It lacked the applause of a campaign kickoff — I’ve heard louder applause at funerals — but I’m betting Gov. Jim Gibbons used Thursday’s State of the State speech as the unofficial start of his re-election bid.
If anyone dreamed Gibbons might saddle up and ride into a Carson City sunset in 2010, they need only read the State of the State. It’s clear he plans to run again and win, to beat the odds and dash his critics with such themes as “Tough on Taxes,” “Looking out for Joe and Josephine Nevada,” and “I Cut Because I Care.”
Political positioning is the only way I can make sense of the mind-bending disconnect between Gibbons’ words and his proposed actions to balance the state’s budget. State of the State addresses are traditionally painted in broad brush strokes, but some of his language was downright Orwellian.
One of my favorites was a paragraph defending his friends in Nevada’s mining industry, which has enjoyed record profits while paying a laughably low net profits tax that is being targeted by legislative Democrats.
Gibbons said: “Our mining industry has slowed down following worldwide decreases in the price of minerals, such as copper, molybdenum and lithium. Copper, for example, has fallen from $4.10 per pound to less than $1.50 per pound in just six months, and some Nevada mines have slowed production and laid off workers.”
Forget that copper is down after a record high. Nowhere in his speech did Gibbons mention the fact gold, Nevada’s major mining resource, has wavered at near record highs for months.
So, was he being misleading, catering to a favorite constituency, or both?
It’s not a big surprise. Rhetorical sleight-of-hand is commonly practiced by officials seeking re-election. Part of politics is accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. Gibbons did the best he could.
He spent five paragraphs lauding the efforts of his Spending and Government Efficiency Commission without explaining to lowly viewers that many of its recommendations will face brick-wall opposition at the Legislature.
But that’s nothing. He burned up nine paragraphs of his speech broad-brushing the far-off possibilities of renewable energy development in Nevada and even said it would lead us out of the economic mess we’re in. (Even if Gibbons is re-elected, he’ll be long into retirement before that dream comes true.)
The pragmatist might say it was time that might have been better spent detailing the actual mess. But he’s not a pragmatist. He’s a politician.
One of his most controversial ideas, to extract millions from Clark County government coffers to balance the state budget, was knocked out in two paragraphs. That’s what I call rhetorical economy and eliminating the negative.
Gibbons pledged time and again not to raise taxes, but he neglected to mention a 3-percentage-point hotel room tax hike built into his budget. It’s a mistake anyone could make.
He spoke about the importance of caring for the state’s youth — “Nevada’s children are our most precious resource” — and moments later announced cuts to K-12 and higher education. You’re precious, but expendable, kids.
A staggering $473 million is to be hacked from the university system alone. I haven’t seen this kind of cutting since “Friday the 13th,” but Gibbons announced the decision with barely a shrug. Meanwhile, University Chancellor Jim Rogers is going off more often than the Mirage volcano.
The governor has extremely difficult duty these days with revenues tanking and little relief in sight. Whether Gibbons squares off against Rogers or Assembly Speaker (and rumored gubernatorial candidate) Barbara Buckley, the coming session of the Legislature promises a clash of philosophies of government rarely witnessed in Nevada.
Of all the lines spoken and unspoken Thursday night, I found this one the most perplexing. Gibbons said, “Nevada government should meet the needs of the people; people should not meet the needs of Nevada government.”
It’s the sort of libertarian “Who’s On First?” rhetoric that plays well to Gibbons’ tax-averse business allies, but it also assumes our tax structure is equitable and that all the cuts he’s outlined fall into the category of wasteful spending. That makes it a lie.
Cutting teacher and social workers’ salaries isn’t meeting the needs of the people or the government.
So where’s Abbott & Costello when you need them?
I’m guessing they’re busy mapping someone’s re-election strategy.
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/.