Home Means Nevada with Jon Ralston

Jon Ralston
CEO // Nevada Independent

Moderate Party
Moderate Party
Home Means Nevada with Jon Ralston

In a special homecoming episode, Hillari sits down with John Ralston to talk all things Nevada. In this wide-ranging conversation, they discuss a potential red wave, democratic popularity, the effect of Dobbs, and the Nevada Midterms.

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Transcripts are automatically generated, please forgive any errors. 


[00:00:00] HILLARI LOMBARD: John Roston thank you for joining moderate party. It’s a pleasure to have you with us today.

[00:00:04] JON RALSTON: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:07] HILLARI LOMBARD: Wonderful. I wanna start out with a question that pans to my home state listeners and educates everybody else. How would you correctly pronounce the name of the state that we’re gonna be talking about today?

[00:00:20] JON RALSTON: Oh, you know, I’m the gatekeeper of this Hillary Nevada saying as Nevada or stay out

[00:00:27] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yeah, we take it very seriously.

[00:00:28] JON RALSTON: We do indeed.

[00:00:31] HILLARI LOMBARD: So you were not born in Nevada.

[00:00:34] JON RALSTON: No, I, I, I was born in, uh, New Jersey, grew up in Buffalo, New York, and I’ve been in Nevada since 1980.

[00:00:42] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yeah. So I’m curious, what brought you here and what kept you?

[00:00:46] JON RALSTON: Uh, both good questions. Uh, I got a master’s in journalism from the university of Michigan and I was looking around for jobs and there was a night police reporter job available in Las Vegas. I didn’t know much about Las Vegas and back then. It was the cliche, like what Las Vegas is really a city it’s more than the Las Vegas strip.

[00:01:05] I, I had been to the strip once with some friends, uh, uh, and dur during college. That was all I knew of Las Vegas. And so I, I called my, um, uh, uh, a guy I knew from an internship at the Sacramento B who had worked in Reno, I knew, uh, and he said, it’s a great place to cut your teeth. You should go and, and, and, and check it out.

[00:01:26] I did. Uh, I, I got the job and I thought I’d be, uh, here in Nevada for about two years on my career path, back east to the New York times, uh, where every young journalist dreams of, of, of working at least did at the time. But, uh, the reason I stayed much more than two years, I’m about to have my 30. 39th anniversary soon.

[00:01:47] My God, um, is, is that opportunity just kept knocking. And, uh, I became a political reporter, uh, in my, in my late twenties, a columnist before I turned 30, got TV shows and just did a lot of different things. And. I’ve never wanted to leave. I, I just, uh, uh, I mean, people have asked me about why don’t you try to get a job in Washington or a big, bigger city.

[00:02:11] And, you know, I just, I I’ve love doing what I do. And, uh, I’ve, I, I I’ve, uh, kind of carved out an this year that, uh, uh, has made me very, very happy.

[00:02:22] HILLARI LOMBARD: are you still in Vegas?

[00:02:24] JON RALSTON: Yes.

[00:02:24] HILLARI LOMBARD: I will forgive you for that.

[00:02:25] JON RALSTON: why, why do I need to be forgiven for.

[00:02:28] HILLARI LOMBARD: Because Reno is the correct answer.

[00:02:31] JON RALSTON: Hmm. I love Reno too. I’ve lived in Reno for a couple of years. Uh, uh, I, I like to think of myself as BI regional.

[00:02:39] HILLARI LOMBARD: Okay. There’s been a lot of talk in this news cycle about a red wave happening in Nevada. And I am, I am red wave curious, I guess to say, Nevada is notoriously a purple state. So do you think that something is fundamentally changed in Nevada or are we just on the red side of a purple state?

[00:03:03] JON RALSTON: Well, things have changed, but you used an interesting adverb there because it is the key to the entire election. Have. Fundamentally changed. So let let’s, let’s talk about what has changed, uh, the voter registration numbers here, uh, uh, have, have been favorable to the Democrats, very favorable to the Democrats, at least since 2008, when the democratic party really revved up here and we got early state status for, for the presidential race.

[00:03:33] They, they have made a habit. Um, and it’s mostly due to a machine built by Harry Reed, the late Senate majority leader of being able to register many, many more voters than, than Republicans, uh, especially during election years, uh, that is not happening. This cycle, uh, and, and, and the Republicans have cut the lead, not so much because of anything that they’ve done, but because of the national atmospherics, I think Joe Biden’s numbers are very low in the state.

[00:04:02] In fact, uh, on the, in Nevada independent website today, we have the latest polling numbers, uh, for Joe Biden. They were upside down in this state. And so that, uh, has. Altered, maybe Hillary, the, the, the fundamentals to use your, uh, word again, but you’ve also had the rise of non-major party voters. Um, uh, and, and when I first started covering politics here in the dark ages of 1986, uh, Nevada was a, was not a purple state.

[00:04:30] It was more a, a lean red state. Uh, and, and so it’s been that long since the numbers have been that close. And the rise of the, of the non-major party voters is a lot due to what’s called a motor voter law that was passed a couple of legislative sessions ago that, uh, allows people to register when they go and get their driver’s license renewed, but also automatically registers them as nonpartisan if they choose not [00:05:00] to.

[00:05:00] So that, that is contributed to it. To some extent. There are other indicators. There are many more Republicans, um, uh, uh, Democrats, excuse me, switching to the Republican party than the other way around in the, in Nevada. And so. Uh, is there going to be a red wave? I I’ve been pretty successful at predicting the outcomes of, uh, uh, elections, but not, not on August 5th.

