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Desert Companion

Under the influence

Maybe it’s some kind of ectoplasmic spillover from the let-it-all-hang-out hedonism promised by the Vegas brand — or maybe it’s a testament to the personalities who built that image — but power doesn’t exactly try to speak softly in Nevada. Oh, no. This is a brash, brassy, big-stick kinda place. Steve Wynn rails against Obama’s economic policies during investor conference calls. Sheldon Adelson dashes off eye-poppingly fat checks to political causes, and has developed a curious side hobby of fulminating against online gambling whenever a mic is nearby. Gaming and mining juggernauts mobilize instant armies any time the words “tax” and “education” get muttered in the same breath. Meanwhile, Tony Hsieh shouts with his wallet — and downtown is his sounding board. And by the time I finish writing this sentence, Sen. Harry Reid will have probably orchestrated some procedural smackdown to make House Speaker John Boehner turn a deep shade of extra-ragey purple. If you want to know where the power is, just read the headlines.

But do you know Rebecca Lambe? Who is she? Exactly. (She’s a deft Democratic operative dubbed Harry Reid’s “secret weapon.”) And what about Andrew Donner? He’s the guy on the ground helping Tony Hsieh on his downtown shopping spree. Missy Young? The executive vice president of Switch Data Centers is helping to reshape our vision of Las Vegas, one that embraces its potential as a serious center for science and technology. 

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They’re just a few of the personalities in our Influence issue. Masterminded by Deputy Editor Scott Dickensheets, our Influence list profiles not only the players regularly hitting the headline circuit, but the quieter forces in Vegas’ various worlds — in government and politics, yes, but also in arts, culture, tech, media and activism. You’ll see a few familiar faces, but there are a lot more you probably don’t know — but should. Another pillar of the package is historian Michael Green’s recollection of Nevadans who succumbed to the dark side, our own Darth Vaders seduced by the power of power itself. And as far as spreading your own influence around, we’ve got a handy graph covering local networking mixers that are more than just cocktail-fueled gladhanding sessions. Whether you’re an artist or an app developer, they’ll plug you right into the community you want to be a part of.

Our first Influence issue serves as a useful snapshot of who to know in various Vegas circles — a snapshot, but not a portrait. Indeed, the full story of power and persuasion in Nevada could fill several volumes, and it does. If you’re seeking to understand power’s history, its personalities, its intricate machinery, you’d do well to hit the books. Some titles for a true primer on power in Nevada: The Money and the Power by Sally Denton and Roger Morris (a bruising and unflinching account of gaming’s influence on national politics); Sharks in the Desert by Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith (a gallery of the outsized personalities who built Vegas’ gaming industry); The First 100, published by Stephens Press (still an indispensable and eminently readable reference guide to the founding fathers and mothers of Southern Nevada); Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue by Geoff Schumacher (a portrait of the billionaire grandfather of modern corporate Vegas). For accounts from within the halls of power, Schumacher recommends memoirs from the players themselves, such as Gov. Grant Sawyer, power lobbyist Jim Joyce, state Sen. Bill Raggio, Gov. Bob Miller and attorney and progressive activist Ralph Denton. With company like that, you’re sure to enjoy being under the influence.

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