White Pine County voters casting ballots in 2018’s general election voted against Steve Sisolak by a whopping 73 percent. Despite those numbers, he won the gubernatorial race, but Sisolak is very much aware of his reputation in White Pine, and throughout rural Nevada, being widely dubbed the “Governor of Clark County.”
With recall petitions circulating in rural counties and social media groups protesting his policies, the governor recently set out to correct the negative impression a majority of Nevadans outside of urban centers have of him.
Hitting the road and traveling to rural regions and remote sections of the Silver State to better acquaint himself with the people and the challenges these vast and diverse populations outside of Las Vegas and Reno are experiencing, Sisolak, his staff, and First Lady Kathy Sisolak stopped in White Pine County to take a tour of Ely and discuss the needs, successes and difficulties of life in our stretch of the state.
Responding to invitations from the City of Ely Mayor’s office, the White Pine County Tour and Recreation Board and the Ely Shoshone Tribe, Sisolak visited with those agencies and several others this past Saturday.
Beginning the information-filled day at Ely State Prison with Warden William Gittere and Nevada Department of Corrections Director Charles Daniels, the governor discussed vocation and education programs that help inmates prepare for reintegration and reduce recidivism while being escorted on a tour of Nevada’s only maximum-security facility, which is also one of the largest employers in White Pine County.
District Attorney Mike Wheable then hosted the Governor and First Lady at the White Pine County CourtHouse, along with Senator Pete Goicochea and Assemblyman John Ellison and Judges Steve Dobresque and Gary Fairman, touring the historic building and discussing construction plans for the Justice Center, which the Nevada Legislature funded during the 2019 session.
Lunch at Margarita’s gave Sisolak, Goicochea and Ellison the chance to break bread with White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board representatives Caroline McIntosh and Kyle Horvath, as well as former Economic Director for White Pine and Eureka Counties for Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, Donna Bath, and City of Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson.
Discussing issues common to most of rural Nevada, the local group emphasized to the elected state officials White Pine’s own housing crisis, a dire need for reliable broadband in our schools and outlying areas, and the lack of more crucial workforce training opportunities, all of which hinder White Pine’s growth and sustainability.
Thanking the Governor for the assistance White Pine County has already received from Carson City, in the way of grants from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the mayor drove home the point that more needs to be done.
In a unique region of the state where the community relies on an outdoor recreation economy, it’s the partnerships of regional organizations supporting each other that have sustained the area, like the interconnectedness of the school district, Great Basin National Park, Cave Lake State Park and the Nevada Northern Railway.
Showcasing for the governor all the success White Pine has seen over the years, such as a union between White Pine County School District and Great Basin College creating a Diesel Mechanics Program, an Electrical Program, and the forming of a Registered Nursing Program, all through state grants, Sisolak was then enlightened to learn of critical workforce challenges in the most remote city in the continental United States in the lack of desperately needed construction and development job availability.
McIntosh, Bath and Robertson praised the Governor’s Office on Science Innovation and Technology for being instrumental in its commitment to bringing Fiber Optic broadband to all of the schools in White Pine and to the Tribal Library.
The goal of getting fiber to more places will be made easier through the Nevada Department of Transportation’s Main Street project that will be providing dark sky compliant street lighting while trenching for fiber. Robertson made it clear to Sisolak however, the salt in the sugar has been NDOT cutting in half Ely’s critical infrastructure project due to limited budget availability.
The Governor immediately began to strategize finding additional resources to direct to Ely’s and White Pine’s top priorities.
“We are asking for a hand up, not a hand out. Sisolak was very engaged and asked thoughtful questions, unaware of the severity of broadband issues, and pointed out that areas all over the state are struggling with workforce opportunities. He is fully committed to supporting workforce education at our community college,” McIntosh said.
These various citizen led committees are looking for solutions for White Pine County and White Pine has been getting it through the Governor’s office, NDOT, the USDA, GOSIT and GOED, to name a few.
As the day progressed, it was on to more meetings and a visit with Director of the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum and historian Sean Pitts and Executive Director of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum Mark Bassett, who provided tours of the National Historic landmark and its Train Depot and Freight House.
Here, Sisolak and the First Lady were able to experience one of the cornerstones of White Pine tourism, promising to return to patronize the famous star trains and to “Be the Engineer,” two of the museum’s top attractions.
White Pine School District Superintendent Adam Young led a tour of White Pine Middle School where the Governor was shown some of the challenges the district faces with its aging facilities. The Governor however, became sidetracked once he discovered a grant-funded STEM robotics club working in the building. Meeting each of the students and parent volunteers as they prepared for a robotics tournament in Las Vegas next weekend, Sisolak and the First Lady asked questions and watched as DEN and WPMS students demonstrated the working bots they had constructed.
Prior to concluding the middle school tour, Young showcased the Boys & Girls Club headquarters and gave a presentation on the benefits of that program in our area.
Meeting at the Ely Art Bank with members of the White Pine Main Street Committee, the Great Basin National Park Superintendent, and representatives from the Great Basin Heritage Area and County Commission, the Governor and First Lady, who was born in Ely, were able to hear how these programs and organizations are benefiting the local communities. The first couple walked through the Art Bank purchasing locally made art pieces to display in the executive mansion.
Concluding their day, Ely Shoshone Tribe Chairwoman Diana Buckner and Tribal Council Member Hawk Dumont, with Nevada Indian Commission Director Stacey Montooth provided Governor Sisolak and the First Lady a tour of the reservation.
Discussing terms of compacts between the state and their tribe, Buckner and Dumont also highlighted for Sisolak the tribe’s engagement in the community through charitable donations to the Boys & Girls Club, assisting Animal Control with shelter animal transfer fees, and partnering with the city and county to provide RV spaces and hook ups to alleviate housing issues.
Buckner is happy to point out, “This is the first governor who said he would listen to all of our concerns, whatever they may be.”
In a press release from the Governor’s Office Tuesday, Sisolak stated, “Kathy and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the first year in office than by visiting with our fellow Nevadans and exploring some of the towns and areas throughout Central and Eastern Nevada that make the Silver State great.
“From Fallon, to Ely to Alamo, it was truly humbling to reflect on the past year and meet with leaders and citizens in Nevada to discuss our promising future. On behalf of myself, the First Lady, and our family, we want to thank the cabinet, all of the incredible state workers, and the citizens of the great State of Nevada for allowing me to serve. It has been the honor of my life, and I will continue doing all I can to make you proud.”