Mona Lisa, the Tiger, the Bear and President Gerald Ford

Expanded from the 12-8-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 8-6-2006

Two people who made lasting impacts on Nevada politics passed away last week. One was a supporter, one was an adversary. I fondly remember both.

MAGNETIC MONA. About five feet tall and 99 pounds soaking wet, high-energy Mona Sanchez Joplin charmed her way through every endeavor like a diamond-tipped buzz saw. She quickly moved up the ranks in local and state Democratic politics, earning her way through hard work and dedication. As I recall, she won election as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984.

Mona never touted her accomplishments, she just impressed you with her actions. I never knew until last week that she had won both the Miss UNR and Miss Reno pageants.

She went on to become a beloved and nurturing music teacher at UNR. Gov. Richard Bryan made Mona the first woman ever appointed to serve as public representative on the Nevada State Board of Architecture. She eventually rose to chair the body. Those who knew her would have expected nothing less.

Her memorial service will be held tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at Mountain View Mortuary at Fourth and Stoker in Reno.

Lovely little Mona Sanchez Joplin was just 48 and will thus live in our memories as forever young.

Tony Payton and I got to know each other the hard way on opposing ends of a bitterly fought congressional campaign.

In 1972, University of Nevada Regent James Bilbray did the impossible in defeating 20-year incumbent Rep. Walter Baring, D-Nev., in the Democratic primary for the state's sole congressional seat.

On the GOP side of reality, Tony Payton, who had recently sold the Gardnerville-Record Courier, was working for an unknown Douglas County real estate agent named David Towell. After being considered the frontrunner, Towell barely squeaked through the Republican primary after a strong challenge from a Las Vegan.

Towell was not the strongest candidate in the world. David remains the only guy I've ever met who ordered a round of drinks then picked up my money off the bar to pay for it.

Barbwire 8-6-2006

Tony could be euphemistically termed a "political pragmatist."

A few weeks before the primary, I ran into him at the Reno Associated Press office.

"If your guy ever needs some rumor or a little dirt leaked to a newspaper here in the north — you know, where nobody can trace where it came from — just let me know," the Tiger said with a sly grin on his face. I knew he meant it.

In 1972, Watergate was just a back page news story no one cared about here in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream. Towell placed billboards showing himself shaking hands with President Nixon. He attacked Bilbray as a tax-and-spend McGovernite liberal. (Sound familiar?)

Towell's win was a tremendous upset and Payton's future as a campaign manager was thus secured. He went on to work for the GOP and as a congressional and senate chief of staff.

There's also a side to the Bilbray-Towell story which has never been told until now. Jim Bilbray was considered such a shoo-in that the national GOP had written off the race as unwinnable.

After prevailing in the primary, Jimmy made the mistake of ticking off Charlie Bell, former chief of staff and bag man for Congressman Baring. Charlie was the reason old fuss 'n' feathers held onto office for two decades. The legend goes that the two came to a parting of the ways when each found the other witholding campaign contributions which they had agreed to equally split.

With Bell acting as a clandestine consultant for Bilbray, he defeated Baring. When Bell walked to the other side, Bilbray was foredoomed.

The bearlike Bell simply picked up the phone and called U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford, R-Mich. (Yep, the future president.)

"Gerry, this is Charlie out in Nevada. You want the congressional seat?"

"Charlie, we've already written that one off. This kid Bilbray's too strong."

"Gerry, this is your old friend Charlie talking. I said do you want the seat?"

"I'll get back to you in 48 hours."

Just 24 hours later, a man carrying a little black bag got off a plane at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. He drove across town to see Charlie Bell, who immediately implemented a Baring-style hatchet job campaign and engineered Bilbray's defeat.

Towell served one term before being ousted by Rep. Jim Santini, D-Nev., who made sure people got plenty of pictures of the Towell-Nixon billboards.

Bilbray finally made it to congress in 1986. Neither of us will ever forget our 1972 encounters with the Tiger and the Bear.

Services for Tony Payton, 62, were held yesterday in Arlington, Va.

CHARTER CABLE UPDATE. The first meeting of the City of Reno's new Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, of which I am a member, will take place this Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 4:00 p.m. at Reno City Hall in room 212-C.

The agenda includes a presentation by Bob Sepe, the city's consultant on the renewal of Charter Cable's 15-year franchise. He will lecture on "the duties and responsibilities of local government during the franchise renewal process," according to the official meeting notice.

He will discuss "local government franchise renewal rights and limitations pursuant to the 1984 Cable Act; Charter Communications' compliance with the existing agreement and what the city can and cannot legally require the cable operator to do or provide with respect to renewal."

He will also discuss the future needs of various categories of cable users and the long term outlook for the public, educational and governmental cable access system.

The committee will also review its consumer protection role, which will probably be the continuing area of greatest interest.

This inaugural session is open to the public but will not be televised on Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) because the video-equipped council chamber is not available that day.

Watch for continuing updates and please show up. This is important.

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Copyright © 2002, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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