Politics & poker: Frankie Sue and Spoo, too


Money is not the reason Nevada Atty. Gen. Frankie Sue Del Papa withdrew from the gubernatorial race last week. Ms. Del Papa alienated many key constituencies.

It's hard for a Democrat to win without organized labor and the press. Del Papa frosted both. Years of mishandling complaints effectively gutted what was once among the nation's toughest open meeting laws. Scurrying toward an election year, Del Papa finally took the public's side in a high profile case.

University of Nevada regent Nancy Price complained that Sparks regent James Eardley violated the law by polling board members by phone and fax in an attempt to censure Price. Del Papa's office lost the case in dingbat Washoe District Judge Janet Berry's court. The case is now on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. Should the Pep Girl Judge be upheld, the doors of government will slam shut statewide.

Meanwhile, the Reno City Council and the Airport Authority of Washoe County hold secret meetings at less-than-quorum strength in order to keep the public in the dark. The Sparks City Council was ousted in 1983 in large part due to years of backroom decision making. It was a misguided attempt to show harmony. The voters finally got wise to all those curious 5-0 votes after no debate. (That lesson has started to wear off as the current council earlier this year held a meeting at a Tahoe ski resort. Only Sparks union activist Richard "Skip" Daly made the long drive to attend.)

Del Papa recently started scoring points in the Cow Counties by siding with mining and ranching interests against the feds. The good ole boys were pleasantly surprised, but it didn't change many votes.

Someone without Del Papa's baggage could be a strong contender. Most voters are women. A substantial bloc among them will vote for a female no matter what. That's part of the reason why former congressperson Barbara Vucanovich (R-Nev.) went undefeated for 14 years. Many women voted for her despite her status as the most anti-woman woman in the House of Representatives.

Reno Mayor Pete Sferrazza had Vucanovich beaten in1992. He made one mistake, taking his attack TV spots off the air in mid-October. His eight-point lead quickly disappeared.

Women had launched him into that position. A strong statewide womens' political network was up and running after the 1990 election when Roe v. Wade was placed on the Nevada ballot. (Pro-choice won handily.) Sferrazza simply hired some of the initiative supporters. They proved very effective.

Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones proved ineffective against Gov. Miller in the 1994 primary, but could be a contender this time. The Democrats also have a dark horse, and she's a thoroughbred. State senate minority leader Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) is both charming and formidable. She appeals to both women and worker constituencies. She's a professor at UNLV and holds a PhD, just like the millionaires' candidate, Republican brahmin Kenny Guinn.

She also brings forward tremendous credibility to speak about Guinn's Achilles' heel: his handling of money as interim UNLV president. Guinn has never before held public office. People don't like voting for someone with no record.

Guinn has also never been a candidate and can thus be counted on to make major mistakes. He addressed the Nevada AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas last month and failed to utter the word "union."

A mistake-free campaign can prove successful for either Titus or Jones. Neither bears Del Papa's burden spawned by years of turning off the public. A friendlier and more conscientious Frankie Sue could have had a cakewalk, money or not. College professor Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) defeated multimillionaire GOP Sen. Rudy Boschwitz on just a $50,000 TV budget. Wellstone would apologize for talking fast in commercials, smiling that he didn't have money to buy more spots which would allow him to speak slowly.

Nevada women can drown Guinn in all his cash.

GUESS SPOO? The political rumbles in the jungle say former Sparks Mayor Jim Spoo is close to declaring for Republican Maurice Washington's Sparks state senate seat. Spoo would face retiring Washoe County Democratic Party Chairman Charlie Cox in the Donkey primary. Cox works at the General Motors Sparks warehouse and has long served as president of United Auto Workers Local 2142

MEDIA UPDATE: "Fear & Favor in the Newsroom" has still not been scheduled on Nevada PBS TV stations. Keep the calls and mail coming. I've read the program's transcript and I guarantee it will tick off the rich, famous and powerful. It shows how monied interests from car dealers to Coca Cola influence the news you never see—and hallowed PBS is not immune. The segment about nuclear waste dumping will inflame Nevada hearts.

Let program directors know you want to see it. E-mail for northern Nevada or for southern Nevada. You may call them, respectively, at (702) 784-4555 or (520) 299-1866.

The show is narrated by the great Studs Terkel. You can preview audio and video at

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano, a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 29-year Nevadan, is editor of U-News.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 10/26/97.

Reprints of the UNR financial scandal newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot Reno locations.