Death plagued 2004, from Iraq to Las Vegas. Sin City spectacularly started off the year, and New Year’s celebrations left one person dead—at 4 a.m. on Jan. 1.
Nineteen days into the year, the Iowa caucuses focused the nation’s attention on presidential politics. John Kerry beating John Edwards and Howard Dean. Dean, though, turned out to be one of the key figures of the year. He taught the Democrats—or so it seemed—that the way to beat George W. Bush was to stand up to him.
The other Democratic candidates joined Dean’s strategy and started to engage in harsh criticism of Bush’s policies—until Dean himself was removed as a competitor, whereupon the other Democrats went back to toadying to Bush. Incredibly, at the Democratic National Convention, Kerry operatives issued an order to all speakers: no criticism of Bush. Every speaker but one obeyed. This unilateral disarmament, naturally, was not joined by Republicans, who spent their convention broadcasting wall-to-wall attacks on Kerry.
The Nevada Democratic caucuses drew huge turnouts, helping build the myth that Nevada was a swing state and prompting the Democrats to pour in resources to chase a state that was never in play.
Critics who had predicted that support of Gov. Guinn’s tax program would be the kiss of death, particularly for Assembly Democrats, found the issue had little resonance—and the Democrats increased their Assembly majority.
Voters raised the minimum wage in this state known for low-wage jobs.
Gay marriage emerged as a major election issue, thanks to measures placed on the ballot in a dozen states that, not incidentally, served to bring “traditional values” voters to the polls. In Las Vegas, Britney Spears upheld the sanctity of straight marriage.
Nevada’s Harry Reid was elevated to Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate, generating a debate over whether he was up to the job of taking on George Bush.
In October, the Boston Red Sox shed the ball and chain that’s been around the team’s collective ankle for decades. Long Island’s Newsday reported (in a piece penned by someone who obviously can’t remember the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn), “It’s never been worse in the New York sports universe than this. On a baleful October night at Yankee Stadium, 86 delectable years of Red Sox futility ended at New York’s expense. … The New Year can’t get here soon enough.” Although the Sox are Kerry’s home team, he naturally was unable to figure out how to attach himself to the Sox euphoria.
UNR made the NCAA “sweet sixteen,” thrilling downtown boosters but provoking mostly indifference on campus.
CNet’s News.com gloated, “Every election cycle since 1996 has been touted as a year of the Internet. In 2004, this biennial prediction finally came true.” Howard Dean’s handlers used the Internet to open an online money faucet with a roar, making his candidacy possible and inducing every other campaign to do the same. CBS’s sloppy work on George Bush’s National Guard service unraveled on the Internet.
Opponents of Nevada’s Burning Man festival took to the Internet to try to kill it. The Golden Phoenix casino in Reno, however, started marketing to Burning Man participants.
The Phoenix wasn’t the only casino looking for ways to deal with tribal gambling. Las Vegas casinos teamed up with credit cards to produce a “rewards” program for frequent tourists. Sparks’ Silver Club joined the Washoe tribe to build a Carson City casino. Reno’s Eldorado marched on Louisiana.
In September, U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley called Web gambling “a tool of terrorism.”
The September 11 Commission issued its report that dealt with mechanics of security but not with U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Everywhere were reminders of how preoccupation with the immediate distorts reality.
· Michael Moore produced an entertaining documentary that commentators predicted would swing the election. It didn’t.
· Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl was described as the latest symptom of the collapse of morality.
· Predictions of a special session of the legislature to deal with tax snarls came to nothing.
· Predictions of criminal charges against Washoe school officials came to nothing.
· Pioneering family and drug court Judge Charles McGee’s momentary relapse back into alcohol led some of those displeased with his rulings to try to recall him. It came to nothing.
· As efforts to turn Washoe’s Ballardini Ranch into a park ebbed and flowed, parks took a beating elsewhere. Commercial development was proposed for the Sparks Marina and the Don Mello ball fields. In Reno, the city seemed intent on putting commerce instead of parks on the plaza that will be built over the train trench and the Mapes Hotel site. An effort to make the Ponderosa Ranch amusement park a public park fell through.
As always, Nevada was at the wrong end of a host of national rankings, such as the high school graduation rate and wages paid to women.
Nevada school districts reluctantly complied with the Bush administration’s principal domestic legislation—the No Child Left Behind education act. One Washoe school board member compared the county’s forced participation to date rape.
An internal national audit of Wal-Mart found thousands of labor violations, which a corporation spokesperson said “doesn’t reflect actual behavior.” In a classic case of asking a barber if you need a haircut, George Bush’s Justice Department investigated abuses of the U.S. Patriot Act and found none. UNR coach Chris Ault enacted his own campus Patriot Act, dumping student athletes for the crime of being accused of a crime.
Nevada Regent Jack Schofield and State Controller Kathy Augustine faced sexual-harassment claims. Augustine’s problems didn’t stop there—she was impeached for misuse of state resources by every Democrat and Republican in the Nevada Assembly, then convicted in a Senate trial—but not removed from office.
Nevada regents kept open-meeting issues boiling until Attorney General Brian Sandoval prepared legislation to make it easier to prosecute violations.
A year after state lawmakers rejected State Treasurer Brian Krolicki’s plan to cash out the tobacco settlement, the state’s tobacco money showed signs of drying up.
Nevada’s urbanization kept spreading. Storey County talked about toll roads to make commuters pay for the roads they used through the county. Reno’s McCarran ring road is slowly exhausting its value as officials keep putting stoplights on it, and plans are being laid for a new ring farther out. Oil-Dri kept suing to try to open a mine in populated Hungry Valley. Las Vegas opened a monorail in July but closed it when pieces kept falling off. The Tahoe Keys development kept producing new environmental damage. Spanish Springs dealt with everything from a Wal-Mart to rising sewer needs to new schools to groundwater contamination to one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists.
It was the sixth drought year. Clark County reached into the small counties for water. Washoe County officials talked of importing water to feed growth in Spanish Springs.
The Reno City Council put together a citizens committee to study cable television in the area, then ignored its recommendations.
The Truckee Meadows got heavy television news coverage of In-N-Out Burger’s local openings but little substantive coverage of, say, the county commission or the gambling industry. On April 17, the Sparks Tribune went to seven-day publication. There was a wildfire season as usual, and the history-starts-today journalists said it was the worst in state history. Nevada history cop Guy Rocha corrected them. A court decision on Yucca Mountain was reported variously as a defeat and a victory for Nevada.
Then the year ended with a massive tsunami and death in south Asia on an unimaginable scale.
The pitfalls of the policy of many news entities in producing these “year in review” features before the year has actually ended was neatly demonstrated this year. On Dec. 27, the Reno Gazette-Journal began publication of a well-written multi-part exposé by Frank Mullen, accompanied by arresting photographs, on allegations of animal abuse by the University of Nevada, Reno. The newspaper itself had already run its own year-end review, and so one of its best pieces wasn’t mentioned.