[00:05:24] Uh, it’s it’s it’s way too early, uh, to know what’s going to happen, uh, is, is, is what happened in Kansas with the abortion referendum, the Canary in the coal mine for the rest of the country is an, a aberration we’re. We’re a very pro-choice state and have been, uh, for, uh, more than 30 years. Uh, but. Can candidates democratic candidates save themselves, uh, by turning, uh, uh, to abortion.

[00:05:51] Some are trying one other thing. And I know this is probably a much, uh, longer answer than you wanted the best hope don’t give it to me. the best hope that the Democrats have in this state. And the, the, the reason there may not be a red wave or at least as deep and broader red wave as is being predicted is the Republicans have nominated some really, really bad candidates in some of these races, including major statewide races.

[00:06:20] Um, and, and I’m not just talking about election deniers, they have done that. Just people who were manifestly, unqualified, and, and the fact that those people have a chance. Have a chance. Hillary tells you what the atmospherics look like right now on August 5th as you and I are.

[00:06:38] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yeah, they did draft a pretty bad batch . Do you think that Nevada’s becoming more conspiracy curious or what, how is this happening?

[00:06:51] JON RALSTON: I’m not sure that Nevada is that different than, than every other state in the country. Uh, you know, Nevada really is three different states and you know this because, um, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re from here. There’s Las Vegas. And Reno, which, which are, are the urban areas, but even they are very different and anyone who’s lived in, both know, know, know that.

[00:07:15] And then you have this vast swath, these 15 counties in between. That’s like a completely different world and, and they have been much more. Uh, susceptible to what Trump and others have done in terms of saying the election was stolen. Other kinds of conspiracy theories. And listen, there’s been a lot written about this Hillary and there’s different reasons why people would be so gullible as to believe this kind of thing.

[00:07:43] Um, I don’t know if Nevada’s that different than, than, than some other states. It’s definitely happening here. And not just in rural Nevada. There are pockets in urban Nevada where it’s true too. And living in Reno, you certainly know that

[00:07:59] HILLARI LOMBARD: I will say a brief shout out to those 15 counties. He mentioned as we record this, I’m drinking out of my Wiam Maka mug, shout out to Humboldt county.

[00:08:07] JON RALSTON: I should have my Elco county mug here, but I do not. Today.

[00:08:12] HILLARI LOMBARD: um, I do think that there is something different about Nevada when it comes to our acceptance of militia Nevada really likes this outlaw energy that you see in some of those right wing groups. At least when I go home to Humboldt county, I see a lot of support for groups like that. Do you think that that’s an outlier just in Humboldt or

[00:08:36] JON RALSTON: No, but, but I don’t think it, I also don’t think it’s an outlier for Nevada. I think it is all too common in rural America. Uh, that, that, that this is occurring and maybe more so you might be right more so in Nevada because of our history of being a frontier state, a gun friendly state, the Sage brush rebellion, uh, uh, that, that, that still exists in some pockets of, of rural Nevada.

[00:09:03] So. I think Nevada may be special in that way, but rural America is where a lot of, of, of, of these militias are and where the white nationalism and conspiracy theories thrive.

[00:09:18] HILLARI LOMBARD:  I’m interested about the effect that you think the Dobbs decision is gonna have on Nevada politics. And if you give me a, maybe I will be so upset, Nevada is notoriously one of the most pro-choice states, um, in the country.  Do you think that it will positively impact the results of the election for Democrats?

[00:09:43] JON RALSTON: Yes. um, the question is how much, and the question is it’s going to vary from campaign to campaign. For instance, let’s talk about the us Senate race, which is mm-hmm. either with the governor’s race, one of the two marque races on the ballot. [00:10:00] You have a, a historically pro-choice Democrat, Katherine Cortez, Masto running against a very, very pro-life, uh, Republican and Adam Lael sold pro-life that against the wishes of a pro-choice governor when he was attorney general, he filed briefs, uh, uh, in, in, in abortion cases in other states.

[00:10:22] And, and has said that Roe versus Wade is quote a joke. And so. I think, and she, she gets this and her campaigns, very smartly has been using all this stuff even before Dobbs, but even more now that, that, that, that, that, that, uh, Dobbs and Kansas and, and, and in the environment, they think they can, they can exploit this.

[00:10:45] It may not take much. Um, if I say that it’s going to have an impact, um, it may not, it may only have to be a marginal impact in what could be a close race to change the outcome of, of that race. Um,

[00:10:59] HILLARI LOMBARD: and all of the polling in the Senate race would suggest that it’s gonna be very.

[00:11:02] JON RALSTON: again, um, yes. Uh, again, I, I am listen, I’m, I’m a rabid polling data guy. I love consuming that information and dissecting, I will tell you. There’s so much that could happen we just don’t know. But I, I think it’s reasonable to assume that that. Campaigns that are skillful in putting abortion at, at, at, at the top they could turn the tide. Now are we, are, are, are we gonna have. Debates where, where, where they’re gonna talk about abortion in the governor’s race in the Senate race in, in, in, in others. I don’t know the answer to, to, to that. Um, but I, I do think it’s going to have an impact, especially in a state and people.

[00:11:46] I, I, I, even before you were born, Uh, in 1990, I think, um, there was a, there was a referendum, uh, uh, uh, that was put on the ballot in Nevada, uh, to, to cement the statute, the pro-choice statute 24 weeks. I, I believe. Uh, and, and, and that means that if it passed, it w it would, could only be. Repealed by another referendum that passed by two to one, uh, Hillary and in a state that was not as purple as, as it is now by, by the way.

