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Gibbons has lost it

Distractions can be pretty distracting.

Every time I read a legislative policy news story these days, I can’t help but wonder what Melissa Subbotin, Gov. Jim Gibbons’ press secretary, really means when she says the governor hasn’t formulated an opinion on a specific proposal.

Capitol reporters often call the governor’s office to see if something gaining momentum in the Legislature would pass muster with the state’s chief executive. On Tuesday, Review-Journal reporter Sean Whaley wrote an article suggesting the Assembly would likely approve a bill that would give state employees the right to organize a collective bargaining unit. While the measure’s fate in the Senate is in question, Whaley reported that Subbotin said the legislation was being reviewed and that the governor had taken no position.

The sentence could well have read: “Subbotin said the governor was too distracted by the voices in his head whispering conspiracies about who’s out to get him to comment on policy.”

Gibbons is circling the wagons like never before after his latest flub, in which he not only gave credence to nonsensical political conspiracy theories, but offered one of his own to deflect legitimate, damaging news coverage. So an administration that was already weak on leadership and policy ideas is too focused on damage control to pay attention to the work of the Legislature.

As a congressman and gubernatorial candidate — before the Chrissy Mazzeo incident, Nannygate and The Wall Street Journal’s initial investigation of Treppgate — Gibbons was actually fond of telling law enforcement organizations that he favored collective bargaining in some instances.

But after he was elected without a majority of the popular vote, Gibbons retreated from the three scandals to the point where nobody could actually find out whether he really would sign collective bargaining into state law.

Not even the first lady could keep him afloat with talk of combating the state’s meth problem or aiding the autistic. Good will goes only so far, as we subsequently learned that Dawn Gibbons used her since-vacated position in the Assembly to muster support for a company that was paying her $35,000 in consulting fees while it was asking her congressman hubby to deliver federal contracts worth millions of dollars.

But none of these self-inflicted problems really explains the comments Gibbons made to reporter Ray Hagar of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Typically, if a reporter floats a conspiracy theory overheard in partisan circles, a politician will only go so far as to say they’ve heard such rumors. But Gibbons didn’t just say he’d heard rumors that Nevada Democrats somehow paid The Wall Street Journal to write an unflattering report about then-candidate Gibbons’ ties to defense contractor Warren Trepp.

“What this is about, I believe, is that this is about the 2008 election,” Gibbons said in the Gazette-Journal. “And it has very little to do with me. It is just that they want to deal with what their interests are in 2008.”

Now we know Gibbons doesn’t like the press and that he blames Nevada media outlets for his problems, but we didn’t know he could possibly think Democrats are so organized in their push for the White House in 2008 that they would try to take out someone as inconsequential as Gibbons. The basic premise that hurting Gibbons would help Democrats in 2008 is as ludicrous as thinking The Wall Street Journal, the second-largest newspaper in the country, could be bribed so easily to undermine the core principles of its editorial pages.

Gibbons appears to have bought into this conspiracy whole-hog. Not only has he heard it, he added to the rumors, suggesting the reporter who broke the stories, John R. Wilke, was flown in by the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Dina Titus, the current Senate minority leader.

“When I met this guy, he was brought to Elko by the Dina Titus campaign, and that is where I met him,” Gibbons said. “So I don’t know what his agenda is.”

Seems to me Wilke’s agenda was trying to shine a little light on clandestine, off-budget defense spending and how the no-bid contracts are awarded. With Gibbons, he found a perfect example of the pay-to-play system.

Here was the so-called fiscal conservative helping secure tens of millions of dollars worth of federal contracts for his friend — and getting what in exchange? A discounted Caribbean cruise and campaign contributions, or something more?

Gibbons thinks the world is out to get him. But believing in a vast left-wing conspiracy makes it appear he’s gone from delusional to just plain nuts.

At least the former Air Force and commercial airline pilot is not flying planes anymore.

The only tool left in Gibbons’ arsenal is the veto pen. But when you talk to state lawmakers, they’re not even sure Gibbons is capable of pushing the button on that weapon. Whatever would he do if a bill authorizing collective bargaining for state employees landed on his desk?

Maybe he’d be too distracted to say no.

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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