Rigged games and fallen giants
Expanded from the Sunday, 7-11-2004, Daily
Sparks, Nev., Tribune
and the 7-16-2004 Comstock Chronicle
Elmer Rusco, Ph.D.
The news of Dr. Elmer Rusco's death came in the same week that hope died for the least among us.
The eminent historian and civil rights leader passed away at age 76 on July 2. He had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease earlier this year.
NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET
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The day after his memorial service last week, Republican Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller announced that a petition to raise Nevada's minimum wage by a stingy $1.00 an hour in 2006 will not be allowed on this November's ballot.
Heller said he based his decision on Republican Attorney General Brian Sandoval's advice to ignore a 1999 opinion from the manifestly Republican U.S. Supreme Court. That case removed some obstacles to petitions in Colorado, identical versions of which remain on the books in Nevada. Sandoval and Heller want the illegal provisions enforced, so the minimum wage petition has been bounced.
Political pros know that such a measure will improve voter turnout by somewhere between three and five percent this fall. Increasing the number of voters is a pox upon the GOP house. Republicans vote in higher percentages in low turnout elections. When voter turnout increases, Democrats win.
This petition was actually part of a presidential assassination that of the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry. It's a signal that no stone, legal or illegal, will be left unturned to return Dubya to the White House.
Nevada business interests have worked hard for the past 50 years to diminish the right of Nevadans to petition their government. It all started in the late 1950s with the requirement that a petition be signed by 10 percent of the registered voters in 13 of Nevada's 17 counties. Anti-union interests correctly figured that organized labor would have a hard time getting pro-worker signatures in some rural areas.
In 1998 and again this year, the Nevada State AFL-CIO overcame the ancient obstacle and obtained enough signatures to qualify petitions to modify state labor law.
In 1998, unions did not file their signatures after cutting a deal with Las Vegas Strip casino interests who agreed not to file their own documents. This year's minimum wage controversy has brought matters into brutally clear focus.
High Nevada officials are enforcing restrictions found in violation of the First Amendment by the Ubersupremes. Screw the law, we've got an election to win.
The Jones-Vargas juice law firm apparently did the research driving Sandoval and Heller. Nevada State Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, is not only a principal in the firm but also a major player on the Nevada committee to re-elect the president. The firm's political hitman is Snidely Whiplash hisself. Peter Ernaut was chief of staff to Republican Gov. Dudley Do-Right and before that a GOP Assemblyman representing southwest Reno. I've often termed Snidely the dirtiest campaigner in the history of Nevada politics and brought forth the evidence to prove it, so this is neither surprising nor new.
Were Elmer Rusco still with us leading the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, he'd be in court with organized labor this week to win back the rights of disenfranchised Nevadans.
Irony of ironies, Rusco obituaries in the Reno Gazette-Journal and the Reno News & Review failed to mention his long tenure with the nation's premier defenders of the Bill of Rights.
Rusco's death came as bit of shock to me because I heard from him not long ago. I was casting about for a copy of an article on Nevada African-American political leaders which the late journalist (and former Tribune columnist) Don Lynch had been working on a few years back. (I'm still searching.)
Dr. Rusco said he'd ask around and if I found it first, he'd like a copy. He graciously volunteered to send me a copy of a history of current leading African-Americans which he had compiled for the Reno-Sparks NAACP.
I hope Nevada labor leaders win one for Rusco in court. I can think of no more fitting memorial to a great and modest man. He may now be silent, but his voice will still be heard.
ED WEAR, GONE ON THE 4TH OF JULY. Speaking of being heard, a man who touched the lives of thousands of Nevadans died on Independence Day.
Edward J. Wear, 85, was a retired Navy master chief, a WWII vet and retired purchasing executive with the old First National Bank of Nevada.
I met him in 1971 when he served as president of the Comstock Sertoma Club, a community service organization. He convinced me to join and we worked together closely for the next several years. I was proud that among photos and news clips displayed at Ed's memorial service was an article I wrote for the Nevada State Journal in 1972 with a photo of Ed kicking off a new fundraising initiative for the Nevada Easter Seal Society. The organization was then headquartered across from Greenbrae Shopping Center in Sparks.
Led by Ed and club member Bill Garecht, Comstock Sertoma approached the Reno National Championship Air Races with a proposal to take over concession services at the annual event. For the next two decades, a wide range of service organizations raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities. In the case of Sertoma, it was Easter Seals and speech and hearing defects.
The concessions were so well-managed by and made so much money for the community groups that the Air Racing Association booted them out a few years back.
Nonetheless, uncounted thousands of Nevada children hear better today because of Ed Wear's vision and leadership back in 1972.
President Wear and Dr. Rusco, we are richer for your passage through our lives.
Be well. Raise hell.
Minimum Wage Petition may still get on ballot
Minimum wage backers win court order
Minimum wage petitions rejected
Big law firm denies involvement in crushing minimum wage petition
Reno Gazette-Journal editorial: Initiative process isn't encouraging
RGJ Editorial Rusco: a voice for voiceless, champion for the underdog
Retired civil rights scholar Rusco dies at 76
Civic leader Edward J. Wear dies at 85
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Copyright © 1982-2005 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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