[00:12:18] Um, and tremendous amounts of money were spent, uh, in that tremendous amounts for the time I should say. And it wasn’t close and all the polling shows that those numbers have held throughout the last three decades. So, um, Adam Laxalt, Joe Lombardo, other pro-life candidates are not gonna want to talk. Abortion or Dobbs. And they’re gonna try to say it’s settled here in the. Now, of course in the Senate race, it may not be settled because you could do a federal abortion ban, right? Mm-hmm and the governor’s race. The governor could still do things to restrict, uh, uh, the, the access to abortion in Nevada.

[00:12:55] Um, and, and so it is going to be an issue. Whether it’s a 1% issue or a 5% issue. I, I, I don’t know, or, or more, but even if it’s just a 1% issue that could make a, that could make a difference. If those races are still close in November.

[00:13:13] HILLARI LOMBARD:  Do you think it makes a difference let’s say in the Senate race. Cause that’s probably the one that people are watching the closest

[00:13:18] JON RALSTON: Um, yes, I, I, I think it does, but because it’s top of mind now, but the challenge for the campaigns is to keep it top of mind if they want it to be an issue. And that’s very difficult because when I first started covering politics, believe it or not. The internet didn’t exist. There was no such thing as a 24 7 news cycle, social media, uh, uh, did didn’t exist.

[00:13:40] Now the velocity with which information moves and that things can change is so much greater than, than, than it ever has been. That it’s really gonna take a lot of work. From these campaigns now, uh, uh, some of them are gonna be better at it than others. Uh, uh, Catherine Cortez master’s campaign so far, so far. Has been one of the better campaigns that I’ve seen in a long, long time. Um, can they keep that up? Can they do it? I, I don’t, I don’t know the answer to that, but abortion’s going to make a difference. Uh, Hillary, you can quote me on that. Uh, I just don’t know how much of a difference.

[00:14:16] HILLARI LOMBARD: , I think you’re right to compliment her campaign, cuz I think that they’re doing a lot, especially if you consider that she is allergic to communicating her accomplishments. I think that the campaigns working hard to compensate for that.

[00:14:27] JON RALSTON: You know, it’s very insightful of you to say that. And it’s frustrated Democrats ever since she was attorney general that she just, you know, yeah, she’s a workhorse, not a show horse. That’s one thing, but she just made no. To tout what she has done. Uh, she just, she’s a very substantive person, whether you like her politics or not.

[00:14:46] And she does, she’s just not good at, at, at, at what you just said, touting her accomplishments, but their messaging and their ads and their attacks on laal too, have been very focused, uh, on, on issues that, that. [00:15:00] At least polling says resonate, uh, with people. Uh, I mean, you care about high gas prices. Uh, yeah.

[00:15:07] The natural thing that the Republicans are going to do are gonna to blame Joe Biden and by extension Katherine court doesn’t matter. So they’re running ads about all the money that, that, uh, lack salt has taken from the oil and gas industry, uh, which is also the kind of thing I think that could re. Uh, with voters, but, um, so far her, and I think there’s general agreement that, that she is running the best campaign of any campaign out there right now.

[00:15:34] Doesn’t mean she’s gonna win, but, but she is running the best campaign. Yeah, I mean, and it has, and Democrats have been frustrated by that, but I, but I think they’re, they’re ads. They’re positive ads and they’re negative. Have been really, really well done, uh, and thoughtful and, and, and, uh, so, um, I I’ve talked to a lot of people and there’s general agreement that she’s running the best campaign, uh, out there right now in the major races.

[00:17:03] Although I, I will say that that is no guarantee that she’s going to win. Even some of the best campaigns have lost because of other factors. And if there is a broad and deep red wave, she could lose to a clearly an inferior can.

[00:17:20] HILLARI LOMBARD: I would agree. Um, I wanna switch topics a little bit. You wrote an article about the state democratic party in Nevada. And you said, say goodbye to the most effective state party in the country. Can you walk our listeners through the situation that caused you to write that?

[00:17:41] JON RALSTON: Well, that was a long time ago, but it still holds, um, So the democratic party in Nevada has been a model for parties, a across the country, mostly because Harry Reid, um, may he rest in peace, recruited all these phenomenal people to run it and had essentially a very simple strategy? Uh, I I’ve called it and they don’t like that.

[00:18:05] I call it this a legalized money laundering operation, where they use, I like that they use the party to funnel. Millions upon millions of dollars, cuz you can’t do that directly to candidates. And then they turned that, that money into, uh, voter registration drives and then turning out the votes, especially during early voting and they mastered that.

[00:18:28] And so many elections were actually over before a, a, a election day occurred because they were able to bank. Uh, so, so many votes, um, what happened. And it caused me to write that column is that the democratic party here was taken over essentially by the Las Vegas democratic socialists and they, they are amateurs and, the way these parties work and, and, and maybe some of your listeners don’t, don’t get this. And they’re lucky if they don’t, because it’s insane. Uh, is, is that essentially there was a central committee, it’s called a central committee of a few hundred people and they vote on the officers for the party and Reed was able to control.

[00:19:09] Uh, and the Reed machine was able to control that, but starting with the rise of Bernie Sanders, as far back as 2016, uh, he started getting young people and diff different kinds of far left people involved. And eventually they took over the party and a democratic socialist became chairwoman and the Reed folks, the Reed machine folks had no faith that these amateurs who, uh, would, would be able to run the party the way that they had.

[00:19:36] So. Quickly took all the money outta the party. And, uh, there has been constant conflict ever since, uh, this, this, this occurred, uh, I’m losing it in the timeframe. Was it a couple of years ago? I wrote that column. Uh, Hillary, I think something, something like.

[00:19:51] HILLARI LOMBARD: I think so. Yeah. I just know that the, the former leader of the democratic party, I believe resigned on my [00:20:00] birthday last year.

