ELKO, Nev.—“I know how to fix it,” says Bill Crabb.
It’s after midnight at the Red Lion Casino. A country band has just packed up gear and split. Crabb, who works for a gold mining company nearby, has the next couple of days off. So he’s sticking around, explaining how to heal American politics.
“Nobody gets re-elected,” he says. “Nobody. And there is no party. One term and you’re out. No special interests, no lobbying.”
Buck Dingey arrives at the bar. He’s a security guard at the casino, just off the clock. “I just heard you talking,” he says. “I’m of the frame of mind that the two-party system should be abolished.”
They agree, and they keep talking. Crabb is going to see Ron Paul later in the day, then caucus for him on Saturday because “there’s not a lot of bullshit” about him, and he has the right ideas about taxes and the Constitution. Dingey won’t vote. There’s no politician he trusts.
“If Obamacare gets in, we could literally pay a fine for not buying health insurance,” Crabb continues. “The way I see that is: Get health insurance, pay the bill, and Sieg Heil!” He lifts his arm in a mock Nazi salute, accidentally showing off a tattoo of a naked woman he got on “one bad night in the Philippines.” The government doesn’t know how to solve problems, but he does. For example: Why not stop bailing out banks and cut checks to voters instead?
“You’d turn the housing market around in six months,” says Crabb.
The angry, anti-government sentiment is what you might expect from voters in a state leading the nation in unemployment and housing foreclosures. But there is one thing: Elko isn’t in bad shape. The unemployment rate in Elko County is roughly half the rate in the rest of Nevada, three points lower than the national number. The gold mines, copper mines, and other sites down the road make this corner of the state one of the only economic booms of the Great Recession. “Anyone who wants a job can get a job,” says Crabb.
It’s a boom town, and it’s as miserable as anywhere else. Among the miseries: The government wants more money from the mines. If you want to start a business, the obstacle course keeps getting longer. The government locks up too much land that nobody can properly use.
For a long time, the people of Elko have dealt with this by voting for Republicans. In 2004, 78 percent of the county vote went to George W. Bush. As Bush’s presidency and popularity cratered, Democrats saw an opening—they could win over enough of Elko’s cynics to cut the GOP’s margin. And it sort of worked, with the McCain-Palin ticket winning only 68 percent of the vote. It may not seem like a large dent, but Republicans need massive margins in places like Elko to overcome a Democratic stronghold like Las Vegas.