The cynicism rolled right back after that. On Saturday, Ron Paul’s campaign is aiming for a delegate surge in Nevada, helped by voter anger in places like Elko. Paul supporters, strong enough last time, have spent four years taking over the local party. But they’re not winning converts because the economy is bad. So what is it?
“There’s the public land thing,” says Marla Criss. She’s one of the Paul die-hards who served as one of his delegates last year, got burned by the GOP, which insisted the state’s delegates go to McCain, and responded by taking over as Elko Republican chair. “Over 90 percent of Nevada is public land. The Bureau of Public Land, and the park service, they’re just getting worse and worse. There’s a lot of support for Ron Paul when he says he wants to close down the Department of the Interior. I’d add that lots of Native Americans support him because the Bureau of Indian Affairs is part of Interior.”
The government here is and always was considered a menace. The mining industry is booming now, sure, and this area’s survived decades of busts and crazes, but the current boom looks like a validation of everything Ron Paul says. Precious metals are worth more because other investments aren’t safe; gold is up because dollars aren’t pegged to anything. Paul’s ideas aren’t just scripture for the people of Elko, they are reality.
The newest villainy is coming from Nevadans United for Fair Mining Taxes, a business-backed group campaigning for an increase in the tax on mining. Right now, the tax is capped at 5 percent; if a ballot measure passes, or the state legislature approves it, the cap could go to 9 percent.
“The mining industry basically wrote our Constitution,” says Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the group. “The industry has done a really good job telling the workers, oh you're going to lose out if the tax goes up and it’s wasted on social services. It’s not true. Come on—they're not going to move the Carlin Trend”—one of the world’s richest stretches of gold mining—“to some place with lower taxes.”
Whether this plan passes or not, Elko will have voted against it. It’s obvious: The political class is trying to suture and duct tape the budget together by taxing the people who make wealth. On Thursday, before Ron Paul’s stop here, Elko’s libertarians keep coming up with reasons to oppose this.
“The mines all pay their way in,” says Lana Noland, a founder of the Elko Tea Party. “They help with scholarships. My daughter, who just graduated—she’s 22—she could get a scholarship and work with the mine for a while, make money. They have been so good to this community! Count up the donations, and it’s thousands of dollars of fundraising. And yet, the liberal media presents them as not environmentalists, as bad for the community.” She sides with the mines over the government? “I do. I see the wonderful reclamation they do, the help they give to communities all over Nevada. And the government wants more. More, more, more. It’s greed.”
Paul’s rally takes place in a Native American rec center a short drive out of downtown. It is scheduled for 4:30, but the first fans start showing up at 3. Before Paul gets there, voters find seats on gym bleachers, grab Paul balloons and signs, and talk about what the government’s taken from them. “It used to be you could dig a hole and mine what you found there,” says Walt Fisk, who’s retired now. “We mined everything: iron, mercury, copper.”
“For a while we supported three families off what we mined,” says his wife Louise. They sit near another couple, Edgar and Sharon Nelson, who worry about Barack Obama ushering in a dictatorship if he wins again.
Paul arrives, only a little late, to a crowd of more than 300 people. Four years ago, in all of Elko County, he only got 212 votes. He stands at a lectern, a barrier of plastic tables between him and the voters, and speaks without notes about how he’ll make the government irrelevant.