[00:20:01] JON RALSTON: Okay. Yeah, that, that, that, that, that, that, that makes sense. It’s been a while, but anyhow, um, and they have shown, uh, uh, I mean, they have done all kinds of things and I mean, the people running the party now, Have driven the politicians, the democratic politicians, crazy attacking Israel, endorsing against the incumbent Republican li uh, incumbent democratic Lieutenant governor, just all kinds of stuff.

[00:20:29] And so what happened was is that the Reed machine, which is now essentially the Cortez Masto Lac machine started a D. Entity called Nevada democratic victory, which is getting most of the money, uh, and, and is doing most of the heavy lifting in, in, in, uh, attacking Republican candidates and, and, and doing some field work as well.

[00:20:53] Initially. The, the democratic party, the real one, um, got a decent infusion of money from Bernie Sanders and, uh, uh, uh, AOC making pitches for them. But that was a low hanging fruit. And once that was done, no one was gonna give them, uh, money. And so, um, the real question on something like that, and it’s gotten some national attention I’ve written AB about it.

[00:21:15] My, the, in Nevada independent has done some stories on it. Is that how much does that affect the. Um, I I’ve always said that. I, I, I think that the Reed folks can operate outside of the party. Fine, but it’s a branding issue for them. Mm. Republicans are always gonna call Democrats socialists or, or, or whatever.

[00:21:35] Uh, but now they really are, you know, that’s who the democratic party is. And so it, it, it might have more resonance and they, and they have statements that they can pull out. Um, again, I think it’s marginal, but I’m gonna keep coming back to what we’ve been talking about. Hillary, these races could be close.

[00:21:51] And so, uh, if some Democrats stay home or, or, or won’t vote for, for, for, for democratic candidates for that reason, that could be.

[00:22:01] HILLARI LOMBARD: Do you think that you can draw a line between the democratic socialists taking over the state party and the perceived red wave?

[00:22:08] JON RALSTON: No, I think they’re completely, no, I think, I think they’re completely distinct things. I think that that became problematic for the Democrats in Nevada, but the reason people think that there’s going to be a red wave is twofold. First of all. Any president in a midterm, uh, uh, uh, the other party generally gains seats in Congress and does better in state elections that.

[00:22:34] Almost always going to happen. There are some exceptions in 2018 here in Nevada was, was an exception, uh, to that, to that. But then what’s, what’s also happened is that after Joe Biden took office, um, the perception of, of his administration not doing well and him not being effective has caused his numbers to drop.

[00:22:57] Precipitously. Um, and so you can look historically at how deep red waves have been, uh, uh, in, uh, midterms and the lower that a presidential approval rating is the deeper the red wave gets, uh, which is why. Uh, the Democrats didn’t need to have, uh, the, um, uh, division within the party on top of all that going on right now.

[00:23:21] Now, again, I think it’s only marginally gonna be a factor cuz people, most people care more about, uh, you know, their grocery bells and, and, and their wages and, and gas prices than they do that. There’s a socialist that they had of the democratic party, but. If Democrats are disillusioned or by, by some of that and don’t vote.

[00:23:41] I think that’s an issue now, by the way, I think the Republicans have a bigger issue on their side in, in the sense that Joe Lombardo won the governor’s race. And he won in the primary by about 11 points over a guy named Joey Gilbert, who, you know, well, and Reno would probably see his billboards all the time.

[00:23:59] Um, and Joey Gilbert is a complete kook. He’s a conspiracy theorist and, and. And he’s just a nut. And he said some of the craziest things you can imagine, and he got a quarter of the vote in the primary.

[00:24:12] HILLARI LOMBARD: I mean, if you ask him, he got the majority of the vote,

[00:24:15] JON RALSTON: He is still denying that he lost, he lost by 11 percentage points by the way. And he’s saying, and he’s filed a lawsuit, contesting the election. That is, uh, one, one of the greatest pieces of lunacy you will ever see with all kinds of mathematical. Formulas that make no sense, but Hillary, I, I have believed, and I believe it now more strongly than ever, that that could have a real world electoral impact on Republicans.

[00:24:41] If Joey Gilbert is telling this hardcore group that the election was fixed, um, even in a Republican primary, that will that depress. Republican turnout in November, it’s going to have an effect again, we don’t know yet whether it’s 1% or 5% or greater, but I, I, I think the effect of that [00:25:00] is gonna be much greater, whatever it is than the effect of the democratic socialist taking over the party.

[00:25:05] HILLARI LOMBARD: and I just don’t know the end game on that. Like, if you have to claim that your election and the Republican primary was stolen. Do you think you’re gonna win an overwhelming amount of Democrats?

[00:25:16] JON RALSTON: Of course not you’re, but, but you’re, you’re thinking rationally and logically, and that has nothing to do with this, right?

[00:25:22] HILLARI LOMBARD: That’s my problem, honestly.

[00:25:24] JON RALSTON: Yes.

[00:25:25] HILLARI LOMBARD: We’re gonna take a quick break. Stay tuned. We’ll be right.


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[00:26:13] HILLARI LOMBARD: And now back to our show.


[00:26:17] HILLARI LOMBARD: One of the issues that I watched really closely is education. Nevada has been dead last or right around it in a ranking of all 50 states when it comes to education. Since I graduated high school, um, , which was in 2011, not to date myself. But, my little brother just graduated a couple years ago and we’re still hovering around 49 to 46.

[00:26:44] And as my mom starts her job as assistant principal it’s still not better. So I have watched my family move in and out of the system over the course of the last at 10 years or more even. And we can’t seem to get it together on education in Nevada. What’s what’s your take on that?

