Gov. Gibbons struggling for acceptance | NevadaAppeal.com
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Gov. Gibbons struggling for acceptance

Guy W. Farmer
For the Appeal

Nevada’s newly elected governor, Jim Gibbons, is keeping a low profile these days, and I don’t blame him. I almost felt sorry for Gov. Gibbons as I read his self-serving assessment of his “successes” with the 2007 Nevada Legislature, just another example of how our governor is struggling for acceptance from the voters who elected him last November. It’s an uphill struggle, that’s for sure.

Despite claims of success, Gibbons is facing, a series of scandals that threaten to derail his political career. “I think, first of all, the first 100 days have been … terrific for me,” the governor told the Associated Press in April. “I’ve been able to do a lot,” he said, citing progress on bills dealing with schools, sex offenders and tax relief for homeowners. “I will not let these (scandal) claims knock me off course.” Good luck, Governor.

The influential New York Times published a devastating “hit piece” in May. “Life these days for Gov. Jim Gibbons of Nevada might kindly be described as suboptimal,” wrote Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer. “In the last few months Mr. Gibbons … announced a plan to turn coal into jet fuel to raise money (problematic, as Nevada has no coal to speak of) and proposed paying for a $3.8 billion shortfall in highway construction money by selling water rights under state highways (it turns out the state doesn’t actually own the rights).” And that’s only the beginning.

Far more serious than those apparent misstatements are the alleged scandals, which are under investigation by the FBI and/or the IRS, who want to know whether the governor reported gifts he received from a Reno military contractor while serving in Congress. Gibbons has denied wrongdoing and even suggested that Democrats may have paid the conservative Wall Street Journal to attack him. If I were going to attempt to smear our Republican governor, however, I certainly wouldn’t take my story to the Journal, which usually goes after Democrats like Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans, who stored a $90,000 payoff in his freezer.

And if I were Gov. Gibbons (perish the thought), I’d fire my PR advisers forthwith. Ludicrous claims like the Wall Street Journal payoff story make the governor, and our state, look foolish. Those same advisers have apparently been telling Gibbons to distance himself from former Gov. Kenny Guinn, a fellow Republican, by denigrating his predecessor’s accomplishments. That’s a losing proposition because on balance, Guinn was a popular and successful governor.

“In a recent Mason-Dixon poll, just 28 percent of 625 registered voters questioned said they had a favorable opinion of the governor,” the New York Times reported, which puts Gibbons right down there with President Bush in the popularity department. “The amount of controversy associated with the (governor’s) race, the election and now the first six months of office exceeds that of any other governor we’ve ever had,” Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha told the Times. “Does that make him good, bad or otherwise? I can’t say.” Well I can, and it looks bad for Gibbons as he begins his first term.

Although Gibbons’ spokesman, former Reno TV anchor Brent Boynton, argued that “many governors have seen similarly low (approval) numbers during their first terms and then seen the ratings rise later,” I’ve been around here since 1962 and have never seen approval numbers this low. I also think Ms. Steinhauer was right when she wrote that “with Nevada (being) front and center on the presidential primary calendar … the state can live without being the punch line of a national political joke.”

“I think this just confirms people’s worst images of Nevada,” said State Sen. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), whom Gibbons defeated for the governorship last November by labeling her as a tax-and-spend liberal. Of course Nevada will always have an image problem because of its wide-open attitude toward casino gambling and that naughty “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” slogan. East Coast media just love to manipulate per capita statistics to put Nevada at the bottom of just about every national ranking, everything from petty crime to prayers said.

Our governor’s image problems began last summer when he “befriended” a tipsy Las Vegas cocktail waitress in a parking garage. She claimed that Gibbons made improper advances but Las Vegas police declined to file charges for lack of evidence. Next, as Gibbons railed against illegal immigrants, his former Peruvian housekeeper disclosed that she was undocumented when she worked for the congressman and his wife, Dawn, in Washington.

That potential scandal disappeared when the Wall Street Journal reported that Gibbons was under investigation for his ties to Warren Trepp, a close personal friend who owns a Reno-based military software company. Photos surfaced of the Gibbons and the Trepps frolicking in the Caribbean with most of their expenses paid by the contractor. Then it was revealed that Dawn Gibbons had a $35,000 PR consulting arrangement with Sierra Nevada Corp., a Sparks-based defense contractor. She has been unable to explain what kind of PR services she provided to the company.

“Every time they think they have things under control, another shoe drops,” said Republican activist Chuck Muth. That’s been the Gibbons story so far with no end in sight, and things will probably get worse before they get better.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride for our new governor, a former fighter pilot. But with luck and some skill, he’ll manage political turbulence as well as he handled air turbulence at 30,000 feet.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a longtime observer of the Nevada political scene.