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Mayor Jones & Yucca Mountain Man

Despite the glitter and flash of Las Vegas, it is in many ways still a small town, a puddle in which the biggest fish all know one another and comprise the small, politically correct "A" list of Nevada. Among the big fish in this small pond is Jan Laverty-Jones, mayor of Las Vegas and her shark attacks on Yucca Mountain have been none too subtle .

A native of Santa Monica, Jan Laverty's grandfather founded the Southern California grocery chain Thriftimart, making her part of that city's rich-and-famous in-crowd. A Stanford graduate with a B.A. in English, Jan had twenty years of marketing experience and was a millionaire in her own right before becoming mayor of Las Vegas. In the early 1980s Jan Laverty married her high school sweetheart, Ted Jones of the Fletcher Jones car-dealership patriarchy of Las Vegas (both had ended earlier marriages). Jan had long been known on the West Coast along with her brother Biff for the zany ads they did for the family owned food chain. Now she carried into her new marriage a flair for commercial making for the Fletcher Jones car dealership.

The Fletcher Jones dealership is the most extensive in Nevada; these are wealthy people. The aggressive advertising campaigns run by the Jones dealership became the political springboard to the mayor's seat for Jan by giving her the name recognition it takes others decades to achieve. The tongue-in-cheek ads were effective not only for the dealership, but also in giving Jan Laverty-Jones the credibility to run for and be elected mayor on the basis of her image as a competent business woman.

It is after coming to power in city government that the line between wacky commercial making and media manipulation began to blur, especially in regard to Yucca Mountain. In a July 8, 1991 article appearing in the L.A. Times shortly after she was elected mayor titled "A Whole New Image", Laverty-Jones is quoted as saying "Perception is much more important than reality, in fact it's everything." The mayor seems to have applied this motto to her handling of Yucca Mountain.

Good friends of Mayor Jones were Ken Johnson and Jim Tofte, two local disc jockeys for radio KKLZ, whose irreverent humor had attracted asizeable following (they once threatened to kill a puppy if they didn't increase their listening audience, a sort of black humor not without its attraction). The friendship with Johnson and Tofte led to the making of some quite funny, but also deceptive ads meant to criticize the Yucca Mountain repository. Johnson and Tofte fused on screen to become the two-headed Yucca Mountain man, supposedly the result of an encounter with a green radioactive slime. The two disc jockeys were squeezed into a single set of giant bib overalls and did car commercials for the Fletcher-Jones dealership complete with references to radioactive pellets that caused Biff Laverty to glow green.

The effectiveness of these ads points up the inherent difficulty in educating the public about the Yucca Mountain debate. While a seemingly innocuous simulated pellet in an ad done by OIZ Advertising for the American Nuclear Energy Council in late 1991 drew 10 months of heated debate, two technologically unsophisticated disk jockeys dressed in what could only be described as a clown suit were allowed to take the moral high ground unchallenged.

The fact that the mayor of Las Vegas was behind these commercials made the situation even more bizarre. Had ANEC (which is also a private entity) composed humorous ads using crash dummies which claimed the Fletcher Jones dealership was selling defective cars that kill babies, they would have created a firestorm of protest. But the Yucca Mountain Man ads, which in essence claimed that the nuclear industry was out to kill Nevadans with radioactive pellets, went unscathed because they were politically correct.

Even more important was the way Yucca Mountain Man tied into the national anti-repository campaign run by NWPO and their surrogates from Mountain West. In a Wall Street Journal Editorial, James Flynn of Decision Research wrote an attack on the advertising campaign run by OIZ Advertising entitled "How Not To Sell a Nuclear Waste Dump." According to Flynn:

"Perhaps the most devastating rejoinders to the American Nuclear Energy Council campaign came from a pair of Las Vegas disc jockeys, who launched a parody of each TV ad as it appeared. The main character in these skits bore the mock name "Ron Ditto," whose rather simple-minded pronouncements were heaped with ridicule. "Hi! This is Ron Ditto, your formerly respected sportscaster, trading in your respect for much needed dollars." Local businesses joined in.

A TV advertisement showed the disc jockeys climbing into a huge pair of overalls to create a two-headed mutant, "Yucca Mountain Man," as part of a commercial for an auto dealership in Las Vegas. . . . . .

The Yucca Mountain advertising campaign failed because Nevadans thought the depository unfair and because they did not trust the experts who told them it was safe. Neither trust nor a sense of fairness can be built by an advertising campaign that assumes public ignorance is the cause of opposition to a nuclear waste repository." [Flynn, James; "How Not To Sell A Nuclear Waste Dump", Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, April 15, 1992, B8]

The Flynn analysis is curious. First, Flynn works for Decision Research and was previously a vice-president of Mountain West, so his article was in essence a hit paid for by the State of Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office, hardly an unbiased observer. Second, Flynn tried to imply that Yucca Mountain Man was a spontaneous outpouring of grass roots sentiment when in fact it was for all practical purposes bought and paid for by the Mayor of Las Vegas, Jan Laverty-Jones, who also sits on the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects.

Third, Flynn claimed the Yucca Mountain advertising campaign failed because the public distrusted the experts. Obviously, little public trust could be expected when Robert Loux had spent much of $50 million over eight years thinking of every way possible to discredit DOE, a campaign in which Flynn had himself taken part.

Finally, if the ANEC ad campaign assumed the ignorance of the public, Yucca Mountain Man used two disk jockeys squeezed into a clown suit to play on fears straight out of the nineteen-fifties nuclear horror movies. If there was any disrespect for the intelligence of Nevada's citizen's, it may well have been shown by Mayor Jones, Johnson and Tofte.