[00:27:05] JON RALSTON: I’ve written a lot about this Hillary and I’ve I’ve, I’ve, uh, talked a lot about this and it’s very, very frustrating to watch, not just as an observer, as a journalist, but it’s someone who has lived here for, uh, uh, more than half my life now. And as someone who. Put a kid through school here, including public, uh, high schools and who is now has a, a, a stepdaughter who was going through the public.

[00:27:32] School system. This is it’s, it’s more complicated than people would think, but there, there are a lot of, there are a lot of, uh, components of this that have not changed, unfortunately, and continue to keep us down. It’s not just that we don’t spend enough money on education, but by the way, I don’t think we do.

[00:27:51] It’s it, it it’s. There has never been because of the kind of state Nevada is. And because of the industries that thrive in, in Nevada and drive the economy, education has not been a value, uh, that in our culture that is put near the top. There’s just no culture that values education. Sure. There are pockets in every place that do, but generally it’s not a place that is valued.

[00:28:18] Education enough, uh, in, in, in my opinion. And the, the, there, there also is, especially in Clark county, which. Uh, I know as arena white, you don’t want to hear this drives the entire state and, and this is happening in Washoe to some extent, too. And, and you know, is that you start to get the, the demographics of the state have changed a lot since I started covering politics.

[00:28:40] And you have these majority minority. Districts, including, uh, in, in, in the fifth largest school district, in the country in Clark county. And you, it’s very, very difficult for these teachers who it’s tough enough to get ’em to come here in the first place. Cause we don’t pay them enough, but also you have teachers and I’ve used this example a lot who walk into a classroom and there’s essentially three kinds of kids in many of these schools, kids who speak fluent English, kids.

[00:29:09] Don’t speak English at all, or barely speak English. And then others were in between. How do you teach to three very different cohorts like that and make them successful, put them on the path to success. So our dropout rate is still high. Our achievement rates in certain grades are still very, very, uh, low.

[00:29:29] There have been all kinds of things that have been tried by various governors. Every governor’s the education governor. They love to call themselves that, but it’s very difficult because I’ve covered a legislature, every legislature since 1987. And it’s always them leaving, cheering what they’ve done, but all they’ve done is put bandaids on something that requires major surgery.

[00:29:50] Some sessions have been better than others, but there’s always been this policy, these policies of incrementalism that don’t really get to it. And I have to. Finally [00:30:00] cuz again, I’m giving you a longer answer than you probably want. I probably should have had less coffee before I started this podcast. but, but I, I, I, I. You, you feel for parents who are turning to other to other avenues who believe now in school choice, where maybe they didn’t before, who wanna send their kids to private school? Uh, if they can afford it. Who, who, who, who have changed their outlook because of their very personal experiences, putting their kids through public schools.

[00:30:31] Now, I had a very good experience, uh, with my son in, in public school general. Generally I think, and he was in private school until he went to high school. In many ways the public school was better. Uh, I’ve had a mixed. Um, uh, experience with my stepdaughter, although generally good. And, and, and, and she’s lucky, lucky, I don’t know if Lucky’s the right word.

[00:30:51] She’s so smart that, that, that she can surmount some of the issues that exist in public schools. But I don’t blame parents for getting desperate for, for turning to other ways, home homeschooling, school choice, charter schools, all the rest of it. I get it. So. I understand why we’re still, depending on what stats you used, 46, 49, 50 first, whatever it is it ain’t good.

[00:31:16] Uh, and, and so I think it starts with a culture that doesn’t value education enough and then gets to politicians who just aren’t bold enough in what they, what they wanna do. There, there are, there are some exceptions, but generally I think that’s.

[00:31:31] HILLARI LOMBARD: On the note of valuing

[00:31:32] education. I

[00:31:33] wanna push back on that slightly because a publication that I read in respect to the Nevada independent recently said that, uh, education was a distant. But still second, as far as Nevada voter priorities, wouldn’t that say that they value it to some degree?

[00:31:51] JON RALSTON: I mean, I guess you can look at it a couple different ways. You can look at it the way that you do or, and, and they do value it, or, uh, there’s so much about how bad our education system is, uh, that they wanna help fix it. And I think more and more parents, but. Again, parents aren’t gonna fix this. They can play a role.

[00:32:08] I wish parents were more active in their kids’ education, but you still need politicians to make decisions to change it. I, I think being superintendent of the Clark county school district as, as populous and as demographically diverse as it is, is a harder job than being governor. Theoretically, I think, I think it really could be.

[00:32:27] And so there’s just no easy. An there’s no easy answers here. Do people care about it? Yeah. But do, do they care about it because they are, they saying they care about it in a poll cuz they think they should and, and, and, and their kid has just gotten home from school and, and then told them a horror story or they’ve experienced it themselves.

[00:32:46] I don’t know. Mm-hmm I don’t know. Uh, I, I hope I’m wrong about the culture. I hope it’s changing. Uh, but, uh, we haven’t seen any concrete results.

[00:32:55] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yeah, I think you’re probably more right than I would like to admit. One of the stats that stands out to me is. Nevada has tripled its per pupil spending since 1960, which still puts us about a third under the national average. And I think that, that says a lot. I mean, I remember opening a textbook that was older than I was.

[00:33:20] JON RALSTON: Absolutely. That’s, that’s a real problem. Uh, and, and, and, you know, that is. Conservatives will often point to the stat that you just talked about. Look, we’ve increased spending all this much and it hasn’t done a, a, any good, which of course is totally disingenuous. And they don’t look at the comparison to, as you just did, uh, what other states have done.

[00:33:40] So, yeah, it’s it. It’s depressing. Um, uh, I, I remember I was at a forum and this is quite some time ago. Um, I, I was moderating a form among legislators and I said, I said to them, what do you say to critics who say we should just stop throwing money at the problem? And one of the legislators, uh, a very, it was, it was a glib answer, but it was a, I also had such resonance, I think, uh, Wait a second.

