U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto calls Las Vegas home, but still feels a deep connection with the state’s rural communities. As a lifelong Nevadan, Cortez Masto grew up in a Las Vegas that was very different from the urban atmosphere it now projects.
“I was born and raised in Las Vegas, but let me tell you that it was more rural then than it is now,” she said in a recent phone interview from her Washington D.C. office. “That’s why I like the rural communities, it reminds me of early Las Vegas when I was growing up when there were still a lot of ranchers out there and cowboys. That’s why I love rural Nevada, it’s just gorgeous. I have a respect for not only the families and the people who have lived there for generations. You have some families that have lived there a 100 year that have worked the land. Farmers and cattle ranchers. It’s a beautiful place.”
Cortez Masto said she will visit the rural communities when she returns to Nevada later this month and is also looking to hire somebody to run a mobile office who can visit the rural communities on a regular basis.
“People will know this person and will be able to reach out to this person,” she said.
Cortez Masto made a point of doing a rural road trip twice a year during her eight years as the state attorney general. She feels one of the biggest issues facing residents of communities in White Pine, Eureka, Lincoln and Mineral County, along with the rest of rural counties across the state, is a lack of effective broadband service.
“We need to provide these resources in the rural communities,” she said. “Broadband opens up the whole area of telemedicine and in bringing other types of resources out to rural communities for professional services.”
Cortez Masto, who is the first Latina to hold a seat on the U.S. Senate, illustrated this point by mentioning a former college roommate who now lives in Elko. Her friend can’t even stream a movie without first having to have the rest of her family get off the internet.
Healthcare is another big issue in the rurals, not only because of efforts to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, but also in having qualified doctors either living or visiting these communities regularly. She said legislation passed in 2013 to allow nurse practitioners to work without a physician present has been critical for those living in the rurals.
“My biggest concern is the impact on the rural communities who now have healthcare due to the expansion of Medicaid to some of the rural hospitals,” she said. “Some (hospitals) are already struggling to keep their doors open.”
Some hospitals, such as the Nye County Regional Medical Center, lost that struggle. It closed in the summer of 2015, leaving residents of Tonopah and Esmeralda County without any emergency room services within a 100-mile radius.
“Many people are challenged geographically transportation-wise,” she said. “They can’t get to certain places for services.”
Other big issues facing rural communities include land use, green energy, education and transportation.
“It’s important to get out there and really talk to Nevadans to find priorities for them and work together and find solutions,” she said.
One of the most recent issues was President Obama’s designation of Gold Butte as a national monument, which took place before Cortez Masto began her term. Many were critical of the then-President’s decision to use the Antiquities Act to declare 300,000 acres of land near Lake Mead as a national monument. Although she wasn’t in office at the time, Cortez Masto said she supports the designation.
“I support preserving our public lands for our kids in the future,” she said. “I support it for recreational purposes for our sportsmen and women who like to hunt. We have seen in the state of Nevada the positive effect on tourism and bringing people to areas where they wouldn’t normally be to help the economy.
“You have to go there to see it. There are hidden jewels in the state that people haven’t been to. There are opportunities like this to open those doors for public recreation and to have a positive impact on those local communities who are struggling for revenue.”
Cortez Masto said she can work with the new administration on important issues such as growing the economy and helping veterans, but won’t back down on divisive issues such as immigration and women’s rights.
“We’re fighting to grow the economy, we’re fighting for those jobs,” she said. “We’re fighting for education and healthcare. We’re focused on helping families that are still struggling. We came from the worst recession we’ve ever seen. We were ground zero for the foreclosure crisis and people lost jobs. We’re just coming out of it and the focus is growing the economy. The governor has done an incredible job moving us forward and down a path to help grow the economy. I want to continue to support it and create job and fight for those working families … But I will always say, if the administration is going to continue the path of pain, hate, racism and discrimination, I will fight against it. I will be a vocal voice against it. I don’t think there’s any room for that type of hate and discrimination in the White House.”