Special session: Gibbons, lawmakers show rare cooperation during special session
Despite disagreements over how to close Nevada’s $805 million budget shortfall, lawmakers and the governor added a political ingredient during the 26th special session often missing in Carson City: bipartisanship.
Among the final scenes of the special session, after hours of closed door negotiations, was Gov. Jim Gibbons standing with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to present their final compromise, which included cuts and new fees.
It was a scene that “was sadly missing in the 2009 session and deeply appreciated in the special session,” said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Eric Herzik, who chairs the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said it was a surprising sight.
“Certainly Gibbons stepped up and played a role that I don’t think anybody expected given his rhetoric and past behavior,” Herzik said.
In early February, Gibbons delivered his State of the State address, placing blame for the state’s
downturn on the 2007 Legislature that “gambled on new taxes.”
While the governor maintained a hard line against new taxes and fees in his Feb. 8 speech, three weeks later he was praising lawmakers for a compromise that included distasteful elements for all parties.
“His style to this point was to just attack the Legislature and take extreme positions … and appeal directly to his anti-tax and really anti-government base,” Herzik said. “I don’t see how this is such a great political calculation, which is actually a compliment to him.”
Lokken said political calculations may have played a role in the governor’s sudden working relationship with lawmakers, considering a formidable June primary threat from former U.S. Attorney and moderate Republican Brian Sandoval, but other circumstances may have factored in, namely the potential for a courtroom showdown with the Legislature over his authority to end a special session.
Senate and Assembly leadership
If anyone deserved praise it was the legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle, Lokken said.
“We see that evidence in the results,” Lokken said. “(They) really have a strong flavor of bipartisanship.”
In the Assembly, Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, was “masterful,” Herzik said, adding, “I’m guessing there are a lot of Democrats wondering why she’s not running for governor.”
Buckley used the power of political theater throughout the session, staging informal votes to force lawmakers to give public positions on issues such as the size of cuts to education and an administration proposal to set up cameras throughout the state to catch car insurance scofflaws, which stayed out of the final compromise.
“She ran that session in a way that rivaled (Senate Minority Leader) Bill Raggio at his best,” Herzik said.
Raggio, R-Reno, also played a key role in budget negotiations, Herzik said.
“He works very well with (Senate Majority Leader Steven) Horsford and Buckley,” Herzik said. “It’s not the warmest of relationships, perhaps, but he works to get the job done.”
Raggio also hosted meetings with the governor throughout the session from his legislative office despite a dust-up with the executive early in the session after Gibbons accused Raggio of missing budget meetings with his staff.
Herzik noted Horsford’s impassioned floor speech that called on the mining, gaming and other industries to pay their “fair share” to the state.
Suggesting Nevada businesses aren’t paying their share “could come back to haunt him,” especially when it comes to campaign contributions, Herzik said.
“He’s boldly going into political ground that isn’t that safe in Nevada politics,” Herzik said.
Herzik said that lawmakers have solved the budget gap for now, but bigger problems lie ahead. The 2011 Legislature is likely to face another shortfall of $3 billion or more.
“Between now and January 2011, which isn’t that far away, people will be working on some structural solutions to how we collect taxes, how we spend money,” he said. “And more cuts are coming.”