Gubernatorial race loses zing, possibly a worthy candidate

The circus wagon of Nevada politics lost a wheel Monday. The state sorely in need of a ringmaster learned it would have to make do without the gubernatorial candidacy of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

It’s enough to make me want to dump out my Crackerjack box and go home.

Had the group of reporters who gathered in Goodman’s City Hall office displayed the appropriate journalistic emotion, they would have let out a collective sigh. Not of relief, but of resignation.

Without Goodman to liven things up, no amount of espresso and power drinks will keep the press awake during the 2010 governor’s race. Not with embattled Gov. Jim Gibbons fighting for survival in the primary against perfectly ordinary Republican rivals Brian Sandoval and Michael Montandon, with the winner taking on Rory Reid.

Talk about a ride on the Sominex Express.

I’ve used Gibbons’ every quirk and peccadillo for lounge comedy material since before his swearing in. Any fellow who starts his tenure with Metro and FBI investigations, followed by a divorce, can’t have much left to conceal. Even I get tired of punching the same old clown.

As for Reid, Sandoval and Montandon, these guys appear to be so square they squeak. That might be good for Nevada voters, but it does me no good whatsoever.

Without Goodman, we are left to ponder the motivations of candidates vying for a job only a kamikaze pilot could love. All three appear serious, sober and trustworthy, proving they’re better actors than they appear.

Frankly, I’m not sure a state reeling from a horrible recession hangover needs a milk drinker in the governor’s office. Not with a half-billion-dollar budget shortfall, 13 percent unemployment and no near-term prospect for improvement. This is a job for someone capable of channeling Winston Churchill. It’s dangerous duty best performed by a character of larger-than-life proportions, preferably one with no next of kin.

Goodman appeared to possess some of the qualities it would take to capture the jaded public’s attention and confidence and lead Nevada through its darkest hour.

Instead, the term-limited mayor politely folded his hand. Seated at a throne in an office that is a testament to the immense popularity of his "Happiest Mayor in the Universe" persona, he said he wouldn’t run. His wife, Carolyn, wasn’t keen on living in Carson City when her children and grandchildren are in Southern Nevada. His wife and family came first, he said.

Goodman would have faced a difficult statewide race at a time Nevada’s economic condition is no laughing matter. For the relentless showman, running for office would have been a kick in the pants. Getting elected would have been a kick in the teeth.

"I would love the race," he said. "I’d relish the race, every second of it. But if elected, I will not serve."

Goodman is a natural for lieutenant governor, where a large part of the duty includes promoting Nevada, but he admitted his ego prevented him from riding in that political clown car. (Perhaps he’s forgotten he reinvented the Las Vegas mayor’s job from ribbon-cutter to redevelopment agent.)

Although some will claim he has planned to drop out for weeks, the fact is he was still trying this past weekend to justify running. He recently changed his voter registration from Democrat to nonpartisan, and I think he would have drawn from both parties and won a high percentage of independent voters.

More than anything else, Goodman would have made things interesting. Only humorless boobs take politics very seriously. It’s a human circus, not a graduate seminar.

And if ever a state needed an independent governor with a sense of humor and a key to the liquor cabinet, Nevada is the place.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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