Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"KNPR's State of Nevada"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
May 17, 2013
Podcasts

Listen

U.S. Senate elections in Nevada look quite a bit different from the way it used to be. Senator Richard Bryan explains:

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?

Nevada 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.

In 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.

 In 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.

Archives

Apr 18, 2014 | Metro Battles the 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.

Sep 20, 2013 | Constitution
How about the great State of Washoe or Esmeralda? When residents of this territory considered statehood 150 years ago, it took more than one attempt to get them to agree on a name and on how much to tax the lucrative gold and silver mines.

Sep 1, 2013 | Sawyer v. Sinatra
It was around Labor Day 50 years ago, that Nevada's little black book caused some friction for Frank Sinatra. A mobster who was in the black book was seen in the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe and Sinatra was part owner...

Aug 2, 2013 | Dorothy Gallagher
Dorothy Gallagher never gave up on access to higher education for people living in rural areas.

Jul 12, 2013 | A Big Fight
Some boxing matches in Las Vegas have carried more weight than just a heavyweight title.

Jun 14, 2013 | Tarkanian, Part II
UNLV's Runnin' Rebels were coached by a man who was thought to be something of a rebel himself.

Jun 7, 2013 | Tarkanian, Part I
To make it into the Basketball hall of fame, Jerry Tarkanian must have done something right.

May 23, 2013 | The 17th Part II
There was a time in Nevada when your ballot would not have included contenders for the U.S. Senate.

May 17, 2013 | The 17th
The means for putting U.S. Senators in office used to come with plenty of controversy.

May 3, 2013 | Frank Wright
Nevada has a colorful past. And getting the facts straight about events that helped shape the Silver state was important to Frank Wright.

Mar 29, 2013 | Mark Twain
When two brothers set out for Nevada about 150 years ago, little did they know that one of them would become a literary legend. Senator Richard Bryan has the story...

Mar 8, 2013 | The Dickersons
You'll have to go back a century to look at the career of one Nevadan who helped shape the state.

Feb 22, 2013 | William R. Wilkerson, part 2
You might not normally hear 'Nevada' and 'Communism' mentioned in the same sentence. But there was a time when it wouldn't have been unusual.

© 2013 NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO   
Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.