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May 23, 2013



Voting for a U.S. Senate candidate in Nevada is something you might take for granted... but there was a time when the decision was made for you.

This year marks a centennial that some people will celebrate … and will make others commiserate.  On February 6, 1913, Nevada became the fifteenth state to ratify the seventeenth amendment to the United States Constitution.  Other states quickly followed, and the amendment was ratified two months later.

The amendment changed how we elect our United States senators.  Until then, state legislatures had elected them.  That was part of Article I of the U.S. Constitution.  Under the new amendment, the people would directly elect their senators.  The measure also provided for elections and gubernatorial appointments to fill vacancies.

This issue has become controversial in recent years.  Members of the Tea Party have advocated repealing the amendment.  Many Nevadans long have shared the Tea Party’s displeasure with the federal government.  But our state had been advocating this measure for several years before it passed.  It didn’t hurt that the Populist Party supported direct election of senators.  That provision became part of the party’s Omaha platform of 1892.  Nevadans had supported the Populist Party through an alliance with the group over monetary policy … Populists had supported the movement to remonetize silver, which would benefit Nevadans.

But Nevadans didn’t need the Populists for this one.  Nevada had a history of U.S. Senate elections that could turn anyone into an advocate of direct elections.  How bad was it?

William Morris StewartNevada became a state in 1864.  The next spring, the legislature met and chose our first two senators.  William Morris Stewart won the first seat.  He represented most of the big mining companies on the Comstock Lode.  The story is that his connections gave him veto power over who his colleague would be.  One of the candidates told Stewart what he thought of that.  A different candidate won … James Nye, who had been territorial governor.

John Percival JonesIn 1873, Nye wanted to win reelection, but he had no hope.  Two millionaires from the Comstock wanted his seat.  In the end, John P. Jones defeated William Sharon.  During the legislative session, both men’s representatives bribed lawmakers.  Some legislators sold their vote more than once.  After Jones won, Sharon bought Virginia City’s newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.  It started advocating his election to the Senate.  Stewart decided not to run in 1875.  The legislature chose Sharon, who then attended only one session.

James Graham FairIn 1881, Sharon wanted to be reelected anyway.  Another Comstock millionaire, James Fair, bought the seat.  He served only one term before managing to offend numerous legislators as well as his old business partner, John Mackay.  Mackay helped bankroll Fair’s opponent … William Stewart, who returned to the Senate.

Stewart would be reelected twice more.  Both times, he ran with the support of the Central Pacific Railroad.  The railroad managed and underwrote his campaigns, and did even more than that.  Back in 1869, one railroad executive, Collis Huntington, wrote to another that Stewart “has always stood by us.  I know he must live, and we must fix it so that he can make one or two hundred thousand dollars.”  Not long afterward, the railroad’s owners gave him fifty thousand acres of land.

You might be thinking, that’s corrupt, and that could happen with or without directly electing United States senators.  Next time, we’ll explain a little further.

See discussion rules.


Jan 24, 2015 | 1964 Election, Part 2
As politics go, winning one election doesn't necessarily mean an easy victory in the next one. The first Las Vegas resident to be elected to the Senate faced more challenges the second time around.

Jan 17, 2015 | 1964 Election, Part 1
By the looks of one election, Nevada's political climate in 1964 may have appeared somewhat contrary to what was going on in Washington where there was talk of "the Great Society." The election in Nevada reflected strains in the Democratic Party.

Nov 29, 2014 | 1914 Election, Part 1
Statewide elections in Nevada can certainly get interesting as was the case in 1914. A remarkable election when the results are really, really close. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 28, 2014 | 1912 Election, Part 2
About one-fifth of Nevada's population went to the polls in 1914. And they made some notable decisions. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 13, 2014 | Women's Suffrage in Nevada
A century has gone by since 'women's suffrage became a reality in Nevada. The push to give women in Nevada the right to vote was not an easy endeavor. We take a look at how that change came about on Nevada Yesterdays.

Oct 31, 2014 | One Hundred Fifty Years
Was it 'silver' or politics that tipped the scales in favor of Nevada statehood, 150 years ago. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Sep 5, 2014 | The Beatles
It's been a half century since the Beatles had a 'hard day's night,' right here in Las Vegas. The real thing - John, Paul, George and Ringo - arrived on August 20, 1964. Their performance lasted for about 30-minutes as part of a show that included the Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon.

Aug 22, 2014 | Civil Rights Act
When the Civil Rights Act was passed a half century ago, not everyone within Nevada's political circles was onboard with it. The decision was not a simple one for some Nevada Senators.

Aug 1, 2014 | Bob Bailey
How much can one person accomplish? If you're like Bob Bailey, quite a bit. From show business to civil rights on the Strip, Here's Senator Richard Bryan with a look back at the life of Bob Bailey.

Jul 11, 2014 | Remembering Bob Faiss
Mixing law with the gaming industry seemed a natural fit for one Las Vegas attorney, who passed away recently. Here's a look back at the influence of attorney Bob Faiss on the gaming industry.

May 16, 2014 | Viva Las Vegas
"Viva Las Vegas" turns 50 in a few days. We'll hear how Las Vegas itself starred in the iconic movie, along side Elvis. Moviegoers got a taste of Southern Nevada and a song to go with it!

May 9, 2014 | Sagebrush Rebels
A rancher challenging federal authority over land rights in Nevada has been in the news recently, but it's not the first time the subject has been a hot topic. Remembering the "Sagebrush Rebellion" on Nevada Yesterdays.

Apr 18, 2014 | Metro Battles Corruption and the Mob
Efforts to drive organized crime out of Las Vegas, left one former Metro officer, Kent Clifford, with some controversies of his own.

Mar 21, 2014 | Natalie Rittenhouse
Family connections run deep for some pioneer families of Southern Nevada. Perhaps they aren't too well known these days. They should be. They are among the important pioneer families of southern Nevada.

Mar 7, 2014 | Test Ban
Strange as it may seem now, there was a time when detonating a nuclear bomb was healthy for Nevada's image.

Feb 21, 2014 | Green Felt Jungle
The pen is mightier than the roulette table? Some books over the years have tested that notion. Fifty years ago, a book about Las Vegas became a best-seller. But not everyone was happy with what the book had to say about the influence of organized crime on Las Vegas casinos.

Jan 16, 2014 | Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fifty years have gone by since Martin Luther King, Jr. made his way to Las Vegas, in a visit that had an impact. Local leaders had won the right to patronize once segregated casinos, but they hoped King would reinvigorate the local movement.

Jan 3, 2014 | Treaty of Ruby Valley
A treaty that was signed in the territory of Nevada 150 years ago is still raising questions. The Western Shoshone tribe has been offered tens of millions of dollars by the US government, but they say no thanks. In 1974, sisters Mary and Carrie Dann of Beowawe, became symbols of the tribes resistance.

Dec 5, 2013 | Lon Simmons
We take a look at how a legendary sports-broadcaster forged a path from Las Vegas to Candlestick Park. Switching from pitcher to broadcaster turned out to be a home run decision for Lon Simmons. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 20, 2013 | JFK and Las Vegas Connections
Elements of John F. Kennedy's ties to Las Vegas have been mixed in with the puzzle-pieces surrounding his death. Las Vegas and Nevada were part of the orbit of the Kennedys, their allies, and their enemies. Senator Richard Bryan connects the dots on Nevada Yesterdays.

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