Gibbons can count on shadow governor or political kung fu master |

Gibbons can count on shadow governor or political kung fu master

John L. Smith

Every traveler needs a trusty guide when maps are insufficient and the going gets treacherous.

Even an experienced climber would be foolish to begin a high-altitude ascent without a sure-footed Sherpa.

As Gov.-elect Jim Gibbons laces his boots and prepares for the journey of his political life, I have wondered who will act as his guide. Some experienced political observers say Gibbons is so bullheaded that teaming up to bridge legislative crevasses isn’t in his nature.

And there’s always the chance his post-election enemies will be waiting to cut a lifeline if the opportunity presents itself.

But Gibbons is already surprising some people by reaching out to Nevada’s legislative Master, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio. If their recent alliance born of political necessity is successful, and we won’t know until the ’07 Legislature is well into session, then even skeptics may find themselves rethinking the rookie governor’s skills.

Raggio is no simple Sherpa. He’s more like Master Po or Master Kan, the wise men who gave sage advice to Kwai Chang Caine in “Kung Fu.”

“When you can snatch this pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave,” Master Po told young Caine.

Translation for Gibbons: “When you can snatch this pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to lead.”

At 61, with previous state legislative experience and a decade in Congress, Gibbons is no political apprentice. But it takes more than a winning portfolio to be a successful governor.

Republican Raggio has his own challenges with the Senate closely split, 11-10, following the upset loss by Republican Sandra Tiffany to Democrat Joyce Woodhouse in District 5. The irony is that if Woodhouse agrees with Raggio at all, she’ll agree with him more than Tiffany did.

Raggio can help Gibbons navigate a Legislature that will find the Democrats in solid control of the Assembly and gubernatorial rival Dina Titus unbowed in the Senate.

Appointing “University of Raggio” graduate Mike Dayton his chief of staff is a sure sign Gibbons is sensitive to pleasing the Master and keeping the lines of communication open.

It’s only a matter of time before someone calls Raggio the “shadow governor,” but it’s also true that the Master’s shadow will give Gibbons time to grow his own shadow in his first year in office.

The key to success for Gibbons in the ’07 Legislature may be in finding obtainable goals that cut across party lines.

Titus for years championed all-day kindergarten, and as a candidate she made it part of her platform. Now that exiting Gov. Kenny Guinn has made it a part of his final budget, Gibbons can look like a winner by embracing a substantive version of it. (And he can hope the cynical media forget his reluctance to embrace the concept during the campaign).

Who knows, maybe he’ll even invite his adversary to pose for the inevitable picture with the kiddies who will find themselves stuck in all-day kindergarten.

Then there’s the widening of Interstate 15 to consider. Hundreds of millions are needed, and Gibbons will enjoy a fat state checkbook to draw from in ’07.

Big bucks for Nevada’s economic hub is another no-brainer that will make him look like a winner. (It will also offset the static that’s sure to rise if it ever leaks out that Gibbons’ wife, Dawn, rallied Washoe County voters down the stretch by playing up the potential problems for Northerners if they let a Southerner get elected governor.)

Not every project will be funded, and Gibbons will need someone with a black belt in the art of political kung fu standing at his side.

In the end, two quotes from the fictional masters seem especially appropriate now.

Master Kan said, “Avoid, rather than check. Check, rather than hurt. Hurt, rather than maim. Maim, rather than kill. For all life is precious, nor can any be replaced.”

Master Po said, “If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.”

A two-bit newsy might add, “Govern from the middle. Set obtainable goals. Share victory. Remember the North and the South are one.”

And always listen to the master.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.