Ask Nevada: Do Low Taxes, Less Regs Create Jobs?

Las Vegas played host to Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate. In 2008, Nevada voted heavily in favor of Barack Obama. But the state has suffered greatly during the economic downturn which may play into the upcoming 2012 election. David Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, talks to Ari Shapiro about the importance of Nevada in national politics.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And I'm Ari Shapiro.

Las Vegas hosted last night's Republican presidential debate. For Nevadans it was an opportunity to hear what candidates can offer to address their state's economic problems. David Damore teaches politics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and he told us about some of the key issues on voter's minds.

DAVID DAMORE: Well, obviously, you have the highest foreclosure rate in the country, highest bankruptcy rate in the country, highest unemployment rate in the country. And then last week we got a new one, which is the biggest drop in median income.

SHAPIRO: That's terrible. I mean, those four things, each of them individually, are huge.

DAMORE: Absolutely. And sadly for us, it's been going on now for quite some time. So we've just sort of been bumping around the bottom for the last two or three years here. You know, you hear among the Republican candidates about lower taxes and less regulation. Well, we already have that in Nevada, but somehow it's not solving our unemployment woes. And I think there is this notion that what we had four or five years ago is not coming back, right, where continuous development, continuous building. But there is no plan B here.

SHAPIRO: Low regulation and low taxes are such a key Republican touchstone at this moment. And you say Nevada has had very low regulation and low taxes for a long time, and yet it leads the country in foreclosures, in personal bankruptcies, in unemployment. What does that mean for the Republican argument in the state?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAMORE: That's a great question. You know, I think it shows that economic diversity and economic growth is a little more complicated than just those sort of mantras. One of the things we always hear as we go out there and we try to attract new businesses is businesses don't want to come here because they don't think that they can hire the people who are going to be educated enough to do the more demanding jobs that we're trying to attract here. So it's a mix.

And we've been lucky, for our history, is being able to rely primarily on mining and gaming and then obviously development in the last 20 years. So there's never been this push to diversify.

And now that they're trying to do this, they're finding, yeah, businesses do care about low taxes and low regulation, but they also care about workforce training. They care about the quality of life. If they want to tell their employees they're going to move to Nevada here, are these people going to want to do that? And that's the harder sell for us.

So, I mean, I know it resonates well among the Republican primary voters, you know, low taxes, low regulation, but if that was the case, we'd have zero unemployment in this state.

SHAPIRO: What about the immigration issue? In neighboring Arizona, a very tough immigration law has gotten a lot of attention. Nevada has a large Latino population. How is that playing out in the state's politics?

DAMORE: It's made the Democrats job a lot easier for outreach and organization and mobilization because they can point not only to Arizona but also some of the laws coming out of Utah, as well; to simply say, you know, this is the Republican Party. Look at what they're offering you.

Now, to his credit, Governor Sandoval, our Republican governor, has taken a much, much more moderate tone on that, and it has cost him politically here. He obviously has a lot of the business community in that camp as well here.

SHAPIRO: One trivia fact about Nevada that I found very surprising is that it's the most urbanized state in the country. Tell me what that means and what the implications of it could be.

DAMORE: You know, like a lot of the states in the Mountain West, these huge geographic areas that traditionally were dominated by rural interests, within the last 20 years that's very much changed. So if you look at the sort of political geography in Nevada, you have 87, 86 percent of the entire state's population reside in two counties. And that's why we're one of the most urban states in the country here. In that case...

SHAPIRO: So you're saying 87 percent of the people either live in the Las Vegas area or the live in the Reno area?

DAMORE: The Las Vegas or in the Reno. Yeah, Washoe County or Clark County. And so in the, you know, big land mass of Nevada is only 12, 13 percent of the entire population.

So what that means, of course, is advantage Democrats, right? The sort of notion is that as states get more diverse and more dense you get constituencies that are more friendly to the Democratic Party. And that certainly has been the case in Nevada over the last ten years.

And the Republicans, this is where they're playing catch up, not just here but across the region, is how can they get a message to resonate with these growing demographics that are working against their sort of traditional older, white rural base here. And from a political organization standpoint, it's much, much easier for the Democrats. They can invest in these urban counties and, you know, those are going to determine the statewide outcomes.

SHAPIRO: That's Professor David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Thanks for your time.

DAMORE: Thank you.

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