I moved to Reno just before my 10th birthday in 1950. At the time, Reno boasted about being the biggest city in the state with a population of about 50,000. I graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas Grade School and Bishop Manogue High School, both schools were situated along the banks of the Truckee River.
After I married Treat Cafferata, a Reno native, I graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. We are the parents of two daughters, Elisa and Farrell, and a son, Reynolds. Although I’m a “city girl,” my family spent many a weekend enjoying fishing, camping and hiking in rural Nevada. We visited all the counties and explored every community in the state.
While campaigning for political office or serving the people of Nevada, I met thousands of people and became familiar with their communities and concerns. My story is about many of those trips, people and experiences that have enriched my life.
It all started in 1978 when I toured the state in the Republican caravan meeting voters as I sought the position of state treasurer. I was not successful that year, but little did I know that it would be the start of a long and rewarding career in public service.
In 1980, I walked door to door in the tree lined streets of southwest Reno and was elected to the Nevada Assembly to represent District 25. In 1982, I traveled the state again meeting people during my campaign for state treasurer. When I was elected, I became the first woman elected to constitutional office in Nevada. During the same election cycle, my mother, Barbara Vucanovich, was elected to the House of Representatives, as the first woman elected to federal office from the state. My office was in the State Capitol in Carson City.
After my four-year term, I filed for governor, and while I won my primary, I lost the general election to Richard Bryan, the incumbent. The loss and the fact that our children were in college gave me an opportunity to attend law school in Southern California.
After I graduated in 1989, I held a series of legal positions in the rural counties and Reno. I opened my civil law practice in Reno and commuted to other jobs in what used to be called the “cow counties.” This was the start of regular trips to counties throughout the state.
First, I clerked for Judge David Gamble in Douglas County, a place that included Lake Tahoe and the agricultural communities of Minden, Gardnerville and Genoa. At the end of the term, I was hired as the part time deputy district attorney in Eureka County that had a population of less than 3,000 people, one of the smaller populated counties in the state. The town of Eureka and county seat is an old mining camp on U.S. 50. Most of the major gold mines in the state are located in northern Eureka County, south of I-80.
I drove about four hours to Eureka every week where I rented the “yellow house on Spring Street” because the town has no street addresses. The old courthouse located on the highway is a two story red brick Italianate style building erected in 1879. This courthouse is one of the oldest in the state.
The DAs in rural counties perform the same duties and functions as their counterparts in the large metropolitan areas, but with little support staff. The DA is the chief legal advisor to the county and its officials on a variety of civil matters, ranging from contracts, land use issues, elections, employment law, jail conditions, child support, and taxes. The DA also prosecutes the criminal matters, and the crimes are much the same as the ones committed in the larger counties, driving under the influence, domestic violence, possession of small amounts of illegal drugs and child abuse.
In 1992, I moved on to be appointed district attorney of Lincoln County to fill an unexpired term, another part time position that took me about 425 miles from Reno with a 10 to 12 hour drive. Every week I took a one hour flight to the Las Vegas airport and drove north on U.S. 93 in the vehicle the county provided me. I arrived in Pioche, the county seat, usually hours after dark. As part of my agreement with the county commissioners, they would furnish me a vehicle to drive from the airport and back, but I did not specify the type of transportation. The commissioners gave me an old white pick-up truck the sheriff used to transport bodies in to the Clark County morgue.
The trip took me about five hours door-to-door. I rented a comfortable little house across the park from the courthouse and ate most dinners at the Silver Café. After working 11 hours a day for a few days, in late afternoon I reversed my tracks and began my drive to Las Vegas to fly home.
My three room office was in the white, Art Deco courthouse on the main floor. The district court and justice courts shared the same courtroom next to my office. At the end of the year, as much as I loved the job, I did not run for election because I could not face the long days on top of the one-way five hour commutes for four years.
In 1994, several people asked me to run for DA in Battle Mountain in Lander County. After some consideration, I decided to run and was elected. I bought a house in town because the job was full time. I drove 230 miles on I-80 to Battle Mountain on Sunday afternoons, about a fourhour commute, and stayed through Friday at 4 p.m. and drove back to Reno arriving in the dark.
My work load was sizeable compared to Lincoln County’s. My offices were located in the daylight basement of the old Classical Revival school house. The building had been converted into a courthouse when the people voted to move the county seat from Austin to Battle Mountain in 1978. I served in Lander County until 1996, when I resigned to unsuccessfully run for Congress, when my mother Barbara Vucanovich retired.
In 2000, I was appointed to fill another part time position and an unexpired term of the Esmeralda County DA. The county population was small with about 1,000 residents when I was there. The one-way drive southeast from Reno on U.S. 95 to Goldfield was 265 miles door to door and took more than four hours. I drove to town every Sunday afternoon and drove back to Reno on Wednesday afternoon. I bought a mobile home in Goldfield because there are few places to rent and ever fewer houses to purchase in the county.
The local sheriff deputies and highway patrol managed to stop many speeders descending the mountain from Tonopah to the valley north of town in Esmeralda County. I frequently saw many friends and acquaintances in the courthouse headed for justice court to pay their speeding tickets. Because the building was constructed during the time of the mining labor unrest in the area in 1907, the courthouse furniture was mostly made of steel that reflected the exterior of the building’s fortress like design. At the end of the term in 2003, I retired to my civil practice in Reno.
I’ve called Nevada home for more than 60 years and have enjoyed driving through the wide open spaces and serving as the district attorney in some of the smallest counties in Nevada.