My generation


I'm going to be 44 in a few weeks. No big deal. But you need to know this to understand why this column is about the age of politicians.

Last November, just days after the presidential election, the writer Michael Chabon was a keynote speaker at the Vegas Valley Book Festival. I attended his talk, and afterward, when he signed books, I got to chat briefly with him.

Chabon, a big supporter of Barack Obama, was giddy about the election's outcome. He marveled that the next president of the United States would be roughly the same age as us.

It was something I hadn't thought much about, but Chabon's observation has stuck with me ever since. Obama is the first president with whom I have generational experiences in common.

As the 2010 Nevada governor's race takes shape, the leading candidates appear to be Republican Brian Sandoval, who is 46, and Democrat Rory Reid, who is 47. Once again, the age issue has caught my attention. To make matters more interesting, I even crossed paths with Sandoval in college.

This is all very intriguing to me, but why should you care? I would suggest, with some trepidation, that this generational shift in the corridors of political power will translate into new ways of conducting business and tackling problems.

We have already seen this with Obama. During the campaign he took full advantage of the Internet to get people excited about and involved in his candidacy, a strategy that clearly helped put him over the top.

As president, there's no question Obama has brought a new mind-set to the job. Unlike his predecessors, he does not look at the world through a Cold War lens. The context of that era is out the window, replaced by an eagerness to try new ways to resolve conflicts that previous generations saw as irresolvable.

So now we have the good possibility that the next Nevada governor will be in his late 40s. The first to exhibit signs of new thinking was Rory Reid, who formally announced his candidacy Wednesday. His announcement was accompanied by the release of a 32-page publication outlining his "Vision for the Future of Nevada."

The conventional wisdom, espoused by gray-headed political experts, is that a candidate should not release such a detailed document so early in the campaign. "Everybody advised me not to do what I'm doing," Reid told the Review-Journal. "Politics 101 is that you say nothing. Because if you say nothing, it is hard to argue with it."

Bucking the experts, Reid has released an impressively designed document, loaded with reader-friendly charts and maps. And it can be easily downloaded from his deluxe Web site.

Several ideas outlined in the document are fairly fresh, and extend far beyond the one-note campaign ("No new taxes") of the current governor. Reid's primary focus is on creating jobs and diversifying the industrial base.

"We don't have to continue to rely on an economy and a state government based primarily on hospitality," Reid says. "Tourism will always be a large part of our economy and identity, but we need to broaden that economy and enlarge that identity to include new industries and businesses that have the potential for greater growth and higher-paying jobs."

For example, Reid believes Nevada is well-situated to become a larger player in the growing field of shipping and distribution. "Nevada could become one of the leading trans-shipment centers of North America with smart planning and implementation," he says.

He also touts the state as an ideal place to warehouse electronic data. "There is no safer place in the country to store data," he says. "No hurricanes, no tornadoes and no active fault lines." In Nevada, he says, "we sit at the greatest confluence of high-speed data fiber in the world. Twenty-six national carriers run broadband fiber that meets in Nevada."

Reid also proposes an array of mechanisms -- loans, grants, tax credits and more -- to boost small-business investment and technology research in Nevada.

None of this is sexy stuff. Reid is not promising voters the moon. And this is good -- in my view, practicality and pragmatism beat slogans and bombast.

I can't tell you this new generation of political leaders will do a better job than its predecessors. The baby boomers thought they were better equipped to lead than the previous generation but they obviously failed to live up to their promise. The same thing could happen for Generation X.

But I have a good feeling about my generation. Generally speaking, Gen X has proved to be innovative, skeptical, independent and determined not to repeat past mistakes.

This is the first time in my life that I feel common cultural and political bonds with the candidates on the campaign trail. They are no longer wise elders. They are peers.

Of course, being a good Gen Xer, I have to wonder if I'm completely full of it.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications and the author of two books of Nevada history. His column appears Friday.

 

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