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The urban vs. rural divide: Where can Nevadans see eye to eye?

FILE - Homes sit on a hillside on July 18, 2022, in Tonopah, Nev., the county seat of Nye County.
John Locher
FILE - Homes sit on a hillside on July 18, 2022, in Tonopah, Nev., the county seat of Nye County.

On a drive through rural Nevada, Lisa Bernad saw something that stunned her. On a road near Goldfield, there was a Confederate flag proudly displayed outside a building.

Now, you see that in a rural area, and you’re mind can go a lot of places. Racist? White supremacist? The town redneck? Or is it how everyone in that area thinks? Wouldn’t someone say something to this person about how it looks, unless they all think that way?

For Bernad, it pointed to something very real in Nevada and throughout the country: the division between rural and urban life.

Take this for example: In the 2022 election, Republican Governor Joe Lombardo won an average of 78% of the vote in 15 rural counties. But he lost the two counties with most of the population, Clark and Washoe.

Some are convinced it’s due to racism, arguing that city dwellers are more accepting of diversity in races, languages and cultures. Others will say rural Nevadans feel they get less government help than urban Nevada.

On what sparked the conversation

BERNAD: I work on the road, and I have the good fortune to spend lots of my time in many of Nevada's wonderful towns, and as well as those towns across the United States. Similarly, I travel up and down Highway 95, also known as Veterans Memorial Highway quite frequently, because it's the most direct route north and south for me. And one trip through Goldfield, I happen to notice this very large Confederate flag, battle flag rather, flying prominently right in the middle of town and very close to this route dedicated to veterans. And so it kind of hit me, it really stunned me to see it there. And all I could think of was how hurtful and foreboding it must be for those not only Native peoples in the surrounding as Esmeralda County, but any people of color who haven't traveled through there.

On how the divide might not be what it seems

ROBERTSON: I don't think the rural urban divide is as much as people make of it. I think it's mostly a tool used by probably politicians to get certain things funded or for news outlets to sell papers, or get eyes on their stories. I can't think of one person I run into in Las Vegas who says they can't stand rural Nevada, I can't think of people I've run into and rural Nevada who just think, 'You know, Las Vegas is the center of all evil' either. They might not like the traffic.

I have to point out that Nevada is not Iowa or anywhere in the Midwestern United States. We have Burning Man out here. In addition to being the mayor, I'm also the chairman of the Board of Prostitution. We're not some kind of buttoned-up, puritanical, small town type of place. So I think Nevada is generally a more open, accepting, especially in the rurals, than probably you would find other places. Not to say that there aren't people who feel certain ways or want to fly a Confederate flag. And by the way, I can't think of anything less tasteful, or misunderstood, than wanting to fly a Confederate flag anywhere in the state of Nevada.

On how to bridge the gap

DAMORE: At the state level, there is embracing our regionalism, right? One of the issues, we have this sort of one Nevada policy mindset that you have to have the same structure of a school district and White Pine County that you do in Clark County, right? That we have to have a single higher education board. So they make the decisions for everybody. We have to recognize that we have different demography is different economies, different needs of these communities. And we need to structure our governance around that, instead of essentially having no home rule. Got to wait two years to go to Carson City and duke it out there. There are ways to think about this structurally and institutionally to embrace our regionalism in a way that's productive for everybody. Instead of just waiting for the state to make a decision and allowing our regions to have this autonomy, let them embrace their communities and give them the resources and the autonomy to do that.

Guests: Lisa Bernad, Nevada resident; Nathan Robertson, mayor, Ely; David Damore, interim executive director, The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.