Art Buchwald, Mike Royko -- an older generation found a safe niche in a world of newspapers put out and read by blue collar Joes more likely to play poker down at the firehouse than haunt the jet-set soirees, hoping to glimpse a Hilton sister.
If a “sameness” set in about their columns, it was a reassuring “sameness” in a world that had seen too much change. You pretty much knew Slats Grobnik’s view of the world. It had the reassuring familiarity of a routine by Frank Fontaine’s Crazy Guggenheim, Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper, or the animated rooster Foghorn Leghorn. We delighted in seeing these clowns reveal that the plaid-suited hustlers and fat-bellied politicians were the real vaudevillians.
But these days, as the self-righteous goons feeling our crotches at the airport still invite and deserve ridicule, I wonder if our newspapers themselves aren’t “putting on airs,” feeling themselves too dignified to reach with straight talk a generation of readers who haven’t recognized a single name in this column so far, but who do gain a proper appreciation of how seriously government and industry should be taken ... from Homer Simpson and John Stewart of The Daily Show.
How do you remain calm and dignified yet properly send up the suicidal madness that has seized Nevada’s gambling palace operators in recent years?
For 50 years, they found a low-tax haven in traditionally laissez-faire, less-government Nevada.
“Gaming regulation”? Our state regulatory boards are staffed with the likes of Ray Rawson, a consolation-prize appointee who voted for so many tax hikes he couldn’t get re-elected in a safe Republican district (his campaign hinged on the fact he was a “Silver Beaver” -- you can look it up), a man who failed in his attempts to get his state Senate colleagues to put him in charge of his own tax-funded dental school and so had to settle for attempting to open a legally troubled, not-yet-accredited one in Hawaii, where he may or may not live and where even the most socialistic politicians in the nation say they don’t need one, a forensic dental “expert” whose sworn bite-mark testimony sent to death row a man who was later released with an apology and a prosecutor’s hearty handshake after real evidence proved someone else did it.
Mr. Rawson’s “gaming and regulatory experience”?
Foghorn Leghorn says, “That was a joke, son.” The man is a dentist.“Gaming regulation” in this state means fixated former G-men giving the Hard Rock Cafe a hard time about risque billboards while lifting not one finger to stop casino security guards from roughing up, handcuffing, illegally detaining -- “back-rooming” -- card-counting blackjack players who even our corrupt Nevada courts admit are not cheats and have not broken any laws.
If these crime victims call Metro and try to charge the casino goons with kidnapping, our local boys in beige refuse to take their criminal complaints and instead lock up the victims for three days on charges of being unruly. (I’ve sat and watched videotapes of these multiple incidents in the offices of local attorney Bob Nersesian, who wins six-figure judgments when he manages to get one of these cases in front of a jury, so don’t tell me they don’t happen. In fact, if I were running the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Bureau, I’d just play those videotapes on TV, over and over, asking “Do you still think you want to go play in Vegas?”)
That’s how good the casino barons had it in this town. You’d think they would have thanked their lucky stars.
Instead, a couple years back, they tapped Kenny Guinn and Guy Hobbs to pick-and-roll us into the biggest tax hike -- to facilitate the biggest one-time ballooning of the state bureaucracy -- in Nevada history. Who thought that up -- Billy Vassiliadis? Some guy from California?
Now Nevadans are up in arms. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights (an admittedly paltry thing that would allow continued government growth, when a better first step would be freezing the state budget -- at 1980 levels) and any other tax limitation measure we can get on the ballot will probably pass two-to-one, and the only remaining hope of turning these measures back (aside from changing the petition rules several times during the process, which they’ll try) is to have the corrupt Nevada state Supreme Court defy the will of the people (and the law) the same way they did in “Guinn v. Legislature.”
The author of that decision, state Chief Justice Deborah Agosti, didn’t run for re-election because the polls showed she couldn’t win. To save face, she said she was retiring “for health reasons,” and because outraged taxpayers were making her children cry. Guess who’s now paid off at a princely hourly rate plus her pension (judges are allowed to double-dip because there’s a “critical shortage” of them -- hoo-haw!) to be called in and decide cases at the Nevada Supreme Court? Yep, that would be now un-fireable “Senior Justice” Deborah Agosti -- appointed by her friend Gov. Kenny Guinn to a position she wouldn’t be allowed to hold if she’d been honest enough to run and lose.
Talk about a miraculous recovery! Was it the Atkins Diet? Yet these corrupt clowns threaten to have Dominic Gentile -- last seen defending former County Commissioner Lance Malone for handing out bribes on behalf of interstate lap-dance moguls -- haul me into court when I call them “corrupt”? Heck, if we’re no longer allowed to vote them out, we should be considering the methods used by the French from 1789 to 1792.
State Sen. Joe Neal used to draw laughs when he suggested bumping the state casino tax up to 25 or 30 percent and letting it fund the entire state budget. Today bankers, beer drinkers, cigarette smokers and small businessmen who used to laugh at Joe are asking me, “Well, those guys decided to single us out for huge and unnecessary tax hikes; why the heck not?”
So in the 2006 gubernatorial race the gamers will likely back “sure winners” (U.S. Rep.) Jim Gibbons and/or (state Sen.) Dina Titus, who will claim to be tax-cutters with footwork demonstrations not seen since Lawrence Welk’s polka dancers, while the real father of the Nevada TABOR, Bob Beers, infiltrates below their radar, pounding the scrambled egg circuit, systematically collecting his $100 checks over French toast and sausage.
Writing calm, fact-based newspaper columns about this circus gets to feel like trying to conduct a straight interview with Groucho Marx, or doing plastic surgery in the middle of a war zone where it would be far more appropriate to reach for a rib-cracker, a saw, and a bucket. You start to get the feeling that painting the absurdities of Las Vegas as it enters the 21st Century may require a bigger canvas. I believe I’ll throw in a handful of other local politicians paid off by the proprietor of our local Blowjob Taj Mahal, add a dose of the Flying Elvi, and call it “Las Vegas Confidential.”