There’s part of a NAACP sign in front of Ruby Jean’s Barber Shop at the corner of Montello and Oliver streets in Reno. The building hums with activity Tuesday. Some folks chat around an old-style barber chair. Others nibble from a feast spread out on a pool table: seafood and veggies on plastic supermarket trays, chocolate-chip cookies, Dorito chips and salsa. Video games line one wall. In front of a game called Tekken 3, there’s a 18-quart roaster oven with fried chicken. Nearby is a tall silver trash receptacle with a sticker: “Joe Neal for governor.”
Election returns creep across the top of a TV screen, and someone calls a few names out.
“Cashell’s ahead.” “Looks like Sandoval.” “What’s Question 5 again?”
We are far from the Democratic Party’s swank shindig being held at Harrah’s Prospector’s Club.
“Sharon Zadra.” “Dwight Dortch.”
“Dwight Dortch? I’ll bet he’s on the 17th floor of the Peppermill.”
These folks knocked on doors and spoke to churches about voting for Nevada Sen. Joe Neal [D-Vegas] for governor. This is the low-budget campaign’s front line. Since Nevada’s Democratic Party officially snubbed Neal—giving him no support or money or even the time of day—these folks put their sweat on the line for the longtime Democrat.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the support of the party,” says Jacquelyn Brown, 42. Brown’s a former elementary schoolteacher who now works as a justice court specialist. “There were issues that needed to be brought out. It’s sad that those who are able to put more money in for taxes are not doing so.”
Neal is best known for pushing for laws that would make casinos pay more into the state coffers. That’s one reason why his northern Nevada election-night party is here. Neal’s attending a similar party in Las Vegas.
Still, the barber shop, with its worn linoleum and shelves made from decorative bricks and pressboard, feels right. A bit before 8 p.m., activist William Moon rushes into the building with news written on a scrap of notebook paper. He says that in two precincts—one spanning this northeast Reno neighborhood and the other reaching from Valley Road to McCarran—Neal received more votes than Gov. Kenny Guinn.
“So he won as far as I am concerned!” Moon shouts. “Guinn had all the money going for him. All we had was word of mouth! Neal did this without any support from the Democratic Party. They abandoned him. I hope this will let them know that Neal is a person to be reckoned with in the future.”
The election returns crawling across the TV screen, though, are dismal. Guinn is declared the winner in record time—about an hour after the polls close. Guinn spent $2 million on his campaign; Neal spent $20,000.
Insurance agent Jimmy Stober, a 59-year-old registered Republican, says he crossed party lines to vote for Neal.
“The man has integrity,” Stober says. “For example, on taxes, Sen. Neal knew where he stood. The Republicans say they don’t know what they’ll do about taxes until after the election. That’s their story. Do you believe it? … Guinn has sold out. He doesn’t represent the people. He only represents his next political opportunity.”
I should have asked him why he’s still a Republican.