The Nevada Democratic caucus Jan. 19 was supposed to be the place that western issues made their way into the presidential campaign.
But with candidates now engaged in a national campaign, its doubtful regional issues will get much attention.
In the Nevada debate last year there was little discussion of issues like energy development, water and public lands. The big news this week was that the 460,000-member casino workers union backed Barack Obama.
But one issue big public land issue has come up, mining. Obama said in November that he opposed the mining reform bill sponsored by West Virginia Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall. Hillary Clinton has refused to say what her position is and John Edwards has said Rahall’s royalty is too high and he would seek a compromise.
But Obama’s firm stand against Rahall’s bill, which would and require hard-rock mining companies to pay royalties on federal lands, places him in opposition to every major environmental group in the country. And it has brought him criticism because his Nevada campaign adviser, Billy Vassiliadis, is a lobbyist for the mining industry.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the son of a Nevada miner, also opposes Rahall’s bill, which passed the House. Observers say if reform is to gain final passage, Rahall and Reid will have to cut a deal.
Obama has clearly lined himself up with Reid and that should help him attract mining votes in one of the few states where they are significant. Nevada has 12,700 miners in the state who get paid an average of $62,000 annually.
So far Obama’s opposition to one of the national environmental community’s major initiatives has not appeared to cut into his support. Boise Mayor David Bieter, who has publicly supported Rahall’s bill because of his concerns about the Atlanta Gold Mine upriver from Boise, endorsed Obama this week so it obviously wasn’t a major factor with him.