LA Times   ·   Link to Article

Column: How labor and a wily senator turned Nevada blue — and redrew the nation’s presidential map

He had a crucial ally in the Culinary Union, which represents the workers who keep the state’s fun-and-frolic industries up and running — and regularly musters one of the most skilled and effective voter turnout operations in the country.

For months before an election, hundreds of paid door-knockers work eight to nine hours a day, six days a week, persisting even when temperatures crawl past a cruel 110 degrees.


Years earlier, Reid had chosen Steven Horsford, head of the Culinary Union’s job training program, to serve on the Democratic National Committee. That put the senator’s proxy in a key position when the party looked to shake things up.


Nevada was changing, rapidly. The population was exploding — the state has gained more than 1 million people since the latest turn of the century — and the percentages of Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander residents were soaring as well.

Taylor could see it in the ranks of the Culinary Union.

Founded in 1935, it had helped recruit the workforce that turned Las Vegas into the internationally renowned gambling and tourist mecca we now know (albeit one that remained segregated into the 1960s). Today, the union’s roughly 60,000 members come from nearly 200 countries; just about half are immigrants.

Turning Nevada’s abundant newcomers into Democrats and moving them to the polls was essential to Reid’s operation and vital to the state’s political conversion.


The Culinary Union became an indispensable part of the turnout effort. And crucial to its success were the peer-to-peer relationships that members forged in their respective communities.

“People came out of the hotels — guest room attendants, banquet servers, bartenders” — and went door-to-door, said Maggie Carlton, a former coffee shop server who canvassed for the Culinary Union before she was elected in 1998, with the union’s strong support, to the state Senate.



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