If they were officially drinking champagne in the Governor’s Mansion these days, it would be time to pop a cork.
Despite what was at times a jaw-dropping lack of coordination inside his own administration, Gov. Jim Gibbons survived his first legislative session and can declare a victory for his Nevada. A toast by Team Gibbons is in order even if it’s with ginger ale.
There were little wins for a number of constituencies. Like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, the budget was assembled without much suspense. The governor kept his promise not to raise taxes. The Legislature was scheduled to adjourn on time without much blood, sweat or tears to mop up.
In short, Gibbons got most of what he needed and some of what he wanted. Now he can go back to wearing his “America’s Worst Governor” T-shirt around the mansion as he waits for the results of the next public opinion poll, which has placed his popularity at an abysmal 28 percent. That number figures to climb at least a little.
How such a supposedly unpopular guy, one plagued by embarrassing national news stories and a sub-50-percent election win, managed to best his critics down the legislative home stretch is one for the books. (History books or comic books, depending on your politics.)
Gibbons prevailed in part because he didn’t stray from his conservative playbook. He didn’t need to sprint the length of the field; he just had to gain a yard or two.
He did that.
It doesn’t make the governor a hero, just a guy who kept his promise.
In Nevada, with its countless government maladies and societal shortcomings, it’s easy to be a progressive when the Legislature opens. Speeches and column inches are jammed with shocking and sadly accurate facts about the true state of our state. We’re a haven for scammers, a hell for the poor and elderly. Our public schools are bursting, our roads clogged, our air polluted, and our rural and urban populations being eaten alive by the meth menace.
Nevada has so many ills it could qualify for a Red Cross airdrop. The problems are staggering and complex, and addressing them in a serious way is costly.
But as a conservative with a no-new-taxes pledge, taking a big, expensive swing at those problems was never part of Gibbons’ plan. He’s a little-swing guy.
It’s good to be a progressive at the start of the Legislature, but it’s good to be a conservative down the stretch. Because making promises can cost money, conservatives don’t make many. And from a constituent service standpoint, the most important promise a conservative can keep is to hold the line on taxes.
Life is relatively simple when you keep your promises. And Gibbons did. Despite being the subject of embarrassing front-page stories in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and despite being featured in a critical national piece on NBC, Gibbons staggered but hung on. He won a featherweight split decision and a victory for his Nevada, where the desires of bankers, big trucking companies, mortgage lenders and conservative voters are heard loud and clear.
When the governor dramatically spoke of “One Nevada” in his State of the State address just a few months ago, it was generally believed he was attempting to bring the north and south together in a more agreeable union. Gibbons is a northerner and was trying to sound inclusive.
Although geographically speaking the governor was right — sure enough, we all live in one Nevada — the question is whether his Nevada is your Nevada. Is it a Nevada that bumbles along in the areas of public education and infrastructure planning but adheres to its libertarian traditions, or a Nevada that cares enough about its people to make hard decisions that just might include more taxes for desperately needed services?
Our Nevada won’t be safer with a homeland security nerve center 400 miles from the state’s population center.
Our Nevada won’t lose its reputation as a hustler’s paradise on the tepid changes in mortgage lending regulation outlined in AB375.
Schools in our Nevada won’t improve on the wobbly legs of under-funded pilot projects and penny-pinching teacher raises.
Like that celebratory ginger ale, his first legislative session ended with some fizz but not much wallop.
Is Gov. Gibbons’ Nevada good enough for you?
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.JOHN L. SMITHMORE COLUMNSDiscuss this column in the eForums!