John L Smith: Culinary's Get-Out-The-Vote Strong As Ever


AP Photo/John Locher

Casino workers vote at an early voting site in Las Vegas Oct. 26, 2016. Inflamed by Trump's candidacy but with an eye on turning the whole ticket blue, organized labor groups including the heavily immigrant Culinary Union are in the thick of an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign in Nevada.

Last week, you found yourself in a warehouse on a strip. Describe the scene for us.

Talk about getting out the vote and polling places, here’s a polling place: Across the freeway, across Interstate 15 from the Strip, there’s a large warehouse owned by the county. It’s full of voting booths – it looks like a big storage place. It reminded me of the set of "Reservoir Dogs." Instead of that, of course, buses rolled up full of culinary union workers – most of them Latino – coming to vote. It was a moment for Sen. Harry Reid to also appear and cast his vote with his wife, Landra, and to visit with some of those Culinary Union workers. 

When you talk about machines, it would seem to me the Culinary Union are as close to an 'old style' of anything going on in Nevada or the West. How does Culinary factor into elections? 

Culinary has had a role in Southern Nevada party politics forever. It’s been a reliable friend of the Democrats in most election cycles. If motivated, the Culinary is an enormously strong and helpful entity for politics to get out the vote, to rally to register voters and they also have a relationship on the Strip with some of these mega resorts. On this situation that I was observing, all of these workers were dressed in their uniforms for work.

Support comes from

Does the Republican Party have anything comparable to this in Nevada?

In some states, the Republican party has a very strong get-out-the-vote function as part of the party apparatus. In Nevada, the party’s been fractured. It’s been much more difficult to get out the vote. What the Republican Party DOES have in Nevada is a lot of money put in from outside groups who are doing and basically playing the role of the party and getting out the vote and registering voters and doing all that heavy lifting -- which gets very little attention, except on election day when you end up looking at the bottom line and checking the tally. 

The Democrats seem to have brought in a lot more fire power than the Republicans. What makes that so? 

It’s the strength of their experience. They’re a much more professionally run operation. Donald Trump is running on a lot of personality and, frankly, a lot of anger of the electorate, he has certain strengths that are undeniable. But from the Democratic side, you’re seeing celebrities, 20-something, 30-,40-something celebrities, substantial political figures have all come to stump for Clinton in Nevada. That’s the strength of a party that’s got some unity to it and some cohesiveness. Are the Democrats enjoying dollars from third parties? You bet they are. A lot of different money flowing into Nevada. From my observation, Nevada is America’s petri dish of politics – everyone wants to experiment here, everyone wants to grow a movement here. You see a lot of that mentality. 

Moving on from politics, a gentlemen named Jerry Stump died, and you knew him well. He was a barber, he stayed on West Charleston for quite some time. 

It’s the earlier business district, just beyond Decatur before you get to Jones. At one time, there was a lot of prosperity there, a lot going on, and that area has gone through a lot of economic upheaval. The thing that’s fascinating about him is that those are the folks who stuck it out. They were comfortable in their confines. But the truth is, a lot of folks really didn’t want their community to get so tattered and have all the prosperity go to the edges of the valley so they really stuck it out. I’m a big fan of those small business people who basically are neighborhood warriors -- and he was one of them. Got his barber license after leaving the Navy, went to the Utah barber school with a future city councilman and mayor pro tem named Gary Reese. So there’s a guy with a long and strong sense of community. He was a remarkable pain in the neck. He was cantankerous at times, very opinionated. You kind of got a haircut and an editorial every time you sat down, but he was a good man.

What was his importance to that area? 

He was in one of the older places next to a dog grooming place and all those little businesses that have been there such a long time. The importance of that kind of working person in the community is to me, the memory of the community. Where we grew up as kids – I grew up not too far from there. To be able to see those businesses stay in business for year after year and not continually going through new operators gives you a sense of community.

And finally, you were in Chicago (not at the World Series - you had other business) What went on besides Wrigley field?

I’ve gone through many years as a journalist. It was one of the best feelings last week at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. A group of us from the Review Journal, who are no longer at the paper, who helped expose and write about the clandestine ownership change of the paper last year were honored with the Medill Foley medal. We were so awed by the honor and it was something that will stay with me forever. 



John L. Smith, longtime Nevada columnist and freelance writer 

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