Nevada's Parade Of Politicians

Oct 25, 2018

Nevada is one of only a handful of states to commemorate its statehood with an official holiday. Historian Alicia Barber explores the event at the heart of the annual celebration--the popular Nevada Day parade--in this segment of “Time & Place.”

To most Americans, October 31st is Halloween, but to residents of the Silver State, it’s also Nevada Day, commemorating the date in 1864 when Nevada became the 36th state in the Union. The day became a judicial holiday in 1891, and an official state holiday a few decades later.

For many years, the official celebration was held in Reno. But in 1938, a group of service organizations banded together to move the entire event to the state capital of Carson City, where its organizers were determined to keep it non-political. A historical pageant and a series of speeches were held on the Capitol grounds, with one stipulation. No one who was running for office was allowed to speak.

That didn’t stop candidates from appearing in the parade, however, and especially in election years, riding the route has become a political mainstay, providing candidates with a chance to connect with the public—and enjoy some free media coverage—about a week before Election Day.

Guy Farmer worked for Nevada’s Gaming Control Board in the mid-sixties, when he lent his support to Grant Sawyer, who was campaigning for a third term as Governor, something that was only allowed until 1970. Farmer looked back on some of their campaign tactics in 2001.

“I remember the Nevada Day parade in 1966. Sawyer didn’t have a huge staff, so he mobilized what he had, and out we went. We would start at the beginning of the Nevada Day parade and we’d run from corner to corner, ahead of Sawyer’s float, and when he came by, we’d cheer and yell and carry on. That’s the way politics was in this state in those days. You know, it was small town-y politics,” said Farmer.

Sue Wagner was serving as a state senator when she ran successfully for Lieutenant Governor in 1990. In a 2003 interview, she recalled how the rules governing the Nevada Day parade gave her a distinct advantage during her campaign.

“You could not be in that parade at that time unless you actually held an office. So if you were running against somebody that was a non-incumbent for anything, they couldn’t be in the parade and you could. And I was able to be in the parade prior to my running for Lieutenant Governor as a state senator from a next-door county and it didn’t look that politically motivated,” said Wager.

These days, any qualified candidate can ride in the parade, which as Farmer explained, has practically become a political requirement.

“They pretty much have to make an appearance. You see most of the candidates still here at the Nevada Day parade and at Senator Bryan’s chili feed. And there are certain things here where it’s good to be seen at,” said Farmer.

You can still rub elbows with the candidates at that chili feed, which was founded in 1982 by former Nevada governor and U.S. Senator Richard Bryan. And if you decide to attend the parade, you’ll be part of a tradition that, with the exception of three years during World War II, has been held every year since 1938—a fun and festive way to wish Nevada a very happy, very bipartisan birthday.

Historian Alicia Barber is the editor of the website and smart phone app Reno Historical. Oral history clips for this segment were provided by the Special Collections Department of the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.