[00:34:07] Why don’t we actually try throwing money at the problem? And then maybe we can decide if it works or not, because we, I mean, even though these amounts sound like a lot, right? They’re not nearly as much as other states spend on education and listen. You do need to spend wisely. You do need more accountability in the system, uh, perhaps, uh, but, uh, uh, it’s all of a piece.

[00:34:30] And the bottom line is, is that they’re able to use numbers up in Carson city and then go and send their mailers out when they run for reelection saying, look what I did for education spending, uh, without talking about that, we’re still 46, 48, whatever. Uh, the, the number is so. You know, the really difficult question, uh, is what do you do about that?

[00:34:50] And, and, and how do you change it? Uh, and this is the proverbial turning around the battleship, right? It’s going to take a while. You can’t do it [00:35:00] overnight, but you have to have people consistently. By the way you have to have Democrats and Republicans sitting at the same table and not talking past each other or attacking each other for spending too much or not spending enough.

[00:35:14] Uh, and that’s in, in the environment that we live in now, Hillary, in this country, in this state where everything is so polarized, very difficult to get at what is arguably the most important issue in Nevada.

[00:35:27] HILLARI LOMBARD: do you think that the foundation is there right now to make this a bigger issue and start writing the ship? Or do you think that we aren’t even the starting line?

[00:35:37] JON RALSTON: Um, again, I will give you an answer that I would never accept from a politician I have to, and then I’ll, I’ll elaborate on it. It depends. It, it depends what the legislature looks like next time. It depends who gets elected. It depends who the governor is. Uh, it, it, it depends on. Uh, groups and I, I, I speak, I give speeches, uh, uh, uh, to groups like chambers of commerce or business groups or rotary clubs.

[00:36:03] And I always say, you know, it’s up to groups like you. Because I’ll always ask about education and why it’s education. I said, if you don’t, if you don’t press these legislators, not just during election time, but after they’re elected to do the right thing, whatever you consider the right thing to do, then you have only yourself to blame.

[00:36:22] The problem is Hillary is that most people aren’t crazy like me and do this stuff. 24 7, they have lives. They have that. They’re not thinking about this all the time. They they’re, they’re more worried about keeping their job, their Bo that their boss isn’t mad at me that their kids aren’t sick or they’re, they’re doing well in school.

[00:36:40] And so it’s not as high a priority. So it’s very difficult in an increasingly complex world to get people, uh, to focus on that. But generally we are not electing the best people. To Carson city, because those jobs are not that appealing. I mean, they pay them nothing. They pay ’em, you know, essentially 10 grand.

[00:36:58] Um, and, and so you’re gonna get, you know, uh, retirees 10 grand. Yeah. Yeah. What I always say is you get retirees some who wanna give back and some of those will make good legislators. You get business people who maybe you’re smart and, and, and understand some of the issues and want to give back. And then you get people who think, wait for it.

[00:37:17] $10,000. Every two years is a good salary. Then think of the quality of the people that you’re, that you’re getting up there. So I’ve always said we should pay our legislators more, that they should meet more often, that they should have bigger staffs, uh, because otherwise the lobbyists, uh, run everything because, uh, they have such an advantage in, in, in a very compressed timeframe.

[00:37:38] I mean, What an anachronism. It is to have a legislature that meets every other year and has a set time period, four months to meet. I mean, that doesn’t make any sense, except if you wanna just say, you know, um, uh, uh, just take the most cynical view of the more they’re not there, the words the better cuz they can’t do damage to us.

[00:37:59] HILLARI LOMBARD: It’s insane though. I mean, like four months right out of every two years.

[00:38:05] JON RALSTON: That’s it?

[00:38:06] HILLARI LOMBARD: I think the issues at the start of your term and the end of your term could be completely different.

[00:38:12] JON RALSTON: Well, it’s absolutely right. They, they should, I mean, no one, I shouldn’t say no one very few people wanna have a full-time legislature except probably the legislators themselves. Um, but, uh, it it’s insane not to have them at least meet every year. I mean, you could find the most genius, uh, uh, IQ economists.

[00:38:31] In the world and they would not be able to predict what is going to happen 24 to 26 months in, in advance. But that’s what essentially we’re asking them, uh, to do. Uh, and so they don’t even meet in the, in the, uh, even numbered years to take a look at how the economy’s doing. Do adjustments need to be made, which programs are working and which aren’t no.

[00:38:51] And by the way, I don’t think it says, I think that totally skews the power dynamic in the state. Um, uh, and, and people talk about the different branches of government and they’re all co-equal they’re. In this state, the governor has an immense immense amount of power because the legislators are only there to bother him four months out of every 24.

[00:39:10] And so that’s not a good system, Hillary, there’s no checks and balances there. And I’m not saying every governor abuses that, but. They take advantage of it in the sense that there’s more executive orders, they can, they can do all kinds of different things. Some of which may be good, some of which may not.

[00:39:26] And then you have, and I’m probably getting too much in the weeds here for you. And then you have these so-called interim legislative committees that meet. Before in between and all, but one, the interim finance committee have no power to do anything. Uh, uh, but the interim finance committee has power to move money around, which is probably unconstitutional, but nobody’s ever challenged it because sh we should be able to do this.

[00:39:51] That’s their solution to not meeting more often.

[00:39:54] HILLARI LOMBARD: Well, and I think that even if you have the best intentions and don’t intend to abuse your power at all, if there’s [00:40:00] nobody around to hold you accountable, you kind of do by default because all of the other months of the year, the two years, you’re doing whatever you want.

