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Governor needs to re-focus

It’s understandable that Gov. Jim Gibbons may feel like he just can’t catch a break.

Candidate Gibbons looked stunned when a Las Vegas cocktail waitress accused him of putting a move on her in the crucial weeks before last fall’s election. But police found no grounds to proceed, and the Gibbons candidacy still limped to the finish line ahead of Democrat Dina Titus, who couldn’t buy a vote north of Ann Road with a deed to the Carlin Trend.

Then a funny thing happened. Instead of everyone celebrating and breathing a sigh of relief, Mr. Gibbons made changes in his staff, removing some familiar faces, and — following a campaign in which his winning strategy largely involved staying “busy in Washington” — the governor-elect actually seemed to grow less accessible to the press and public.

He presented a sketchy plan for education reform via “empowerment schools” in his State of the State address, but neither he nor his staff seemed to have the details ready. Meantime, Mr. Gibbons’ newfound prominence led even such national media as The Wall Street Journal to start questioning his personal relationships with one or more Northern Nevada defense contractors to whose firms Mr. Gibbons had steered multimillion-dollar federal “black” contracts during his time in Washington — a relationship which has even drawn some scrutiny from the FBI.

Even new first lady Dawn Gibbons seems to have been in the chow line, receiving thousands of dollars per month in “consulting contracts” that don’t appear to have involved much heavy lifting.

Bad enough? Apparently not.

Instead, the governor had to tell a Reno Gazette-Journal reporter last week, on tape, “I have heard that actually the Democratic Party paid to have these Wall Street Journal articles written, I’ve heard that.”

The initial stories about Jim Gibbons were legitimate. But when a politician finds himself back on the front pages not merely for being investigated, but for his bizarre and conspiratorial reactions to the initial stories, he has crossed into a dangerous territory in which his wounds are increasingly self-inflicted.

As a congressman, Jim Gibbons was never much in the public spotlight. Surely his re-election campaigns in a friendly Northern Nevada district never prepared him for this level of scrutiny. But it comes with his current job. No vast conspiracies are necessary.

What the governor needs to do now is to resist the urge to hide in the high tower, muttering about lists of enemies. Instead, Mr. Gibbons needs to loosen his collar, to become a bit more relaxed and certainly a lot more open, and — here’s the hard part — to stop encouraging his tormenters by squealing each time they grab his cap and start to play keep-away.

The governor has a job to do. It’s the job he was elected to do, and the most important part of it occurs during the next two months.

There’s a lot going on in the state Legislature, which usually winds down in June. Left unsupervised, the Democrats and even some in the governor’s own party can be relied upon to get into considerable mischief, not only wasting current surplus revenues but also (and far worse) launching useless and counterproductive programs that will require increased state revenues to maintain, even during future downturns.

The lawmakers need constant reminders that Southern Nevada Highway projects — for example — are a high priority, and firm guidance on what funding mechanisms the governor will and will not approve.

If the governor’s office wants the press to cover something else, he needs to give them something else to cover — a governor tending to the often unglamorous task of giving the Legislature some useful guidance. A governor doing his job.

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