Governor Gibbons gets off to a rocky start with string of scandals

LAS VEGAS - Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt, it has become customary to take stock of a politician's first 100 days in office. Here's what Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons' 100 days include: Four scandals or more. One criminal investigation. One $10,000 dress. And a possible $137 million budget shortfall.

No charges have been brought against the Republican governor. But the tumult has made the dawn of his administration a dreary one.

"He has very little political currency to work with" in dealing with Legislature, where the Republicans control the Senate and the Democrats the Assembly, said GOP operative Steve Wark.

In what may be the most serious threat yet, the FBI has opened a corruption investigation into the former five-term congressman's relationship with a defense contractor. A former partner at the company has alleged that Gibbons received money, travel, poker chips and other favors to help it win government contracts.

Also, recent disclosures that Gibbons' wife, a former state assemblywoman and wedding chapel owner, was a paid consultant for another defense contractor have raised more questions about her husband's time on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

Despite the series of "Gibbons denies ... " headlines, the 62-year-old governor said he is unfazed.

"I think, first of all, the first 100 days have been, you know, terrific for me, I've been able to do a lot," he said, citing progress on bills dealing with schools, sex offenders and tax relief for homeowners. He vowed: "I will not let these claims knock me off course."

Gibbons has hired Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell, who represented disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, to handle the federal investigation.

The troubles have given Gibbons no time to gain his footing from other scandals that broke during his campaign: a Las Vegas cocktail waitress' assertion that he assaulted her in a parking garage after she rebuffed his advances, and a Peruvian housekeeper's claim that she worked for Gibbons while in this country illegally.

In December, weeks after Gibbons was elected, police said they found insufficient evidence to support the waitress' claims. And the housekeeper issue has all but disappeared - mostly because of the governor's more recent troubles.

Gibbons, a former fighter pilot particularly popular in conservative rural Nevada, got elected with 48 percent of the vote in a state where none-of-the-above is an option. But his approval rating stood at a miserable 29 percent in March.

By his seventh week in office, boos echoed louder than cheers when Gibbons was introduced at a college basketball game in his hometown of Reno.

Some bloggers are talking recall. Republicans are tiptoeing.

"There are a lot of people out here who normally would come out and defend Jim Gibbons," said GOP consultant Chuck Muth. But he said "a lot of Republicans are hedging their bets" because of the parallels to former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who went to prison for taking bribes from military contractors.

The governor had largely stayed mum on the allegations until earlier this week. After The Wall Street Journal reported that he was under investigation for his ties to Warren Trepp, a longtime friend who owns a Reno military software company, the governor suggested he may be the subject of a conspiracy.

"I have heard that actually the Democrat Party paid to have these Wall Street Journal articles written," Gibbons told a Reno newspaper.

The Journal and state Democrats denied any collusion. When pressed, Gibbons later said he didn't believe the rumors.

State Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, a Democrat who lost to Gibbons in November, suggested the governor was "losing touch with reality."

The administration also has been troubled by smaller dustups.

Gibbons got off to a bad start right away when he secretly called for a midnight swearing-in on Jan. 1. He cited homeland security concerns - the need to have someone in charge at all times, without interruption - but it was widely viewed as a maneuver to undo a key appointment made by his GOP predecessor.

The governor was mocked by Democrats when he acknowledged he had only a "peripheral knowledge" of a $60 million education program he had made a key part of his State of the State speech.

And a press release from the first lady's office describing a $10,000 velvet Giorgio Armani ensemble purchased for the inaugural balls elicited jeers for the fiscal conservative.

Gibbons also angered conservatives when he submitted a budget raising fees, after pledging not to do so. He later removed the increases.

Last month, after a furor over the $194,000 defense fund that Gibbons set up to deal with the various allegations against him, the Nevada secretary of state concluded that the fund did not violate the state's campaign finance laws.

Muth, like Gibbons himself, is not writing the governor off yet.

"Politics for both parties is a roller coaster. We're down right now," Muth said, "but the good news is you only go up from here."


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