the federal army. Abraham Curry, John Musser, Benjamin Franklin Green and Francis Marion Proctor came over from California and snapped up the newly available land. Curry emerged as the leader. He owned a hotel and some other businesses in what is now Carson. The group hoped Carson would be the capital of some new territory and eventually a state, so they set aside some land for a “capital square.”

Congress made Nevada a territory March 2, 1861. Where to put the capital? Virginia City was the territory’s most important city because of the mining boom.

But Curry persuaded the territory’s most important politician, William Stewart — “He was the Bill Raggio of his time,” Rocha says — to help broker a deal.

The deal was that all competing towns would become the county seat of their own newly created counties. This is why Nevada has massive counties, except for the cluster of five all bunched around Carson City — all participants in the Stewart deal.

See? It was all a dirty land deal.

So what is the effect of having a capital that’s like a desert island with snow?

Well, who can afford to travel to Carson City to play a face-to-face role in the legislative process? Who do you think?

Lobbyists for Big Business and Big Labor. (A few lobbyists and legislators have taken a little too much to heart the constitution’s phrase “instruct their representatives.”)

And who seems to win nearly every time in Carson City? Big Business and/or Big Labor.

Rocha notes that when students have trekked to Carson this session on their buses, everyone knows they have to return to classes and jobs, while the lobbyists remain.

But think of the influence regular people in Las Vegas could have on the Legislature if lawmakers met at the Sahara. It basically has a dome. There’s ample free parking and plenty of sundries over at the World’s Largest Gift Shop.

Perhaps MGM Resorts would allow students to use the empty lot across the street for demonstrations.

Also, think of the great scandals we would enjoy as legislators got themselves sideways on the Strip.

The historian Green, who, I confess, planted the Sahara-as-capital idea in my head, suggests that Gov. Brian Sandoval could live at the Sahara: “I hear the pool is nice.”

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  1. Nevada NEEDS to move the administration of the state to where the people are. How many mediocre public employees up in Carson City are there because much better qualified people wouldn't move to Carson City? Talk about increased competition in the public arena!

  2. B-I-N-G-O!!!!!

    Much of the reason that the Nevada State Lawmakers get away with their shenanagans is because of the huge DISTANCE contituents must travel to personally address their concerns in a way that best suits them. Time to re-think how efficient it is to have Carson City as the state capitol. Drastic times call for drastic measures, including getting UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.

    Off course, there is such hatred, the North versus South thing, here in Nevada, that it would be an uphill battle, let alone dealing with how a certain group continues to garner power with back room deal that they prefer that favor their interests.

    The Sahara is there, now available, let's use it for government! Now that would be an instant tourist attraction.

  3. The State Capital must be moved to where the people live. If it isn't the Sahara, then somewhere else around Las Vegas. Business air fares on Southwest are $390 RT 'business' plus taxes and fees, $360 'anytime' at this time. To drive, it's two days travel, 900 miles RT, 45 gallons of gas, ten sandwiches, at least two gallons of tea and an untold number of road stops.

    Mining interest have the ability to travel anywhere and write off their travel expenses, yet the public cannot write off their lobbying trips to the Capital. This is called "Law" because it gives the upper hand to financial interests to presenting their interests over the public. The financial interests make the Law, not the public.

    The $400 in travel costs by an individual cannot be written off his taxes, but business interests can - along with a side vacation to Lake Tahoe to boot.

    Nevada's State Capital must move - draw up the petition!

  4. I won't take full credit! But the idea has some merit, and Sandogibbons might benefit from cleaning his own room.

  5. Much to the chagrin of Clark County, the state constitution makes this entire article moot.

  6. Not so sure about making an old casino into a capital building, but the idea of having capitals close to population centers is smart. I don't think you can just move loactions of the capital though. And we're not the only ones. Sacramento is 400 miles from LA and 500 from San Diego. Tallahassee is 500 miles from Miami, and seriously who the heck lives in the Florida panhandle? The other 47 states are in good shape though.

  7. I agree , the capital should be closer. You still have to rely on people to watch and read what's going on though.

  8. While it might be nice to have the state capitol near the largest population base, NV is not unusual to have it's capitol located in a smaller city away from the major urban areas:

    CA) Sacramento - miles away from LA & SD, & even a short way from the SF/SJ/OAK bay area.

    MO) Jefferson City, center of state away from KC/St.L metros.

    NY) Albany - Center of state, away from NYC & Buffalo metros.

    KS) Topeka - Short drive from KC & awaWichitaWhicLincolnE) Linclon a short drive from Omaha.

    TX) Austin, a good drive from DFW/HOUTallahasseeFL) Tallahasse, long drive from Miami area, Tampa & Jax, plus an hour time diff.

    IL) Sprigfield, away from CHI metro.

    WI) Madison - similar ot NE, capitol located same as major State Univ, and not in largest metro.

  9. If the Capital were any further from Las Vegas, it might as well be in a different state or country.

    The capitals of several other states are about as close, OR CLOSER to Las Vegas than Carson... Mexico is MUCH closer.

    The DRIVE between Las Vegas & Carson City is like driving across the MOON...and just about as exciting as driving across North Dakota.
    The majority of Nevadans do NOT have access to their apparatchiks...
    Of the peeps, by the peeps, for the peeps...
    aren't WE the peeps???

  10. I'm all for it as long as we are all vaccinated against the disease that politicians carry. I think it may be communicable.

  11. Forget moving the capitol.

    It is time for Southern Nevada to leave the north of the state behind and create a new state.

    Think of it this way, the new state's northern border would run east/west in a straight line meeting Arizona's northern border. The land area would be roughly equivalent to that of Maryland or New Jersey, larger than Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut or Rhode Island.

    Southern Nevadans, who as Patrick stated make up roughly 75% of the population of the entire state of Nevada today, would be represented by two senators in addition to retaining two representatives to the house.

    Most of the tax revenue that currently goes to state and governmental operations is generated here anyway, so by separating the south from northern Nevada, we'd be able to retain those tax dollars and concentrate them in a much smaller geographical area, thus saving money.

    I see no downside for southern Nevadans in cutting off the north. Does anyone disagree?

  12. I say make Fountain Bleu the Capital and have the Sahara as official residents for the State Legislator & Senate. That way they have to walk everyday to work.

  13. finally an issue we can all agree on. Maybe not the Sahara, but the Capitol must be moved.