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Nothing special about this session

Now that his poll numbers are in the toilet and he’s a laughing stock for his texting, Gov. Jim Gibbons has finally decided to act on the largest fiscal crisis the state has ever endured.

But the first real move by the governor since news broke that Nevada’s coffers were an additional $60 million in the hole is actually a ploy to call attention away from his personal troubles.

What better way to launch a fight more juicy than the War of the Gibbonses than to call the Legislature up to Carson City next week?

Recent special sessions were fairly restrained bits of business.

In 2002, it was a summer crisis in health care and the sudden closure of University Medical Center’s trauma unit that led to an urgent medical malpractice summit in Carson City. Lawmakers were told by Gov. Kenny Guinn to put together some type of working compromise between doctors and trial lawyers and their advocates prior to setting foot in the Legislative Building.

In 2004, lawmakers convened for impeachment proceedings against then-Controller Kathy Augustine.

Both sessions were relatively short.

In 2001, 2005 and 2007 — all years in which the Legislature didn’t finish its 120-day session in the allotted time — the special sessions that followed were quick, easy and basically free to taxpayers.

Now we have a governor so distracted by his divorce and allegations of an affair that he thinks he can actually turn the tide by bringing 63 politicians into the real affairs of the state.

He and his staff somehow believe this thing will last no more than five days.

The only special sessions omitted above were the two tax-hiking doozies from 2003. And it’s the heart of that 2003 rift that is already creating a chasm for the upcoming special session.

Revenue shortfalls are a different animal. Maybe Gibbons just doesn’t understand the past as prologue to this special session because he was embedded in Congress’ backbench in 2003.

His wife Dawn, who he’s kicking to the curb — er … the guest house of the mansion — fully understands what went down in 2003. She was in the Legislature back then. But that fact apparently hasn’t gotten through to her hubby — and won’t now that the pair are splitsville.

I’m not alone in my pessimism about next week’s special session. One lobbyist told me last weekend, only half in jest, that he wouldn’t be surprised if the session was still going in February when the regular one is set to convene.

Even at five days, the special session will cost a cool quarter-million dollars in a state staring down the barrel of a billion-dollar shortage of anticipated revenue.

And this whole matter got off to a very rocky start on Friday the 13th, when the governor announced he was calling in the troops. Key Republicans who previously had bristled at the necessity of such a move were not only suddenly on board, they were on message.

The Republican leaders of both houses, Bill Raggio in the Senate and Heidi Gansert in the Assembly, both supported the session, saying the state must eradicate cost-of-living pay raises for state employees or impose layoffs.

What a choice.

Democrats, who previously had been united in preserving the pay raises, had been working quietly with Gibbons to find other areas to cut.

But Gibbons shot down those deals seemingly out of the blue.

Maybe he knows something about that investigation into his alleged federal contract abuse as a congressman that the rest of us don’t? Could an indictment be near?

After all, Gibbons didn’t call a special session to discuss $900 million in cuts, but suddenly found his proclamation pen for a mere $60 million more.

The Democratic response was swift last week, and all of it points to what a political move the whole thing really is. But that’s last weekend’s news. Now they’re up against an “everything is on the table” mentality that only seems to feature a table big enough for the COLAs.

Not only will Democrats be forced into a voting scenario they dread (ticking off the teachers and other state employees), they will be painted as obstructionists the first time any of them suggests adding something else to the proverbial table.

The only real reason lawmakers won’t want to stay in session is that all Assembly members and a third of the Senate have an election right around the corner.

Early voting for the primary starts July 26, leaving less than a month if the special session does indeed last just five days.

If there’s going to be a political special session, may as well have the whole thing be political.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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