A history of Pahrump Nevada’s bigotry

In a Los Angeles Times article by Ashley Powers, today, August 7, 2011 writes “Anti-Latino remarks from a Nye County official (referring to Nye County Assessor, Shirley Matson, a Republican) prompt a popular recall campaign — a sign of shifting worldviews that’s reflected across the state.”

Powers noted that the Pahrump town board voted in 2006 to make English the official language of Pahrump and to ban bar residents from flying a foreign flag without a U.S. flag near it. When a couple hung Italian and Polish flags in protest, their house got egged.

Pahrump has more to its bigoted history than what’s covered in the LA Times article.

On November 15, 2006 the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The Pahrump Town Board passed an ordinance declaring English as the town’s official language, set restrictions on flying foreign flags and denied town benefits to undocumented immigrants.

“Approval of the ordinance was met with a standing ovation and cheers by many of the approximately 250 people at the meeting.”

Those for the bigoted ordinance commented:

“One man wore a stars and stripes bandana on his head and a T-shirt that said: Speak English or get the (expletive) out.”

“Another proponent, Elliott Brainard, who identified himself as a naval officer who served during World War II, said, ‘These people who don’t speak English … take money and support away from our citizens who need it.’”

“Another man, who said he was an Army veteran, said since this is the United States, there should be only one language.”

“I go bananas when I go to Wal-Mart, put my credit card in and they ask me if I want English only,” he said.”

About a dozen audience members spoke during the hour-long public hearing. The comments were about evenly divided for and against the ordinance.

Those who spoke against the ordinance, like Pahrump resident Vicky Parker, were roundly booed by other audience members.

Parker told the board that she was “appalled at the overt Hispano-phobia going on.”

“In the United States people have the freedom to speak in any language, not just English,” she said.

The board adopted the ordinance with a 3-2 vote.

Nye County Republican Richard Billman, the town board chairman, called it unnecessary and unenforceable.

Board member Laurayne Murray, a Nye County Democrat, said she was bothered by the section that denies benefits to undocumented immigrants without identifying what those benefits are.

The ordinance was a stripped down version of a previous proposal by former Republican town board member Michael Miraglia. The original version also would have made it illegal to hire, do business with or loan money to illegal immigrants.

Miraglia said he toned down the ordinance a bit because the town doesn’t have the money or resources to go after employers and landlords.

Miraglia said the ordinance was “for all our servicemen and women who died for our country.”

The then Pahrump Town Manager, David Richards, said the ordinance is meant as a statement “that this is America and we speak English here.”

“Everyone should speak English, and if you are going to move here then you ought to respect the American flag and fly it in prominence,” Richards said.

In December 2006 the Pahrump town board proposed an additional ordinance to require “undocumented foreign nationals” to register themselves at the Pahrump Town Office within 24 hours of arriving in the community.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal pointed out that “the proposed town ordinance targeting illegal immigrants in Pahrump already is drawing comparisons as one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history.”

“Undocumented foreign nationals” would be required to register with the Pahrump town office and pay a $200  registration fee.

The proposed ordinance was introduced by Miraglia author of the controversial “English-only” ordinance approved by the board in November 2006.

Miraglia claimed he played no part in writing the new Undocumented Foreign National Registration Ordinance. He said he introduced it on behalf of Scott Metro, who used to host a talk show on one of Pahrump’s two local television stations.

“In a written statement…, Metro said the ordinance was meant to “address the ‘ever increasing threat to our security, economy and well being’ posed by illegal immigrants.’” [LVRV]

“The measure ‘deals only with those that choose to ignore our laws’ and ‘knows no race or color,’ he said in the statement.

“When reached for further comment, Metro said he does not grant interviews unless the ‘media concern’ first donates $100 to the Happy Acres Animal Sanctuary in Pahrump,” wrote the R-J.

“Registering people? Why don’t we just bring back the internment camps?” Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo is quoted as asking. “From the standpoint of law enforcement and human decency, I think it’s a very ugly piece of trash.”

Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics In Politics, called the 2006 ordinance “mean-spirited, unfair, unjust and unconstitutional.”

