Special session: Raggio’s decorum toward Gibbons strained | NevadaAppeal.com

Special session: Raggio’s decorum toward Gibbons strained

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

During his 38 years in the Nevada Senate, Bill Raggio has held true to what Republicans call Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

But over the past three years, Raggio has found that increasingly difficult to do in the face of repeated insults from Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has few compunctions about attacking Republicans.

The governor’s most recent assault charged that Raggio didn’t show up for most of the meetings to study the state’s budget shortfall.

Raggio responded Wednesday with a sharply worded floor statement saying he was “both puzzled and amazed at the governor’s statement.”

“Either the governor’s memory is failing or he has been misinformed or he is intentionally distorting the facts,” Raggio told fellow senators.

Before the special session, Raggio said, there were at least eight meetings between the legislative and executive branches on the budget. He said he attended two at Gibbons’ office with Gibbons and a third where Gibbons was not in attendance.

He said the other five meetings were held in the Legislative Building.

“I was present for all of them and the governor did not personally attend any,” he said.

“I don’t understand why he wants to pick a fight with me unless it’s for political reasons because I am supporting his primary opponent,” Raggio said.

Raggio’s announcement that he was backing Brian Sandoval in the primary against a sitting GOP governor was itself an unusual admission of the depth of problems between the two. Raggio has made it a practice not to back anyone in a contested GOP primary.

Raggio backed Gibbons through his campaign against Dina Titus and, as the budget crisis began to unfold, insisted that Gibbons be included and involved in deliberations.

But as the crisis deepened during the 2007 and 2009 Legislative sessions, Gibbons repeatedly lumped Raggio in with the Democrats as he leveled criticisms at lawmakers.

There have reportedly been several unpleasant exchanges between the two men, especially at the end of one meeting when Gibbons tried to modify a deal worked out between the Republicans and Democrats. Raggio reportedly told him in no uncertain terms it was too late to change the plan.

Publicly, instead of backing Gibbons, he began saying he has always respected the office of governor – a statement he repeated Wednesday without elaborating on the difference between respecting the office and the office holder.

Over the past few weeks as the run-up to the special session began, Raggio has become much more publicly and uncharacteristically vocal.

During hearings last week he questioned repeatedly why the governor would support certain fee increases such as on mining deductions and premium hikes to Nevada Check Up while rejecting others as a violation of his anti tax-hike stand.

During one exchange, Chief of Staff Robin Reedy said the governor had “pretty much made his case” on the subject of fees and taxes and that legislative questions about that were “a waste of time.”

“You’re looking at me,” said an angry Raggio. “You’re not going to tell me what questions to ask.”

The division reared its head again Tuesday in an exchange with Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden in which Raggio questioned changes dramatically raising the premiums for families covered by Nevada Check Up, which provides low-income children health insurance.

“I’m not trying to be difficult but how do you differentiate that from a fee?” Raggio said. “It’s a fee increase, isn’t it?”

Willden conceded the point.