[00:40:09] JON RALSTON: And, and I would say, and that’s a great point. I would say that most. And I always say, I don’t know if numbers 92% or 96.3% of the legislators I’ve met. A a and I’ll, I’ll include governors in this too. They are well intentioned. Some of them are smarter than others. Some work harder than others. Some are less easily compromised.

[00:40:31] I don’t use the word corrupted, cuz almost none of them are corrupt, maybe a handful. But when I say compromised, you go up there wanting to do the right thing and having the best of intentions. And then suddenly it’s the first time in your life that someone’s given you a lot of respect and taking you out to play golf and fancy dinners.

[00:40:47] Something. What do I need to come back to this? So the system itself is inherently corrosive and, and corrupting in, in a way that doesn’t necessarily make you a criminal, but makes you compromise what you otherwise might have done. And, and so, um, that system needs to be changed. It, it is a terrible system this every four months, uh, part-time legislators that we pay nothing.

[00:41:13] What, what kind of quality do you expect if that’s the system that’s set up?

[00:41:19] HILLARI LOMBARD: I, yes, I do agree with you, but I have a hard time seeing a future in which Nevadans want to pay their government more. which makes it hard because there’s really no way around that issue except to fund the government more. But there’s, there’s not a, a lot of popularity. Imagine what would happen if that was put on the ballot.

[00:41:40] Do you think there’s any chance it would pass? Uh, I doubt it. I think I would vote for it. And you would vote for it? Yeah. That’s two of us. Yes. Which I mean, by the education logic, that’s a hundred percent increase. There you go. there you go.

[00:41:59] So we’ve talked a lot about Harry Reed and I know for me personally, growing up in Nevada, you don’t have a lot of celebrities. There’s not a lot of actors from Nevada, but it did mean a lot to. That we had Harry Reed, like he showed me that Nevada matters, um, and the Nevada could make a big impact.

[00:42:24] And I, I know that with you, you got shut out of his, of covering him, right. For a little bit, after you put out a press story about his kids, is

[00:42:35] JON RALSTON: I didn’t get shit out of cover. I didn’t get shit out of covering him. I continued to cover him, but he wouldn’t talk to me access. Yeah. Right, right.

[00:42:43] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yeah, but now you’re writing a book about him. What’s that journey like?

[00:42:47] JON RALSTON: Um, it, it, it has been the most, um, interesting and most exhausting project I’ve ever taken on. Um, he, I, I had been. And you’re right. I mean, you’ve only like scratched the surface of the up and down relationship that I had with him and covering him for 35 years. And it took me a long time to get him to agree, to do a book.

[00:43:10] Um, but he eventually did. And that was the beginning of 2021. And I did before he passed away, I did 24 zoom interviews, uh, with him. Uh, and Harry Reid, as you know, had a reputation for not talking much, but he talked a. And, and they were, they were revelatory in many ways and he gave me special access to his archive up at U N R, which is, uh, I, I, I will tell.

[00:43:32] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yes, not U N L V

[00:43:34] JON RALSTON: No, you know, you gave it to UNR for all kinds of reasons, but they, they are phenomenal. The special collections people at UN R are like some of my favorite people in the world. Now they have helped me because this is an almost, um, uh, uh, it’s a mountainous amount of information. It’s. It’s a thousand boxes and 12 million digital files.

[00:43:53] And so, wow. They have, they’ve given me essentially a roadmap and I found all kinds of, uh, great stuff there. Unfortunately, a lot of the great stuff I found I can’t ask him about now because he’s passed away. But, um, the, the book, the book, I hope, I hope, and I shouldn’t say this cuz I’ll probably jinx myself.

[00:44:10] I hope will be sent to the publish. Before the end of the year, it, it, it, it, it’s actually supposed to be turned into them in three weeks, but I’ve told them that is not going to happen. And they’re pretty flexible on it, but it’s just, it’s, it’s a gargantuan task. I, I take it very seriously, Hillary, because he is a towering figure, uh, here in, in Nevada.

[00:44:31] And, and, and he was one of the most consequential figures of the last quarter century in, in, in, in Washington. So, uh, I’ve. Dozens upon dozens of interviews. I’ve interviewed a lot of his former colleagues. I’ve interviewed president Obama. I’ve interviewed Hillary Clinton about him and, and, and, and a lot of his staffers.

[00:44:50] Uh, and so I, I gathered a tremendous amount of information and I’ve written a lot. I’ve written, I’ve written about 15 chapters so far, which I haven’t said publicly. So you’re first to hear that . [00:45:00] But I’ve still got, I’ve still got a lot of work to do. Um, and, and, and, and I still have yet to butt heads with the editors, uh, with, with what the actual length of this book is going to be.

[00:45:11] Cuz I think I want it to be longer than they do.

[00:45:14] HILLARI LOMBARD: Well, I mean, as long as it’s under Obama’s recent book and length, you should be fine.

[00:45:18] JON RALSTON: Yeah, it’s gonna be close, Matt. I’m kidding. But, uh, uh, you know, I, I think he’s worth a very long book, but the question is, how do you define very long? I may have a different view of that then, but, but this is like the top of the line. Uh, uh, Simon and Schuster and they have great people, uh, working there and I’m honored to be doing it.

[00:45:37] And, and I I’ve gotten his, , a widow LANDR to sit down with me a couple of times, and she was much mad at me by the way than he ever was, because you write about someone’s kids, right? One, one of the lessons of covering politics. Uh, that that all young reporters should, should learn. And I learned it pretty early on actually, is that you should never be angry with spouses or kids who, who yell at you about your coverage or get mad at you because they are, they they’re.