“The purpose is to create and incite racial tension,” Romero said. “The perception is they hate us. It’s a racial thing. And the perception in this case is almost 100 percent real.”

Under the proposed measure, illegal immigrants who fail to register face a $500 fine and 10 days in jail for the first offense and a $5,000 fine and 100 days in jail for the second offense. The penalty for a third offense is deportation, which would be arranged and paid for by the town using the money it collects in fines and registration fees.

The Pahrump proposal came with its own defense mechanism.

Under Article 4, any “non-government agency” that challenged the ordinance in court must first shell out $20,000 to “cover any costs which may be incurred by the Town of Pahrump.”

It was called a ‘challenge fee,’ but Lee Rowland, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada, jokingly referred to it as ‘the ACLU tax.’”

Racism was a predominate topic in Pahrump in 2006. “I didn’t know that kind of racism was here,” said Andy Sanchez, 73, though the ordinance was rescinded within a few months. “It broke my heart.”

Romero warned that if the community becomes known as a hotbed for bigots, residents will move away and business owners will rethink their plans to open shop there.

“It is going to drive the economy down,” Romero predicted.

Now fast forward to 2011 and the Matson matter. The Pahrump Valley Times reported that it had “obtained emails in which Nye County Assessor Shirley Matson, a Republican, compared Latinos to ‘locusts,’ said pregnant Latinas were carrying ‘anchor babies’ and told the sheriff she was fearful of ‘Mexican/Latino, non-English speaking’ construction workers building a nearby jail.”

Matson, declined interview requests from the Los Angeles Times, saying in a letter to the community that “rarely does a day go by that a county resident does not stop in to thank me for speaking out and ask me to hold my ground.” [Los Angeles Times]

“Residents say Nye County has always had a small but vocal anti-immigrant crowd. But what has changed in a matter of years is the ferocity with which some residents are pushing back — underscoring the latest demographic trend in Nevada, where new and diverse residents have remade the swing state’s complexion and political culture,” wrote Powers.

The Los Angeles Times noted a shift in Pahrump and elsewhere in Nevada, where the Latino population soared nearly 82% in the last decade. In 2000, nearly two-thirds of state residents were white. Now, close to half are minorities.  More than half of U.S. population growth since 2000, and capturing their votes is considered crucial in the 2012 presidential race. Even the current crop of Republican Presidential hopefuls are abandoning their GOP’s cruel anti-immigration speech-making.

Times are changing now that the 2012 election cycle has begun.

Nye County Democratic Party chairwoman Jan Bearss views the backlash against Matson as a backlash against the Pahrump of old. “A few years ago, I don’t think this would have happened.”

Matson’s anti-Hispanic attitude is an old hold-over from the days of Miraglia. As Pahrump grew into a town of 44,000 from other states with people of more diversity and progressive views the character of the town has changed.

The bigoted Town Board 2006 ordinances have been repealed. The current Town Board seems more balanced than the insanity of those days, though a number of Tea Party zealots remain.

A recall movement is currently underway in Nye County to remove Matson from office. A Pahrump resident, Stephanie Lopez, is spearheading the recall movement. The volunteers that are canvassing for the recall petition can be seen around town wearing T-shirts reading Adios Matson.

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16 Comments

  • Angie Sullivan
    August 7, 2011, 10:33 pm

    That is so scary! Good luck and best wishes to Stephanie Lopez.

    REPLY
    • Gandu@Angie Sullivan
      August 8, 2011, 1:09 pm

      May she lose in everything she does in life. She is nothing but a trouble maker. The entire town is against her and in Matson’s corner.

      Pahrump Nevada is not the place to cry about someone calling illegals, Illegal. Take your garbage back to California and leave us alone.

      REPLY
      • Angie Sullivan@Gandu
        August 8, 2011, 2:19 pm

        You are NOT allowed to be a racist anywhere in America. Last I checked, Pahrump is still in America. If you want to be a racist – it is time for YOU to leave.

