Will Nevada’s early caucus lead to another slew of presidential campaign visits to Elko this election cycle? If so, Republicans had better come with more ammunition than what they have been packing on the national scene: the travesty of federal dollars being used to help a rural community launch a festival celebrating its cowboy heritage.
Conservatives have been slamming the use of federal funds on the Cowboy Poetry Gathering for the past month, ever since Sen. Harry Reid mentioned it in his defense of arts and humanities funding on the Senate floor. Potential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., jokes about it on Fox News. Sarah Palin was still tweeting about it a few days ago, saying “We can’t AFFORD cowboy poetry & subsidizing abortion.”
This sound-bite is so overused it got the attention of The New York Times, which ran an article on the controversy in its Sunday edition. The writer characterized Reid’s comment pretty much for what it was, “ an innocent — if unfortunate — political misstep.”
The statement gave Reid’s critics the same type of ammunition that former Senate candidate Sue Lowden doled out with her chicken-bartering comment.
However, slamming the Cowboy Poetry Gathering isn’t likely to generate the cheers and jeers here in Elko that it has elsewhere. That’s because the Gathering really isn’t the federally subsidized waste of taxpayer money that conservatives are portraying it as. Instead, it is a success story that is now almost entirely funded by private businesses and individuals.
If not for the first-year infusion of National Endowment of the Arts funding, put to good use by Western Folklife Center founding director Hal Cannon, the event might not have taken off. After more than a quarter century the Gathering continues to thrive, boosting Elko’s economy each winter.
We agree that taxpayer money shouldn’t be poured into frivolous pursuits like entertainment, but the Western Folklife Center is preserving history — and doing such a good job that it does not need a regular subsidy.
So, what will GOP candidates talk about if and when they start coming to Elko to campaign for president?
We’ll saddle that horse when it gets here. First we need to have some bona fide Republican candidates in the running. So far all we have is a long list of “potential” candidates.
In the last presidential election cycle, Sen. John McCain visited in April 2007 to rally Republicans on the steps of the Elko County Courthouse. This April, all we can hear is the lonely sound of coyotes howling in the distance.
Mitt Romney, the latest undeclared Republican candidate, announced Monday that he had formed an exploratory committee. More than 50 percent of voters in Elko County and Nevada as a whole supported him in 2008, but he bowed out of the race as McCain picked up steam. Nevada’s infamous self-imploding GOP caucus was split between McCain and tea party favorite Rep. Ron Paul.
Both men could be in the race again this year, along with Bachmann, Donald Trump and a cast of thousands.
If they come to Elko, we hope their handlers remind them where they are and what a success we have made from a cultural event that brings pride and thousands of tourists to the state each year.
Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak.