Gibbons doesn’t inspire confidence

Journalists have made decent cash writing about our president’s propensity to mangle the English language, mix metaphors and serve up spoonerisms.

But listening to Gov. Jim Gibbons for an hour on Monday was so depressing it’s hard to even make light of a few of his more tortuous comments.

First came his views on the economy, which included a refreshing lament about the state’s reliance on sales taxes.

I think, by now, the state’s chief executive has been briefed enough to understand that the reason we have a $500 million-plus shortfall in anticipated revenue is that sales taxes are not coming into the state’s coffers as predicted in more robust times.

Yet the governor, whether talking about education, taxes, the environment or even his role in the Republican Party, seems to know less than the average teacher, homeowner or person who attended the recent presidential caucuses.

Gibbons knows he won’t be raising taxes. The teachers union’s initiative to raise the gaming tax is an abomination he will work against, he said in forceful language.

But the disconnect between his promise and the reality facing the state is, as I said, no laughing matter.

The Cal Neva resort at Lake Tahoe just laid off an unspecified number of workers. Gaming revenue is down, and properties from Virginia Street to Fremont Street are hurting.

Gibbons doesn’t seem to follow the markets, where tourism-related stocks have fallen because people just don’t have the disposable income to travel. On the contrary, “When the economy’s bad, people want to gamble,” he argued.

Gibbons’ gift for gab was just plain distasteful when it came to a question about last week’s Monte Carlo fire. Sadly, our hero “wasn’t there to put it out. … I’m sorry,” he told the Review-Journal’s editorial board. “I couldn’t find my bucket.”

He also didn’t know if anyone at the state had an oversight role or whether he thinks more properties should have their decorative foam inspected.

He said there’s no way to answer because “we don’t know what started the fire yet.”

Sure, but we know it spread because of the foam. And we also know that flames and smoke on the Strip do not engender confidence to shaky consumers in the heartland.

Gibbons rightly, although in classic understatements, argued that terrorism poses a greater threat to Nevada’s economy. The example: “One little car bomb in a hotel in Elko.”

Save for gold investors and crossword puzzlers, Elko ain’t on anyone’s map outside Gibbons Country.

Asked whether Nevada should scrap its presidential caucus in favor of a primary, Gibbons strongly advocated for a caucus, discounting a primary as leaving voters out of the process.

So we asked him again, this time with a “presidential voting for dummies” version that explained Nevada could have either a caucus or a primary and still have the vote early in the process.

Gibbons still didn’t understand the difference. Apples and oranges are both fruit, after all.

The governor also went on record as supporting renewable energy, even though he thinks California wind farms are “ugly.” Guess smog in the Great Basin won’t bother him.

And even though he admitted the next legislative session would be “horrible” because of a lack of funding, he also, with a straight face defined his “empowerment” schools program and suggested there be greater funding for that in 2009.

Now that he finally understands empowerment, it’s clear he gets only some of the picture. In his biz model, the principal is the CEO and the parents are involved. Sign me up, but in Clark County, where the superintendent has tried empowerment, it also means more money and a longer school day.

Gibbons, devoid of that “vision thing” gene, sees the state’s economic woes as only a natural, cyclical affair. Maybe they can be fixed by say, playing violins and moving the deck chairs.

The governor said he’s talked with Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio of Reno (watch out, Clark County) and has determined that a study should be commissioned. This study won’t examine the sources of revenue, however, only the way it is allocated.

Alas, the governor thinks it’s OK to shift local government revenue to the state so the hard-working state employees at the Highway Patrol and the Gaming Control Board don’t get lured away to work in local government.

This is classic Raggio, only instead of Washoe and the rurals getting Clark’s money, this time it’s going to Capt. Edward J. Smith in Carson City. Bet the wife will order some nice china and maybe even don an Armani for the maiden voyage.

Chief of Staff Mike Dayton, who had to rescue the governor a few times in the hour-long meeting, assured, “What’s paid in Clark stays in Clark.”

A moment before, Dayton’s boss had been on his “One Nevada” riff. Makes you wonder whether this part of Nevada ought to secede.

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

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