CARSON CITY — Most Nevadans think the media should butt out of Jim Gibbons’ messy divorce, which half of them say isn’t interfering with his governance of the state.
But that’s not to say Nevadans think their governor is doing a good job.
Only 21 percent of likely voters statewide believe the Republican governor is doing an excellent or good job, according to a poll commissioned by the Review-Journal and reviewjournal.com.
That compares with 41 percent who considered Gibbons’ performance excellent or good in December.
Pollster Brad Coker said Gibbons’ rating with voters hasn’t dropped because of his pending divorce from first lady Dawn Gibbons, but because of the state’s poor economy.
"When bad economies come along, the popularity of governors fall off," said Coker, managing partner of Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. "They either have to cut spending or raise taxes. When they cut spending, they cut out someone’s adored program."
Because of declining tax revenue, Gibbons and legislators have over the past seven months reduced state spending by $914 million for the two-year budget period that ends June 30, 2009.
Gibbons warned Thursday that additional cuts of $500 million a year might be needed in 2009 and 2010.
Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said the governor’s divorce is a private matter and the media should not report on it, while 33 percent disagreed.
Half said Gibbons’ split with his wife and allegations of his involvement with another woman have not affected his ability to govern. Thirty-eight percent said the split has affected his job performance.
The results show Gibbons’ standing with voters at its nadir.
Of those polled, only 3 percent think the governor is doing an excellent job; 18 percent view him as doing a good job; 33 percent rated his performance as fair; and 41 percent said it was poor. Five percent were undecided.
The governor filed for divorce on May 2, citing incompatibility. Since then he has issued denials that the reason for the divorce was his involvement with a married Reno woman, Kathy Karrasch.
While Gibbons’ did not comment on the results, his press secretary, Ben Kieckhefer, said he expects the governor’s ratings will improve dramatically once the economy recovers and people realize he balanced the budget without raising taxes.
Kieckhefer added that people are more concerned about $4-a-gallon gasoline and keeping up with their bills than Gibbons’ divorce.
Coker’s company surveyed 625 registered Nevada voters by telephone Monday through Wednesday, making sure the number of Republicans and Democrats surveyed reflect voter registrations. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
State Democratic Chairman Sam Lieberman said he was not surprised by Gibbons’ showing in the poll. Long before the divorce and declining economy, there were questions about Gibbons’ lack of leadership, he said.
"We had a serious hepatitis C problem that was a life-and-death issue for some Nevada families that he played down for the longest time," Lieberman said. "We have a serious home foreclosure issue and he shows a lack of leadership on that. Many Nevadans are looking for jobs and Jim Gibbons and his administration have done nothing to create an economic boost and more jobs. This is not effective leadership."
Coker said he could not explain why so many people do not want the media to report on the divorce, but the results are what he expected.
"You can’t lay all his problems on his marriage, and you cannot avoid reporting on the divorce," he said. "It is clear he has had a drop-off in support, but it is due to the economy."
Jim Denton, a Gibbons friend and Southern Nevada political consultant, said polls all over the country show low ratings for "politicians and everything political."
"The governor’s numbers reflect that sentiment," he said. "What you are seeing is the frustration the American people have with politicians, not Democrats or Republicans. This is the most toxic political environmental I have ever seen."
Denton said he promised the governor and first lady not to talk about their divorce or its effect on the polls.
"People are far more concerned about keeping their jobs, keeping the salaries they are making and keeping food on the table than anything else," he said.
The poll also asked voters whether they thought the 1931 Nevada law that permitted Gibbons to keep the records of his divorce sealed from public view was a reasonable law that protects private matters.
Forty-nine percent agreed, while 25 percent said the law instead allows "the rich and powerful to bilk their spouses in private."
Dawn Gibbons’ attorney has challenged the sealing of the case.
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