        REPLY
        • Don@Angie Sullivan
          August 8, 2011, 7:12 pm

          Actually you ARE ALLOWED to be a racist anywhere you want in the USA. We have freedoms here, and yes, even the freedom to hate a race.

          That said, I dont hate any race, but I am very very upset with illegals in our town.

          REPLY
          • Angie Sullivan@Don
            August 8, 2011, 9:15 pm

            Hate crimes – are crimes. People in power positions running their mouth about people they don’t know anything about – EXCEPT how they look when you glance at them – is racism.

            It’s very concerning to me that there are STILL people left in America who are so backward and mean. SAD!

            Think outside your box a little. Try to think about what life is like for the other PERSON. If your skin was BROWN, what do you think might happen to you?

            REPLY
      • Justin McAffee@Gandu
        August 8, 2011, 4:20 pm

        What a gross misstatement of the facts. She called illegals “dirty,” and “the locusts of the earth.” She called their pregnant women “our nations worst enemy.” She also wanted people investigated because they were brown and speaking in Spanish. Last time I checked, that wasn’t illegal!

        Last time I checked, it wasn’t any of the City of Pahrump’s business who is in America legally. That’s federal law and federal jurisdiction.

        You are either misinformed about the facts, or are yourself a racist. You want to call illegals – illegals, fine. That isn’t what anyone is talking about.

        REPLY
  • Angie Sullivan
    August 7, 2011, 11:02 pm

    I’m still stunned by this article – Nevada needs to grow UP! SAD!

    REPLY
    • Hotfoot@Angie Sullivan
      August 8, 2011, 6:45 am

      Hooray for Pahrump. Americans standing up for Americans. What’s wrong with that. It’s about time the rest of the country wakes up to our immigration problem. I cant get affordable medical care for myself but illegal immigrants get it for free. I could go on, but wont waste my time.

      REPLY
      • Angie Sullivan@Hotfoot
        August 8, 2011, 2:24 pm

        Do you listen to yourself? Have you no shame? Did you not ever learn better?

        This is the problem in America STILL . . .RACISM.

        REPLY
        • Julie@Angie Sullivan
          August 8, 2011, 7:14 pm

          Its about time someone said it.. no more illegal Mexicans in MY country. Kick all the illegals out. Enough already.

          REPLY
          • Neil@Julie
            August 8, 2011, 9:39 pm

            It’s sad that people like Julie are so ignorant. What this country needs are more people with brains, not idiots with no brains like Julie!!!

            REPLY
          • FONGHOUL@Julie
            September 4, 2011, 10:37 am

            Julie, you are 100% correct. ENOUGH with these spics taking jobs from citizens

            REPLY
    • Gandu@Angie Sullivan
      August 8, 2011, 1:10 pm

      Nevada IS grown up and tired of paying for your little illegal buddies. Send them packing already.

      REPLY
      • Angie Sullivan@Gandu
        August 8, 2011, 2:23 pm

        My problem with this statement is this: if you have brown skin, that does NOT mean you are illegal. People don’t run around with a sign on their forehead saying – ILLEGAL KICK HERE.

        I have a real problem with people who are so concerned about illegals because if I look at them closely – it’s not about their legal status, it’s about race.

        Racist comments . . .are not good anywhere in our nation. It’s not American.

        REPLY
        • Gandu@Angie Sullivan
          August 8, 2011, 7:10 pm

          Facts are facts. We have a HUGE immigration problem with people from Mexico. We all know when we see them working on a site, we know what Mexicans look like. Its not against the law to understand that there might be a few illegals in there.

          This started because someone did things the right way.. they asked the Sheriff to check if they were legal.. but nooooooo that was too much to ask. Sorry but calling people racist is not going to fix the problem of illegal (mostly Mexicans) in our country.

          REPLY
    • Fredrick Mike@Angie Sullivan
      August 8, 2011, 7:16 pm

      Too late Mr Romero, your business will be boycotted because you support illegals.

      If being a “hotbed for bigots” means you dont want illegals causing mayhem in your town, then Pahrump is the capitol of “hotbed for bigots”

      REPLY

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