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Gibbons names new press secretary

CARSON CITY — Former Las Vegas television newsman Dan Burns was named Monday as the press secretary to Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose public image and poll numbers have been battered since his election in 2006.

Burns, 50, who has been serving as the spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, takes over for Ben Kieckhefer, to whom Gibbons offered the public safety job.

Burns becomes the fourth press secretary for Gibbons in the governor’s 23 months as the state’s chief executive.

Before working in state government, Burns had a 17-year career as a television newsman, mostly in Las Vegas.

Earlier this year, he served five weeks as interim press secretary to the governor before Kieckhefer was hired.

“I admire Jim Gibbons,” Burns said. “I enjoy serving the state of Nevada very much. You are in this world to make a difference. That is why I am taking this job.”

Burns said that in conversations with Gibbons, the governor mentioned he wants more transparency in government. Burns said he shares the governor’s views.

Kieckhefer, 31, was earning $100,000 a year in his job as press secretary and director of communications.

“It has been an honor to serve in the administration,” he said. “It is an opportunity that not many people receive.”

Kieckhefer said he has not yet decided whether to accept Burns’ previous post as public safety spokesman.

Gibbons said he replaced Kieckhefer because he wanted a more experienced person as his press secretary.

A source said Kieckhefer was replaced because Gibbons’ popularity rating had not improved during his eight months as press secretary.

A Review-Journal poll in August found just 23 percent of respondents thought Gibbons was doing a good or positive job as governor. That was more than 30 percentage points lower than five other governors in the West. By contrast, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin received a popularity rating of 89 percent.

A Reno Gazette-Journal poll in October gave Gibbons a 27 percent popularity rating, down from 31 percent in its August poll.

Gibbons has been plagued by public relations problems that began even before he was elected governor. This year alone, he has been the subject of lawsuits, investigations and a messy divorce from his wife, Dawn Gibbons. He admitted at one point that he sent more than 700 text messages on a state phone to a female friend.

All this comes in the midst of the worst economic downturn in Nevada since the Depression.

Burns said Gibbons did not mention to him that he seeks a higher public approval rating.

“Political stuff and popularity ratings is not what I do,” he said. “I am a state employee.”

During his TV career, Burns served as news director at a station in Pocatello, Idaho, and in a variety of positions at KVBC, Channel 3, and KVVU, Channel 5, both Las Vegas stations, and in other states.

He received two regional Emmy awards from the San Diego Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Burns left the field in 2004 to work for Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt. Later, he became spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Management and then for the Department of Public Safety, which includes the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Burns said he does not yet know what his salary will be or when he will start his new job.

He said he will continue to live in Las Vegas and make frequent trips to the state capital, particularly during the 2009 legislative session.

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