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Only way it could be worse for Gibbons is if he were under indictment

Don’t you know Gov. Jim Gibbons wishes he’d never run for governor, that the last 18 months had been just one of those bad dreams, just like in the soap opera “Dallas”?

Just think. He could have stayed on as an obscure Republican congressman, operating mostly anonymously in Congress.

His long-distance marriage might have kept going on the way it had for a decade, with him spending most of his time in Washington, D.C., while his wife, Dawn, lived far, far away in Reno.

He wouldn’t be faced with the toughest question ever facing any Nevada governor: “How the heck do I fix a $1 billion budget shortfall?”

He wouldn’t be the object of national and international ridicule for his flying fingers used to text message a married woman 867 times over six weeks during the 2007 Legislature.

Gibbons has the worst of all worlds. He’s a joke. And he’s facing tremendous state problems that could overwhelm even a good governor.

The latest Las Vegas Review-Journal poll shows only one out of five Nevadans thinks he’s any good as a governor. Two out of five say he’s a poor governor.

Just 21 percent of those polled thought Gibbons was doing a good to excellent job. Some of the polling occurred before the texting was revealed and before a Wednesday news conference in which the governor apologized for using his state phone to text, claiming the messages to Kathy Karrasch were about her dog, her kids, taxes and personnel issues.

A Review-Journal poll six months ago showed Gibbons’ job performance was viewed favorably by 41 percent and 22 percent said he was a poor governor.

The governor has since tanked, and it’s almost the exact opposite, with 41 percent giving him the thumbs down and 21 percent saying he’s a good governor. Those 21 percent are the die-hards who stick with their party’s leader come hell or high water.

Right now, for Jim Gibbons, it’s hell.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research pollster Brad Coker can’t say absolutely that Gibbons has the worst job approval rating among all governors, but of the 20 to 25 states Coker polls in regularly, Gibbons’ 21 percent approval rating is the lowest, he said.

“Everyone around the country is suffering to some degree, but with Gibbons there’s an exaggeration effect,” Coker said, citing the foreclosure crisis, the pending federal investigation, the divorce and the allegations of womanizing. (He forgot the hepatitis nightmare.) “I’ve seen other governors lower in the past, in the mid- to low- teens, but most of them were under indictment,” Coker said Friday.

If the low job approval rating was entirely because of the poor economy, Coker said, Gibbons would be somewhere in the 30s. “The average governor’s rating is around a 33 to 35 percent approval rating,” he said. “Gibbons is 10 to 15 points lower because of his personal problems.”

On Friday, when Gibbons’ pitiful performance numbers were published, strengthening the perception the state isn’t in good hands at a time when it needs capable leadership, Gibbons called a special session. It will begin June 23 and is limited to five days.

He needs legislators to approve postponing 4 percent state raises for state workers, teachers and university employees, saving an estimated $130 million in the budget that starts July 1. Without blocking the raises, layoffs would be likely. But it shifts part of the problem to local school districts, which already have signed new contracts with the raises included. But that’s not Gibbons’ problem.

He’s already made $914 million in cuts with the approval of legislative leaders, including dipping into the rainy day fund, postponing construction projects and cutting state agency budgets by 4.5 percent.

Legislative approval to block the pay raises or find other solutions will also shift some of the blame to lawmakers. The governor essentially is challenging lawmakers: You think it’s so easy, you come up with budget solutions.

Squabbling over balancing the budget is certain to draw attention away from Gibbons’ personal judgment issues.

Yet every time he’s seen texting a message, it’ll be hard not to laugh out loud.

Ridicule leads to contempt, and contempt leads to lousy job performance ratings. Ask any boss.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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