Selections & reflections from the Nevada Current staff on a year that … could have been worse?
The Nevada Current staff. From left: Camalot Todd, Jeniffer Solis, Dana Gentry, Hugh Jackson, April Corbin Girnus, Michael Lyle.
Note: As we do near the end of every year, each writer on the Nevada Current staff took a little time to highlight some of their work from the year, and say whatever they wanted to say about it.
April Corbin Girnus
I wrote one of my favorite stories of 2022 early on. In February, I attended a “poverty simulation” at UNLV where students preparing for careers in health care were given a taste of what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck. I watched participants scamper around a gymnasium trying to avoid eviction, navigate social services, find employment, and deal with curveballs beyond their control. Many had time and resource limitations that made their odds of success impossible. I remember thinking to myself: These are all the things we write about at the Current.
Life isn’t supposed to be easy, but it sure as hell isn’t supposed to be this hard for this many.
Does it have to be this way?
Could we use a rosy financial projection to better fund needed services? Could we build up our child care industry to give more parents the ability to work? Could we shake up the political system that so many are disenfranchised by?
Those are all conversations people have been having in the past year, and I’ve spent a lot of time researching these issues and trying to provide for people the information and context they need and want about them. I look forward to those conversations (and my reporting) continuing, assuming we don’t nose dive into a full-on recession and have to all shift back into pure survival mode.
*knock on wood*
The rent is too damn high.
I’ve been reporting on Nevada’s housing crisis since 2018 and have written about the effects of skyrocketing rents, in particular in the last two years. And 2022 was no different.
This year, elected officials used federal relief dollars and began to make strides in creating affordable housing, which will take time to actually construct. But, many of them continue to play a game of hot potato over who has the power to prevent rent rates from climbing. The topic of rent control was broached early on this year and pretty much fizzled out. One of my favorite, and more in-depth, pieces on rent stabilization explores the nuances of local and state power on the issue.
As a journalist, you can only hope that your reporting sheds a light on injustices people face and that elected officials will respond. During the first two years of the pandemic, I reported consistently about evictions and what tenants were experiencing. Time and time again, I would hear, and write about, how weekly motels were trying to exploit loopholes in the eviction moratoria (state and federal). A congressional probe into their practices wrapped up an investigation and validated what was being reported. Siegel Suites engaged in egregious practices to evict people during a pandemic. For tenants like Ashima Carter, who I first interviewed in 2021 and then again after the Congressional report, the damage was already done.
Bless the beasts and the builders.
Animals and housing topped my story list in 2023, and sometimes both topics meshed – like in a story about unhoused people and their pets, and another on Nevada’s wild horses competing with homebuilders for space.
Back in 2020 when COVID was raging, I reported that counterintuitive as it may be with throngs out of work, people who still had jobs were upsizing into homes where they could have it all – room to work, educate the youngsters, and recreate. Thanks to record low pandemic-era interest rates, the phenomenon snowballed into a run up in housing prices that rendered buying cost-prohibitive for many, especially first-time buyers. Housing prices and rents, out of whack with income growth, climbed.
Home prices finally peaked in March, and the subsequent slide has been steep, but little help to cash-strapped buyers priced out by mortgage interest rates that have ballooned from historic lows of less than 3% to 7% in November for a 30-year fixed rate. Mortgage rates in mid-December were down slightly, leaving room for some optimism in 2023.
As renters struggle to keep up with inflation, and prospects for rent stabilization (unless imposed locally) appear unlikely under Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo, apartment builders at both ends of the state are focusing on luxury products.
Also back in 2020, animal shelters in Nevada and the nation reported cages were rapidly emptying, thanks to people being confined to their homes with nothing to do. It was a good idea with an inevitable bad ending.
The reckoning arrived this year, with a slew of abandoned and surrendered dogs and cats. Southern Nevada’s largest publicly-funded shelter, the Animal Foundation, buckled under the pressure, leaving rescues to pick up the slack.
A measure aimed at reducing shelter populations, a ban on animal sales from pet stores, won approval in December from the Clark County Commission. The City of Las Vegas, which repealed a pet store sales ban in 2017, has defended its animal services and declined to reinstate the ban.
On the animal entertainment front, the Hard Rock, new owner of the Mirage, announced it will close the resort’s dolphin exhibit, where the dolphins live a fraction of their expected lifespan.
The Hard Rock is refusing to say where the Mirage’s remaining dolphins will be sent.
At the northern end of the state, the Current’s story on how climate change is forcing bears into perilous situations prompted national reporting on the bear known by many monikers – from Jake to Hank the Tank.
I’m ending the year with a massive cold. Last year, I ended it with my family cat in the animal hospital because he was shot with a bullet. He’s good now. Really, you can’t even tell.
That is to say, 2022 was a better year for me. It seems like it was a better year for Nevada and the people living here too.
For one, the Legislature passed a bill late 2021 that allowed tribes to request a polling site or ballot drop box on their reservation, which counties would be required to set up each election cycle.
Several Tribal Nations in Nevada took advantage of that hard-fought right in 2022, including the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, and the Yomba Shoshone Tribe.
In the case of the Yomba Shoshone Tribe, however, disorganization and miscommunication in Nye County following the appointment of election denier Mark Kampf as the county’s top election clerk resulted in a botched and chaotic election week for the tribe.
