John L. Smith is a columnist who covered Nevada for more than 30 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
He resigned in April after being forbidden to write about two of the most powerful men in Nevada, casino owners Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.
Today marks Smith's debut with KNPR's State of Nevada as a contributor/commentator.
In today's program, he touched on Carolyn Goodman's more nuanced push for a soccer stadium at Cashman Field downtown; how not everyone named in the Panama Papers -- including many Nevadans -- are doing anything wrong; how Sheldon Adelson's support of Donald Trump could haunt Trump and the New York Times iffy coverage of squatters in Las Vegas.
And in his first edition of "Smith's People," Smith talks about Chris Hudgins, who recently retired after decades at UNLV, most recently as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman made appearance on ESPN Radio’s Dan Patrick Show what was that all about?
I had a little free time on my hands and I had some time to check out ESPN and the Dan Patrick Show and I was fortunate enough to be invited on ESPN and I’ve noticed a couple of things about Mayor Goodman’s style as she approaches discussing the domed stadium proposal, $1.4 billion proposal that is not without its critics. Whereas a few months ago, when she was promoting the idea of a soccer stadium downtown, she was very unabashed, very free flowing, very confident, very positive and not very circumspect. There were real numbers to crunch there but at least publically she wasn’t hearing much of that. The Carolyn Goodman I heard just last week is a much wiser politician it seems like.
It was interesting to hear her say, ‘Well, if the numbers work. If things work right.” I think part of that is maybe there was a learning experience. Remember, she went through an election process the last time against Stavros Anthony, who realistically probably had at the outset very little chance to beat her, but she also noticed that that soccer stadium the way it was promoted very contentious with the voters.
How does Cashman Center play into this whole thing?
What I’m hearing is that there are a couple of people courting reinventing Cashman as a soccer stadium, as a place for soccer to played, as a place in the future where there will be large grass fields to work out on. They’re a long way from an MLS (Major League Soccer) team for the community but this appears to be the direction things are starting to go at city hall. They’re thinking ahead. Rather than building a whole soccer stadium with the right amount of infused money they’ll be able to, at least theoretically, pull something off there for soccer.
What happened to all of the ideas to turn Cashman Center into something else?
When you go to a ballgame you don’t see the rest of Cashman Field Center. There is quite a big center there so there is room for more than one dream to go forward. I think that as long as the numbers add up for the locals and people see that something is going to generate jobs or interest from families and that sort of thing. It has to be plus-plus for the community with Cashman being rethought of as something valuable rather than some kind of also-ran. I think Cashman has been underestimated in its potential for forever.
Are you surprised that the soccer stadium idea hasn’t died yet?
Not really. The Goodmans are very focused on professional sports. The community is as well on some level but they just don’t want to get stuck with the check. I think that whether it’s in the $50 million range for room-tax dollars for a soccer redo or a soccer stadium or with the NFL dream off Trop. That is an enormous number of room tax dollars and those are a big questions.
You have more on the state of Nevada’s connection to the Panama Papers:
The state of Nevada has… very lax rules about limited liability companies and corporation. Those rules are what attract many businesses to Nevada who otherwise might not be interested. It also attracts business who want to incorporate here because of those rules but don’t necessarily want to stay here. They may not be building something here.
And then there are those, the ones making the headlines that are using Nevada essentially as a beard. To go and move money offshore to mask taxes and to do those kinds of notorious things that federal authorities are very focused on getting to the bottom of.
Now that the Panama Papers have started to go online, I’m also noticed in my research that there are a lot of locals that have taken advantage of the Mossack Fonseca legal firm... they’re essentially using those rules of incorporation to their best benefit… It may be completely docile business and nothing notorious at all. That’s the irony. A lot of folks just trying to take advantage of the available laws may have wound up in a pile of paperwork – 11 million documents at last count – and it winds up being a very notorious story. So sorting through it and being fair to people is part of the challenge because it all looks alarming but when you sort through it, a lot of it isn’t.
You think the recommended $2 million fine by the Gaming Control Board against Sheldon Adelson and Adelson’s announcement this week that he would support Donald Trump are connected how?
The thing that’s interesting to me is Sheldon Adelson is obviously extremely wealthy. When he decided to back Donald Trump, there is an editorial in the Washington Post. When he decided to announce he might invest as much as $100 million, perhaps more, the New York Times reported that… but when you add all that up it is a fascinating kind of embrace of Trump by Adelson and Adelson by Trump.
What is potentially complicating that -- the Democrats will be out finding anything they can to criticize Donald Trump -- is this Gaming Control Board issue, which is a two-part concern.
One has to do with previous actions of a foreign corrupt practices investigation that was resolved with Las Vegas Sands paying a check of $47 million to basically balance the books and resolve a criminal investigation.
And more recently, there was an SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) investigation that resulted in a $9 million fine for some issues in Macau. And then just last week, you’ve got the Jacobs case, the wrong termination case that is so protracted and has gotten so nasty with so many allegations, it’s out there. It may be heading to trial.
Sooner or later, the national media, or at least the operatives of the opponent of Donald Trump, are going to focus on that I believe and turn that into a real political story. So we’ll see what goes on.
We ran a segment a few weeks ago about squatters in Las Vegas and this past weekend the New York Times ran a story about the problem. What is your take?
There were some alarming kinds of quoted material and I noticed legislator Victoria Seaman was featured in the story. But what I didn’t see was another side to that story and that is there is a reason why there is a lot of squatters because there was a major fall out. Mortgage companies really had a major falling out here and there was tremendous fraud here. There were a lot of things during the recession that occurred in which homeowners, well meaning, were pushed out of their homes. Then we had another phase of Las Vegas recovery in which folks with a lot of money to spend, came in and bid and bought up clusters of houses, which they used as rentals or just to hold on to believing that the market was rising more quickly perhaps than it has. Those are the other things that complicated that story. What I didn’t see were those complications in that story.
You’ve met a lot of people over the years, each week let’s focus on one of these people, we’ll tentatively call it “Smith’s Corner,” we might change that. But tell us about one of those people:
One of my favorites in town, when I go over to UNLV, the guy I’m always looking to run into is Chris Hudgins. Chris Hudgins has been part of UNLV for 40 years and he just retired recently.
He’s a Harold Pinter and David Mamet scholar. He’s a hail-fellow-well-met. If you’ve ever been around the arts and humanities community, you’ve certainly run into Chris Hudgins. He’s a wonderful guitar player. He is essentially a Renaissance man.
We think about UNLV in a lot of ways. Whether it’s the basketball team or whether it’s a stadium or a new program or a failure or politics with the chancellor, what we don’t often think about is the people who devote their whole lives to it. When people say ‘Tumbleweed Tech,’ that is certainly is a line of derision that no longer applies to UNLV but back in the day, it really did apply. Those trees that are on campus now that are so big and beautiful now were saplings when Chris Hudgins first started. That whole generation of Ph.D. that was there many of them ended up in administration and really helped guide the university into the modern era.
John L. Smith, KNPR News contributor/commentator
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