Gibbons’ approval rating goes from bad to worse, and more trouble lurks

I was shocked, stunned, positively pole-axed by the news printed right here in the pages of the Review-Journal.

“Gibbons’ numbers beyond compare,” the headline throbbed like a Sunday morning hangover above a story citing a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey that ranked the performance of Nevada’s Jim Gibbons last among six Mountain West governors.

And when I say “last,” it’s not a euphemism for “just foul,” “only one foot inbounds” or “barely out of the money.” It’s sweeping-up-after-the-parade-elephants last. This is Jamaican bobsled team last.

It’s omega, man.

While 82 percent of Utah voters gave Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. excellent and good marks, just 23 percent of Nevadans had similarly warm feelings for Gibbons.

That’s actually a lower approval rating than a previous poll, which was also terrible.

So not only is Gibbons unpopular, he’s trending downward.

The guy’s so down and out that Tom Bodett refused to leave the light on for him. Gibbons’ numbers are so bad he makes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s numbers look good.

I did notice that 6 percent of voters surveyed believe Gibbons is doing an excellent job. Considering about 12 percent of Nevada voters think Eisenhower is still president, that’s not saying much.

Let’s be frank: The fact Gibbons’ popularity is at rock bottom is no surprise. (It can’t get worse than this, can it?) He wasn’t exactly popular on the day he was elected; he was only slightly more popular than Dina Titus. Between accusations of fondling a local cocktail waitress in a parking garage to an FBI inquiry into his relationship with eTreppid Technologies defense contractor Warren Trepp, the former congressman’s Carson City tenure sputtered from the start.

Matters went from strange to twisted when Gibbons began tallying the political gaffes. They slipped from twisted to tawdry when he made the remarkably unwise decision to file for divorce from first lady Dawn Gibbons as a sitting governor.

That move was offset by several scandalous court filings from Dawn’s attorney, Cal Dunlap Jr. The governor, meanwhile, has essentially responded to the allegations of womanizing by being photographed in public with women not his wife. In one video he’s at his friend’s daughter’s high school assembly. In a separate series of photographs he’s pictured at the rodeo with a “longtime friend” whose celebrity includes posing for Playboy.

Who knows, maybe the governor thinks the best defense is a good offense.

The First Couple even managed to botch the residency status of the Governor’s Mansion with the chief executive arguing for the right to sleep in the master bedroom and the first lady getting the bum’s rush into the guesthouse. For those who actually care about the caliber of characters who occupy the people’s house, it was pretty embarrassing stuff.

Somewhere in New York, executives from the Fox Reality channel are lamenting their failure to sign Jim and Dawn to a long-term contact.

And that leads me to the truly surprising part of that Mason-Dixon survey. The question: “Do you feel Governor Jim Gibbons’ divorce, and allegations that he was involved with another woman, has or has not affected his ability to govern?”

A full 50 percent of those polled statewide said it “has not” hurt his judgment or ability to make decisions in a state battered by an economic and budget crisis.

You mean half of you actually believe Gibbons would be doing this poorly even if he hadn’t fractured what remained of the family’s professionally wholesome public persona by filing for divorce?

Holy Toledo.

To recap:

He’s the least popular governor in the Mountain West and arguably the least popular governor not under indictment in the United States.

But he’s kept his promise not to raise taxes in the face of unprecedented criticism. Gibbons has been called many things in recent years, but no one can accuse him of being unable to take a punch.

Just up the road, there’s more economic trouble and a session of the Legislature that promises to be the meanest and most divisive in recent history. And there’s the lingering possibility his political opposition will mount a well-timed recall attempt that will pursue him like a hydrophobic hound well into 2009.

If you think he’s unpopular now, wait till next year.

For my money, the greatest shock of all will be if Jim Gibbons doesn’t run for re-election.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.

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