Chuck Muth: Kenny Guinn was a true Republican
The term RINO (Republican In Name Only) is usually used to describe the late Gov. Kenny Guinn because of one conservative apostasy. Admittedly, it was a pretty big and significant one: That infamous $836 million tax hike in 2003.
But to discern whether or not that tax hike should qualify Guinn for permanent RINO status, let’s put it in some perspective.
In his first term, Guinn eliminated or froze almost 2,500 government jobs, privatized the state’s workers’ compensation system, and implemented a number of government reorganization recommendations that came out of his “top down” performance review.
Very conservative. Very Republican. Not exactly RINO material.
But after 9/11, Kenny believed Nevada also needed additional tax revenue. I disagreed with that assessment then and today, but in his defense, here are a few additional factors to consider.
1.) Kenny sought $704 million worth of additional tax revenue. It was the Legislature, including multiple Republican legislators, who eventually jacked up that amount to $836 million and voted for it.
2.) Of the self-described “Lean 15” – the 15 conservative Republican legislators who refused to go along with the $836 million tax hike and, using the two-thirds requirement for tax hikes, blocked its approval during the regular session – almost every one of them was willing to vote for a huge tax hike that session, just not as big as $836 million.
3.) As Kenny pointed out to me over and over again through the years, conservative Republicans who consistently criticized his 2003 tax increase proposal never came up with an alternative proposal to cut $704 million in government spending instead.
4.) One of the most vocal critics of the $704 million tax hike in 2003 was then-Rep. Jim Gibbons. Indeed, in a speech to the Legislature that year, Gibbons criticized Guinn’s tax hike and called on him to cut spending by that amount instead.
However, just four years later, after being elected to succeed Guinn as governor, rather than submitting a budget with $704 million worth of spending cuts that surely still existed from 2003, Gibbons submitted a budget which was some $800 million higher than the 2005 budget.
And speaking of 2005, when tax revenues came in higher than expected, Guinn – along with conservative Sen. Bob Beers – pushed to rebate $300 million to taxpayers rather than let the Legislature spend it.
The act of a RINO? I don’t think so.
In addition, I don’t believe Guinn ever turned down a request to speak at a GOP party or club event. And while so many elected officials who do bother to attend events such as the annual Lincoln Day dinners and expect to be “comped,” not only did Kenny, to the best of my knowledge, always pay for his own tickets, as often as not he and First Lady Dema purchased an entire table for the event to help support the local Republican organization or club.
Not to mention all the money he donated to Republican candidates over the years.
Yeah, what a RINO.
After Guinn passed away last week, I heard someone refer to him as a “Reagan conservative.” No, he wasn’t. He was a Reagan moderate – the kind of person who would agree with Reagan at least 80 percent of the time. In other words, an ally, not an enemy.
That said, Kenny Guinn’s gregarious manner, his warmth, his larger-than-life persona, his generosity, his good will, his devotion to his wife, his commitment to his family, his love for our state and our country, and his ability to work with political opponents to advance the agenda he believed in was every bit as Reaganesque as Reagan himself.
Alas, I’m certain that even after reading this, many will still call Kenny Guinn a RINO. Me? I’ll always just call him what he was to me and my family: Friend.
Good-bye, friend. Have a cold long neck waiting for me when I get there on the other side with you.
• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a nonprofit public policy grassroots advocacy organization. He may be reached at chuck@citizen