Despite a trail of emails and election forms proving the tribe submitted a request by the statutory deadline and were entitled to a polling site, the tribe was forced to seek out a consultant with Four Directions Native Vote, a voting rights group that successfully sued Nevada and several counties for election violations in the past.
Nye County and Mark Kampf ultimately decided to do the right thing and give the tribe their polling location. Good job fellas.
On another positive note, Nye County became the first in the nation to offer voting in Shoshone language — a language tribes in Nevada are fighting to preserve.
County officials were required to work something out, because the Voting Rights Act requires all communities with significant groups of non-English-proficient citizens to be provided election materials in that group’s language. Still, good job again fellas.
Nye County wasn’t the only one with election problems. Election clerks in Washoe and Clark — Nevada’s two most populous counties — were flooded with public records requests seeking evidence of election fraud and demanding confidential information on voters and poll workers, adding chaos to important work preparing the November election.
But the New Year is nigh, and we should look to the future now. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act by the end of June 2023.
Tribal Nations in Nevada say if the court sides with those challenging the 44 year old law, it could dismantle broader tribal sovereignty. Or as Amber Torres, the chair of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, explained the case, it’s “a blatant slap in the face to tribal sovereignty.”
One important New Year’s resolution for the seven states who depend on the Colorado River is to agree on a plan to safeguard the shrinking supply of water the river can supply. Some important people talked about that for three days straight in Las Vegas this month.
A friend of mine who’s gone into mechanical engineering recently told me her mentor said ‘water is the future. It’s where the money will be.’ Imagine a thing like that.
I moved back to my home state in May to help with family stuff and anyone who has ever helped with family stuff knows that it’s always heavy and rarely good.
Early into the “2022 summer reintroducing myself to the Nevada media tour” I connected with my former co-worker, April Corbin Girnus, to freelance for the nonprofit newsroom, Nevada Current.
The freelancing gig was short-lived.
In August, I joined the scrappy and best-dressed newsroom in the Silver State to cover mental health, social services and other issues full time.
Like all who move away from their home, only to return weary-eyed and aged — some things are the same: Nevada’s persistent struggle with mental health especially for youth, and a general apathy toward improving social services.
Other things are different: my middle school downtown is now just another dirt lot. The longstanding health concerns that made headlines in my high school and college days — affordable health care, tackling the opioid epidemic, and access to factual reproductive health care — are now burgeoning public health crises.
The stories that I am most proud to bear witness to and tell are those that demonstrate how health care policy impacts people. In Anti-abortion centers: Unregulated, misleading, and close as possible to abortion clinics, we see how the lack of regulating crisis pregnancy centers, religious-based nonprofits posing as reproductive health clinics, distressed a young woman trying to get answers to her missed period, and how these clinics impact people in a post-Dobbs decision world.
But even as things look grim regarding healthcare, there does seem to be some cause for cautious optimism. Nevada rolled out its version of 988 in July, a considerable policy initiative that not only changed the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to an easy three-digit number but also aims to revamp the mental and behavioral health care system entirely. And smaller mental and behavioral health policies may (heavy emphasis on the may) be common ground for the new, divided Congress.
He wasn’t a celebrity, and Nevada’s a relatively small state, so unlike other Republicans who were patently unfit to be a U.S. senator, Adam Laxalt’s Trump-based and Trump-backed candidacy failed to garner a lot of that thing Laxalt desires most: attention from national media.
But Nevada voters had his number so it didn’t matter.
If Joe Lombardo’s campaign for governor had a point, it was that Lombardo had a badge and a gun so ergo, ipso facto, and neener neener he must be a stalwart champion of law and order. And yet Lombardo chummed it up with the pathologically lawless Trump anyway. Then Lombardo, in a simpering act of public obeisance, just cold folded for Trump.
But in Lombardo’s case, Nevada voters didn’t seem to mind, or at least not much. Perhaps it was something Steve Sisolak’s campaign said. Or didn’t. Tuesday Lombardo will be inaugurated, ushering in what promises to be an unremarkable administration.
In an effort to appear to be at least trying to deliver on something resembling a campaign promise – or something within the same general subject area – your new governor is expected to make many noises about taking public money away from public schools and giving it to private ones. The education privatization movement and industry has spent decades crafting soaring, inspirational ways to say c’mon Nevada, let’s get out there and give up on public schools. It will be interesting to see how many, if any, Democratic legislators will sip the privatization KoolAid. (Does your child deserve an education? Let the market decide!)
Democrats by the way had their chances over the last four years to get a lot of stuff done, but on many fronts, they took a pass. While Lombardo is governor, state economic policy, inasmuch as there is any, will be a top-down affair, far more focused on being business-friendly than worker-cognizant. In other words, some things won’t change.
Finally, even though several election-denying Nevada chuckleheads lost their bids for public office in 2022, many of their elections were disturbingly, unnervingly close. A popular narrative in the aforementioned national press as the year winds down is that Trump is no longer the commanding presence he was in the Republican Party, that he is yesterday’s man. Maybe this time that’s true. But that narrative, along with nearly half the Nevada electorate’s willingness to vote for conspiracy-mongering vulgarians, reminds me yet again of spring this year when I was visited by a swarm of bees.
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