Bryan Sandoval: The Middle Seat Governor

Nevada is a very small state with an estimated 2.7 million inhabitants in 2012.  Seventeen states have fewer people, but only eight have more land.  That sums up Nevada, few people, but lots of land – desert land.  In a barren land, you when meet another traveler, it is important to stop and talk for awhile; it may be a long time before you see another living human being.  There are two urban centers of population in the state; the Reno-Sparks-Carson City region in the north and the ever so well-known Las Vegas in the south.  There are nearly five hundred miles of desert between the two.  Anyone who conducts business at both ends of the state and has occasion to travel between the two regions, does so by airplane.  And because Nevada has such a small population, traveling between Reno and Las Vegas you expect to be on the same plane with someone you know or recognize.  You might easily be on the same plane with state officials, local media personalities, sports stars and business leaders.

On a recent Southwest flight to Las Vegas, the flight attendant was encouraging people boarding to take the first available seat.  As everyone knows, there is no assigned seating on Southwest so you get to choose a seat from whatever seats are available when you board.  The attendant said the flight was completely full and only middle seats were left.  I already had my seat by that time, on the aisle.  As I watched the last few people board and squeeze into the remaining seats, the middle seats, I saw the governor, Bryan Sandoval boarding.  He was walking down the aisle shaking hands; as I said it is a small state and many people on the flight knew the governor.  As the attendant said, there were only middle seats left, so Governor Sandoval took a middle seat.  The flight attendants were excited, pleased and surprised, they could not believe the governor had boarded like an ordinary citizen and was even willing to sit in a middle seat.

It was not surprising to me; in Nevada we consider our governors to be citizens of the state, just like the rest of us.  Since my grandfather introduced me to Governor Russell in 1954, I have met every governor of the state, except one.  I met Bryan Sandoval before he was governor when he came to a meeting of our downtown business association while he was “testing the waters”.   I met others through friends or neighbors; my next door neighbor held a fundraiser for Jim Gibbons when he was running for the senate in 1996.   Robert List was on the board of directors of a company I worked for as a consultant.  I met Mike O’Callaghan while I was trying to raise money for an oral history project; Paul Laxalt went to high school with my parents and one summer I even dated a governor’s daughter.  The circumstances were different and unique with each governor, but over the course of 60 years, there has always been an opportunity to meet the governor and of course lots of other public officials.

As I said, Nevada is a very small state.  It is difficult to imagine anyone living in another state with the same opportunities to meet and know the state or local leaders.  I can’t imagine that living in New York, I would ever be introduced to Mayor Bloomberg. Nor can I imagine that when traveling around California, I would bump into Jerry Brown or Arnold Schwarzenegger – can you?  More than that, I doubt that there are any other middle seat governors in the country.

Of course the policies of Southwest Airlines help equalize all travelers, but the choice to take any seat available was Sandoval’s; he could have had a seat held for him.  But to me, it wasn’t just Governor Sandoval’s choice; it was a Nevadan’s choice.  When you meet another person in this barren Nevada landscape, you had better stop to talk because you have no idea how long it will be before you see another one.  And if the person you meet happens to be the governor of the state, what more perfect opportunity to talk to him about your issues and concerns?

In Nevada, we expect to be able to talk to our public officials about the things that concern us.  I did not talk to Governor Sandoval on the flight, but I could have if I had wanted.  During the last presidential campaign, Sheldon Adelson famously spent tens of millions of dollars for a seat at the table with a future president.  I don’t have to spend anything to have access to a governor, mayor or senator; my great-grandparents wrote that check 150 years ago when they settled in Nevada.  That does not mean other Nevadans and I always get what we want, but it does mean we can get someone to listen to us. If all else fails, fly between Reno and Las Vegas on Southwest, you are bound to travel with some official who will listen to you.  You might even sit next to Bryan Sandoval.


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