Commentary

A case for Nevada being the first presidential primary state

December 1, 2022 7:36 am

Nevadans understand that as much as Republicans assert states should be free to take care of themselves, every day, in countless ways, states demonstrate they’re politically not up to doing anything of the sort. (Getty Images)

Of the states vying to be the first to hold a Democratic presidential primary in 2024, “no other state meets every key aspect of the DNC’s own criteria for the early window of diversity, competitiveness, and accessibility except Nevada,” according to long-time aide to Harry Reid and de facto executrix of Nevada Democrats, Rebecca Lambe.

She wrote that in a memo to the Democratic National Committee’s rules committee, which will be meeting over the next few days to figure out how to revamp the party’s 2024 presidential primary schedule.

Neither Iowa nor New Hampshire “looks like America,” as Lambe said of Nevada. 

Nor is either is much of a battleground state, and so fail the competitiveness test.

The DNC is reportedly considering multiple other factors as it reconfigures the primary calendar: the deep desire everywhere (except Iowa) to oust Iowa and insert another midwestern state into the early mix; state laws in New Hampshire and Nevada proclaiming themselves first; what Joe Biden wants.

(Republicans, meanwhile, have indicated no desire to mess with the extant schedule of, in order, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.)

Apart from the dread of candidates, their campaigns, and the national media of enduring frequent trips over what literally would be flyover country, Nevada has a strong case for being the first primary state, for all the familiar reasons.

And maybe some that are less familiar.

Beyond, or beneath, or in any case not part of the DNC’s criteria, there are several other things about Nevada that set it apart not only from Iowa and New Hampshire, but also Michigan and Minnesota, the two other states most frequently mentioned as vying for an early spot on the primary calendar. (South Carolina – not Nevada – was decisive in Biden winning the nomination in 2020, and South Carolina Democrats, led by Jim Clyburn, have indicated they’re quite comfortable with their fourth-place position.)

The DNC rules committee almost certainly will not be considering some lower profile characteristics that distinguish Nevada from other states when determining who should go first. But maybe the DNC should.

For instance, of the half dozen states that are reportedly in the serious mix for early primary status:

  • Nevada is the only one that has no personal state income tax. Disproportionately relying on sales taxes for state revenue instead, Nevada places a much higher relative tax burden on lower-income households while levying a lighter burden on higher income households. In fact, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Nevada’s is the nation’s fifth most inequitable tax structure. That makes Nevada’s tax structure far more regressive than any of the other states in the DNC’s early state options.
  • Only Nevada gave a state-level tax break and subsidy package to Elon Musk, let alone a $1.3 billion one.
  • At $750 million, Nevada is already first among the early-state hopefuls in the size of a public subsidy given to an NFL team. (Minnesota is second at $498 million; at $110 million, Michigan earns an honorable, or dishonorable as the case may be, mention.)
  • Nevada is the only state that can boast a Democratic U.S. Senator who single-handedly protected the multibillion dollar global gold mining industry from paying federal royalties on money made by mining minerals on public lands, effectively assuring the industry and the nation Nevada would remain a mining colony.

Those aren’t the only ways Nevada sets itself apart from the other states hoping to play an influential role in picking a Democratic presidential nominee.

  • In fiscal year 2020, every state now vying to go early in the primaries spent more per student on public education than Nevada. New Hampshire spent nearly twice as much. Of all the 50 states, only five spent less than Nevada.
  • Each of the other states ranked considerably better than Nevada with respect to access to health care services. But for those states, that’s a very low bar; of all the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Nevada ranked 51st.
  • In Nevada, when a landlord wants to evict a tenant, instead of the landlord filing a complaint in court, the burden is on the tenant to file a response in court to the landlord’s eviction notice. No other state vying for early primary status has such a landlord-friendly, tenant-hostile “summary” eviction process. In fact, no other state in the country does.

None of these long-standing systemic inequities and inadequacies, all of which are the result of Nevada policy choices, will play into the calculations of national Democratic strategists and officials as they decide which state should go first.

But maybe they should. 

  • State tax systems favor the wealthy and punish the poor all across the country. 
  • Equally common (and not unrelated) is the race to the bottom among states to see which can give the most subsidies to companies that don’t need subsidies. 
  • Elected officials from both parties in states both red and blue are captive to their states’ most powerful industries, at the expense of the public good.
  • From coast to coast, mental health services are hard to find and even harder to access. 
  • Inasmuch as the U.S. has a housing policy, it is “let the market decide.” 

Lambe’s right. Nevada “looks like America.” 

Except in sharper relief.

So more than voters in most states, Nevadans understand that as much as Republicans assert states should be free to take care of themselves, every day, in countless ways, states demonstrate they’re politically not up to doing anything of the sort. 

If Biden runs again, which state goes first in the Democratic primaries won’t matter.

But if he doesn’t, well, the DNC should know (if it doesn’t already) that Nevadans, no doubt in part because of the cultural influence of the state’s dominant industry, can have a pronounced, maybe even hard-core, regard for pragmatism. And now that Nevada has moved to a presidential primary, voter turnout will dwarf that of the state’s prior (and silly) presidential caucuses.

Given all of these factors, voters in no other state are as likely to pick a Democratic nominee who best combines two crucial prerequisites. 

First, knowing full well that the alternative is not acceptable, Nevada Democratic primary voters will also focus like a laser beam on that consideration of most concern to the DNC rules committee. Drawing on that aforementioned pragmatism, Nevada voters, arguably more than voters in any of the other prospective early states, can be relied on to look for the candidate who can win a general election.

Less importantly to the DNC rules committee, but a not inconsequential consideration for the well being of the people of the United States, Nevada Democratic primary voters might also be expected to look for the candidate most likely to deliver on a federal policy agenda that shares prosperity and removes policy barriers that currently make life harder than it needs to be – an agenda that recognizes the need to fix things states can’t or won’t fix.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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