This past weekend, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas played host to non-partisan non-profit advocacy group, United for Infrastructure, as they convened the first ever Presidential Candidate Forum on Infrastructure, Jobs, and Building a Better America. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, and businessman Tom Steyer all spoke at the event, where each of the 2020 presidential candidates highlighted their projected plans and priorities for the future of our nation’s planes, trains, ports, water systems, roads and bridges. The event also gave local Mayor Nathan Robertson a prime opportunity to advocate to national infrastructure leaders on behalf of the city of Ely and White Pine County.

The Infrastructure Candidate Forum was about more than roads and bridges, airports, and water treatment plants; it was about jobs and growing the economy in the Silver State and across the country.  Zachary Schaeffer, President of United For Infrastructure, began the event by establishing what infrastructure really means,” Infrastructure is everything. It’s how we experience our daily lives, for better or worse. The length of our commutes and how much time we spend with our families; if our trucks and planes make it to their destinations; the quality of water coming out of our taps… it is getting goods to markets and around the globe; it is the dams and levees designed to protect us from flooding; for 70 million Americans it is our career… This foundation of our lives, our communities, and economy is too often failing us. Too many policies are outdated or unclear and Americans are paying the price in dollars, in missed opportunities, and in lives. American voters are asking for their leaders to act on this issue.”

The audience gathered for the discussions was largely made up of groups that build, maintain, operate, and administer America’s essential infrastructure systems.  Among the host committees were representatives of  North America’s Building Trades Unions, The International Union of Operating Engineers,  Transport Workers Union of America,  Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, American Council of Engineering Companies, Airports Council International-North America, American Public Transportation Association, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Build Together, and The Value of Water Campaign.

Also in attendance were state and local elected officials such as Congressman Steven Horsford, Henderson Mayor, Debra March; North Las Vegas Mayor, John Lee; and Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti.  City of Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson had the distinction of being the sole representative of a rural city and received recognition from the hosts at the event. 

The Moving America Forward forum was moderated by The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Executive Editor, Jerry Seib, and Deputy Washington Bureau Chief, Jeanne Cummings, and each of the Democratic candidates spoke for 20 minutes, answering questions on their ideas and prospective plans for rebuilding America’s crumbling bridges, failing dams, and deteriorating water networks, addressing commuter train and mass transit opportunities, and proposing continuations or expansions of the gas tax, among many other ideas and prospective agendas. 

The Nevada League of Cities offered a weekend of events supporting and surrounding the infrastructure forum, all of which provided Mayor Robertson several opportunities to outline our White Pine County community’s vital needs with industry leaders and National League of Cities Program Director and Federal Advocate for Transportation and Infrastructure, Britany Kohler.

Speaking at round table discussions, Robertson lobbied for improving Ely’s ground transportation, citing White Pine County’s growing aged population and the distance our veterans must travel for services, as well as the importance of Ely as a major thoroughfare for the entire state’s trucking and shipment system.  A major point the mayor emphasized with Kohler was the critical need to restore essential air services that lost funding several years ago. “Nowhere more than Ely is there a region of the country that needs to have air service,” Robertson explained.

During a coffee and conversation meet and greet with other state elected officials, Robertson spoke about how the proposed route for I-11 has been a big issue for the Commission and others in White Pine. Knowing infrastructure is a multifaceted topic, Robertson also discussed ways the National League of Cities and other agencies can address rural issues related to broadband, housing, rail and air.  Following a lengthy meeting with Kohler, Robertson said,  “I think when given the chance to voice our concerns and cite facts to our national lobbying groups and partners that can work on our behalf, it’s important to take each and every one of those opportunities. We may be small and remote, but it is important they hear what we have to say.”

Robertson, whether talking with construction professionals, contractors, building firms or lobbying agencies, had a clear message as mayor of the most remote city in the continental United States,  “In our area, all of these issues really come to a head when you realize the difficulties of traveling in and out of such a unique region, whether going to see family or getting to doctor’s appointments at a VA hospital, finding an x-ray for your pet or replacing water mains and drainage systems on main streets; in our part of Nevada, every type of infrastructure issue needs creative and custom solutions.”