By Kayla Anderson
“Be well. Raise Hell.”- is Andrew Barbano’s signature sign off message on his email communications and his columns.
It’s a motto Barbano continues to live by as he celebrates his 30th anniversary as an opinion columnist for the Sparks Tribune. Barbano is one of four Tribune columnists who regularly offer opinions and information from every political spectrum.
A champion of the working man, Barbano can both inspire and infuriate readers. He’s been doing it for three decades now, and his subjects _ and prose _ are fresh upon delivery every week in the Tribune.
When I spoke to him this past Monday afternoon, he was at a labor convention at the Grand Sierra Resort hobnobbing with some political heavy hitters. Juggling different tasks at once, he was negotiating the details of a Reno-Sparks NAACP dinner he was putting together that evening (“I’m killing 30 birds with one stone,” he says), Barbano took a moment to reflect back on his media career and history at the Sparks Tribune.
Before that, though, he was a writer of 13 or 14 years old at a Catholic high school in Fresno. With the writing gene in his blood, Barbano handwrote newspapers, made copies, and passed them out to fellow students. His classmates liked them so he continued publishing papers and moved up the ranks in high school journalism.
In a portend of things to come, though, Barbano didn’t get the editor position his senior year because Sister Steven thought he was too antagonistic in his journalistic tone.
“Sister Steven didn’t like me,” he says. However, that didn’t slow him down. Barbano eventually graduated, moved to Las Vegas and spent some time there before settling in Reno in 1971 when he got a job at an ad agency.
Barbano continued to write, having a few features published in Nevada magazines. In 1988 after Randy Frisch took over the Sparks Tribune and re-established it as a daily paper, Barbano walked in with his published pieces and Frisch asked him to submit three sample articles.
Barbano was a fan of Barbara Bennett, the former Reno mayor who served from 1979-1983. She was known as an activist for women and minority issues, and an avid supporter in the Common Cause. Around this time in Reno, Bennett was pushing for a rent justification ordinance and Barbano transitioned into being one of Northern Nevada’s major consumer advocates.
When applying for the open columnist spot for the Sparks Tribune, Barbano submitted four articles along the topics of: the financial crisis of Hot August Nights; a raw look into a Nevada AIDS hospice facility; how a new county jail was dealing with urban growth; and a compelling story about how he confronted Chilean Consul General Leopoldo Porras at a Republican Party luncheon regarding human rights (Porras called Barbano a communist).
Barbano got the job as a Sparks Tribune opinion columnist and for 30 years has continued to rock the boat by sticking up for the working class and constantly questionioning those who come into power and riches too quickly (especially if he thinks it’s at the expense of the blue collar folks).
At the same time, he became a consumer advocate for two reasons: No. 1 – “that’s the kind of guy I am- I was born a flaming liberal democrat” No. 2 – “that’s how you win political campaigns”.
In 1981, Barbano was instrumental in establishing Nevada’s Consumer Advocacy Office (which he says its efforts have saved consumers millions of dollars over the last 28 years). That’s also around the time when the Sparks Tribune was in its heyday- Butch Alford and Randy Frisch were constantly breaking stories and the Trib was a major player in the market.
Barbano had a talk radio show, was consistently writing cover stories, and people lined up at the news racks when the paper hit the streets “just to see what us crazy SOB’s were doing”, Barbano says. The flaming liberal crusader, political campaign manager, activist, and entertaining writer likens himself to Don Quixote riding horseback into the windmills.
“I cultivate the madman’s image. I have longer hair than half the women at this convention. Stepping on toes, being a madman, and tilting at windmills, I might as well get paid for it,” he says about sharing his views through the Sparks Tribune and other forms of media.
Conservatively, Barbano considers himself a writer. But that’s about the only thing he’s conservative about.
“The best movie ever made ain’t Dances with Wolves or Casablanca or Citizen Kane, it’s Oh, God! Starring George Burns. It’s the greatest movie ever made because it uses humor to teach great moral lessons,” says Barbano.
Explaining the plot of the comedy, Barbano tries to be like George Burns (playing God in the movie) in that he’s “basically a comedian who plays to an audience who’s afraid to laugh- that’s my guiding principle”.
Barbano ends our conversation with this- “Public affairs, consumer advocacy, newspapers, and making people laugh are my addictions. I will conclude this with a quote from Frank Capra (director of It’s a Wonderful Life) –
Before you can preach, you must entertain.’”
Here’s to being entertained over the next 30 years, Andrew Barbano. Thank you for doing well by raising hell.