[00:46:04] Loyal, uh, to their spouse or their dad or their son or whatever, and they’re, and they’re never gonna be able to be completely rational, uh, about it. And so, uh, one of the first races I’ve recovered tell you a quick story was in 1986, I was covered a congressional race. And one of the candidates, uh, said, uh, that the other candidate was dishonest.

[00:46:24] And so I quoted this person and the next day waiting for me. Uh, in, in, in the lobby of the Las Vegas review journal was that candidate’s wife who wanted to yell at me saying her husband is completely honest and all the rest of it. And it’s tough to explain to somebody, well, listen, if your opponent is said is saying that he’s, I, I can’t ignore that, but you, you just, and, and.

[00:46:45] Listen, uh, um, I had an up and down relationship with Reid, but he knew eventually, or he was persuaded that I was the right person to do the book. And we had some pretty amazing conversations. Hillary and, uh, it hit me much harder than I thought it would when, when, when he died, because we had had this regular contact and it had become personal.

[00:47:04] And he had talked about his personal life and I had talked about mine. And so, um, uh, uh, it’s a challenge to do this and I, and I’m. Really hoping I do. I do him and the subject matter justice.

[00:47:17] HILLARI LOMBARD: Well, I’m happy that it’s you. I mean, like I grew up with your name. I grew up with his name. It just seems like a natural fit.

[00:47:23] JON RALSTON: That’s nice to say thank you.

[00:47:26] HILLARI LOMBARD: I have saved my hardest question to be my last question.

[00:47:29] JON RALSTON: Uh,

[00:47:30] HILLARI LOMBARD: Your bio says that you wanna be the film critic of the Nevada independence. What movie have you seen this year that you think everybody should see and why?

[00:47:39] JON RALSTON: First of all, I hope film critic thing that was put in there by, uh, uh, my editor Elizabeth Thompson, who has said that over her dead body while I have a right movie of reviews on, on the, uh, and what’s funny about that by the way is, cause she doesn’t think it that. It’s appropriate for our site. We we’ll we’ll someday we’ll discuss that, but she, she is like, uh, takes my, uh, movie recommendations, um, uh, uh, as gospel and she, and she thinks I have great taste, uh, in movies.

[00:48:05] What movie have I seen? Uh, that I think, um, um, it’s funny because the name of it now is, is escaping me. Yeah. I think it’s called everywhere. Everything all at once.

[00:48:19] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yes. Everything everywhere all at

[00:48:22] JON RALSTON: Have you seen it? Yes, I have. And did you like.

[00:48:25] HILLARI LOMBARD: yes, it was super weird, but I kind of like those movie.

[00:48:27] JON RALSTON: Yeah. I, I, I was blown away by it. I thought it was just an absolutely phenomenal, phenomenal movie. And so I think everybody should see it. Cause I think everybody will take something different a a away from it. It it’s totally weird, but by the end of it, I just felt like it had an overwhelming power. Uh, even though it’s science fiction and all, all that stuff.

[00:48:46] The, the basic story. Is is so universal and, and, and you get that by the end. So I, I just think, I thought it was beautifully done. Everyone should see that.

[00:48:56] HILLARI LOMBARD: That is a solid pick.

[00:48:58] JON RALSTON: I appreciate that.

[00:48:59] HILLARI LOMBARD: Yeah, John, I am so grateful for your time, honestly. Thank you so much. I hope that you come back on the show anytime you want. Thank you.

[00:49:08] JON RALSTON: you. I I’m happy to come back and you ask great questions, Hillary and tha thank you so much for inviting me on. I, I really had a good time.

[00:49:16] HILLARI LOMBARD: thank you so much for listening. If you like this episode, don’t forget to like subscribe and rate the show anywhere that you listen to podcasts, it helps spread the word about the show and helps us grow the moderate movement. If you have thoughts on this episode, future episodes, or just wanna tell me what’s on your mind, you can email me at talk moderate party, podcast.com.

[00:49:33] My inbox is always open and I try to get back to everybody. You can always email me at talk at moderate party, podcast.com. . All right, that’s it for me guys. Thank you for listening.

[00:49:45] I’ll talk to you soon. Bye

CEO // Nevada Independent

Jon has been covering politics in Nevada for more than 30 years. His blog, Ralston Reports, was founded in 2012 and now lives on The Nevada Independent website. Jon wrote for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 15 years, the last seven as a freelance columnist. In 1999, Greenspun Media Group purchased his political newsletter, The Ralston Report, and hired him as a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun where his byline appeared until September 2012. He was also a columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from January 2015 until November 2016, when he left to start The Indy.

Over the years, Jon has hosted several TV programs, including “Ralston Live” on Vegas PBS and “Ralston Reports” on KSNV News 3. He also writes and publishes a Nevada-centric email newsletter called “Flash” that frames the political agenda for the day, breaks news and offers analysis and snark. In 2012, Politico named Jon one of the Top 50 “Politicos to Watch.” He frequently appears on MSNBC, FOX News, and PBS, and he has also appeared on NBC’s long-running “Meet the Press.”

Jon’s many press awards include:

  • Nevada Press Association – Best Local Column (2017 & 2018)
  • Nevada Press Association – Best Non-Staff Columnist (2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2015)
  • Associated Press News Executive Council award for best local column (2009)
  • Best Columnist of the Year (1991 & 1992)
  • Nevada Press Association – Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year (1986)

Jon is originally from Buffalo, New York. He has a B.A. in English from Cornell University and a M.A. in journalism from University of Michigan. He came to Las Vegas in 1984 as the night police reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, later covering general assignment and county government before becoming a political reporter in 1986. He has a son, Jake. Jon loves movies and movie trivia and aspires to one day be The Nevada Independent‘s film critic, if they’ll let him.

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