Gov. Jim Gibbons lashed out at critics Wednesday, saying in an interview that only a "moron" would accuse him of calling a special session as a political ploy and that Democratic legislators who have criticized the move are "whining."
Several lawmakers have charged that Gibbons, who last week suddenly reversed himself and announced he would call the Legislature into session starting Monday, was trying to deflect attention from his marital problems.
Asked about that claim, Gibbons said, "You would have to be a moron to suggest that, because if you have lived in this state for the last year, watched the budget and the shortfalls to our state government rise as they have, you would know this is a critical time for the state of Nevada."
Interviewed at the presentation of a solar-powered vehicle to the state’s Parks Division in Blue Diamond, the Republican governor said he had done all he could to trim the budget to cope with steadily rising shortfalls in revenue.
"When they reached the point that they are now, it requires more than just a simple quote-unquote low-hanging fruit approach to the budget," he said. "We’ve done what we thought was allowable for the executive branch of government. Now we need to have some of these changes that require legislative approval coordinated with the Legislature. Now is the time to act, and it requires the Legislature to step up to the plate."
Gibbons accused Democrats and members of the media of wanting to have it both ways, as his decision to call the session has been met with criticism.
"I find it funny that even the press doesn’t recall all of the hue and cry by some of the Democrats about not being included in the decisions about changing the state budget," he said, referring to previous rounds of cuts. "Only now when they are asked to be included, they’re whining about it."
He said he was working with his staff and the Legislative Counsel Bureau to draft legislation for the special session. As for accusations that he doesn’t plan to bring a plan to the table, he said, "That comes from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. The reality is, we have been and we are working on it, and we’ve been definitely coordinating and communicating with the Legislative Counsel Bureau on drafting these bills. So all I can tell you is they should learn to do their research and their homework before they open their mouth."
Saying the task ahead could not be accomplished by him alone, Gibbons called on legislators to do their job.
"There are absolutely going to be very tough decisions that are going to need to be made," he said. "Some of these decisions, difficult decisions, require legislative approval, legislative action. That’s why the Legislature has to be called into special session.
"Now is the time to act. We cannot wait until the end of the year, until the beginning of the next legislative session, because by the time you finish that you’re so far down, we could have shortfalls of cash flow. We could have a cash flow problem to the state of Nevada, which could cause even bigger and more difficult challenges for the state. So now is the time to act. Now is the time for those people that ran for public office to step up and accept the challenge and responsibility of the role they wanted when they ran for public office."
Told of Gibbons’ comments, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, reiterated Wednesday that the special session was "a stunt to divert attention from his personal life."
Buckley noted that Gibbons met June 12 with legislative leaders, including herself, and told them there would be no special session. The next day he changed his mind.
"One day he says one thing, and the next day he says another thing," Buckley said.
Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera defended Democrats from Gibbons’ charge that they are "whining" about being asked to take action after previously complaining about not being consulted on budget cuts.
"Traditionally what happens is you sit down beforehand with the governor and legislative leaders and discuss the plan, whatever it may be, (whether that’s) a special session or the Interim Finance Committee," said Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. "That just hasn’t happened. On Thursday, there was no special session. On Friday, we found out there would be a special session. He’s just flip-flopping back and forth. There’s no consistency.
"I think that we are just asking for common courtesy. We’re trying to do the best job for the state of Nevada, and I hope the governor is, too."
Gibbons called the special session just two days after apologizing for using a state cell phone to send more than 850 text messages last year to Kathy Karrasch, a married Reno woman with whom he has been accused of being involved.
He denied having sex with her, calling her a longtime friend. The governor filed for divorce May 2 from his wife of 22 years, former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons.
A Review-Journal poll, released Friday, the day Gibbons called for the special session, showed 21 percent of respondents thought his performance has been good or excellent.
At her urging, Buckley said, Gibbons earlier did work with legislative leaders on cutting the budget in a bipartisan fashion. She said he should have done the same thing before calling a special session.
Normally, it takes two or three weeks for analysts to come up with a "reasoned number" for the shortfall the state faces, according to Buckley. Gibbons rushed to call a legislative session without first consulting with her and other legislative leaders and working on an agreement all sides could accept in advance, she added.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Buckley said, legislators do not even have a target number to shoot for in making cuts when they go into special session on Monday. "To call a special session without a number being developed is hardly prudent," she said.
Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.