In fact, Mayor Jones had long played on the ideosynchrasies of the Las Vegas public. According to the 1991 L.A. Times article:

"In five years of funky television spots, Jones cavorted as everything from Little Red Riding Hood to a glitzy casino moll stroking the hindquarters of a sleek new automobile. She crinkled her nose and cleverly teased her niggardly father-in-law, the company founder, with the famous tag line "Nobody's cheaper than Fletcher Jones." And in her most outrageous mode, she ad-libbed soap-opera vignettes with a female impersonator who plays Las Vegas lounges."["A Whole New Image", L.A. Times, July 8, 1991]

Obviously, Mayor Jones career as a free-swinging car-saleswoman suggests her attention to facts in regard to Yucca Mountain might take a backseat to promotion. The mayor's lack of technical schooling (B.A. in English from Stanford), didn't stop her from making pronoucements about the dangers of Yucca Mountain, both in the form of Yucca Mountain Man ads and off-the-cuff statements. In reference to ads produced by the American Nuclear Energy Council which attempted to demonstrate that nuclear waste is a solid and not a liquid or gas, Jones stated:

"Showing an individual holding a pellet of nuclear waste that in reality would kill that person within a matter of minutes and then saying well this is just imagery and the public understands, well to me that just goes beyond borderline misinformation." [Chan 3 News, 6:00 PM, 10/24/91. Interview by Tonya Ellis]

While the nuclear pellets are dangerous, death would not occur within minutes as Jones stated, but perhaps over the course of a day. Neither the mayor's office or Channel 3 reporter Tonya Ellis attempted to ask the makers of the ANEC advertisement, OIZ Advertising, whether there was any intent to mislead on the subject of the radiation dangers of radioactive pellets. In fact, the advertisements were made on the basis of polls which showed the public feared nuclear waste could be released as a liquid or gas.

Mayor Jones involvement didn't stop at Yucca Mountain Man or occasional interviews, urging Nevada politicians to become involved in CAN-WIN (Citizens Against Nuclear Waste In Nevada) in 1992. Perhaps most disquieting was Mayor Jones inclusion on the Sawyer Commission. It is difficult to imagine that the mayor was able to keep an objective view of the data being presented to the Commission while at the same time financially supporting a series of parodies on the airwaves.

JONES CAMPAIGN 1994

Mayor Jones' involvement in the Yucca Mountain debate took an important turn when in late 1993 she announced her candidacy for the Nevada Governor's seat. The 1994 primary campaign would prove to be brutal and divisive for the Democratic Party. leading to her defeat. Interestingly, Judy Treichel, employee of Governor Miller, backed Jones and developed ties with the mayor's campaign. Miller had ungrudgingly carried the Nuclear Waste Project Office as a political liability during his years as a governor yet he ignored claims that Treichel had sold him out.

Jones' position on Yucca Mountain evolved substantialy as a candidate. While not backing the repository study, the mayor at least say the advisability of keeping open negotiation options. Jones' answers to key questions regarding negotiations were addressed in the Nevada Monitor:

QUESTION 1: . . . If you could be assured that Nevada would not forfeit its legal right to oppose a repository by engaging in a negotiation process, would you, as governor, engage the federal government in negotiations for benefits to Nevada?

Jan Jones: I believe that if we receive iron clad guarantee that a discussion of benefits does not preclude or prejudice our right as a state to object, and our congressional delegation's right to oppose the siting at Yucca Mountain, we would be neglecting our fiduciary duty to Nevada's citizens if we didn't consider discussing benefits.

QUESTION 2: . . . what issues would you, as governor, place on the table?

Jan Jones: Before I answer this question, I want to say that it is my belief scientific advances may well preclude the necessity of burying nuclear waste under Yucca Mountain. However, the fact is that a lot of scientific studies and construction activity are currently taking place at Yucca Mountain. I strongly believe that since this work is proceeding, and will continue to proceed, with or without our approval, the State should be compensated. This compensation could, and should, take many forms, some of which are listed below:

A. The federal government currently owns 86% of the land in Nevada. I would like to see some land turned over to the State, or the public, soon after negotiations begin, if and when, Yucca Mountain begins receiving nuclear waste. . . .

B. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act offers certain incentives to the State of Nevada if we agree to negotiate over Yucca Mountain. I believe if we start negotiating with the federal government prior to January 1, 1995 we can still capitalize on this provision of the Act. This may trigger annual federal assistance in the millions of dollars, which would be a great help to our state treasury. I would also suggest that compensation be calculated retroactively from the time preliminary scientific or construction activities begin at Yucca Mountain.

C. . . . . Whether or not a repository is ultimately located at Yucca Mountain, I would press hard to see that the plant to build these shipment containers is located in Nevada.

D. We should be able to bargain for expanded scientific and industrial use of the Test Site. This would include solar and hydrogen projects. Also, I would like to see an international research facility built on the Test Site. . .

E. Our university system should participate in any scientific or research work done at Yucca Mountain or other areas of the Test Site . . .

Question 5: Some people in Nevada support continued work at the Nevada Test Site, including the transporting, and storage of special nuclear materials, yet they strongly oppose Yucca Mountain, which would be a storage place for high-level nuclear materials if a repository were actually built there. How do you feel about this dilemma? As a governor, how would you deal with it?

Jan Jones: This question brings out the hypocrisy concerning Yucca Mountain. For many years nuclear devices and/or waste have been transported, handled, stored and detonated on the Test Site. Area 5 of the Test Site is currently being used to store nuclear waste. Bob Miller and other public officials have consistently favored nuclear testing and nuclear operations at NTS. However, when a few years ago the political winds temporarily shifted, Mr. Miller jumped on the bandwagon and started to oppose any studies of Yucca Mountain.

[Nevada Monitor, September 1994, p1]