Mad Mr. Rogers

In his part-time spot as chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, local television station owner Jim Rogers sees it as his job to lobby the Legislature — and taxpayers, indirectly — to get as much “other people’s money” for Nevada’s tax-subsidized colleges and universities as possible.

Although Mr. Rogers states he was a registered Republican for 40 years, he now considers Nevada Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons to be “on the other side.” Mr. Gibbons ran for governor two years ago on a “no new taxes” pledge, you see. Since then, the economic slowdown has substantially reduced the revenues flowing into Nevada government coffers. Arguing that tough economic times make it even more important to allow hard-working Nevadans to keep the bulk of what they earn, Gov. Gibbons has proposed a 2009-11 budget that would be balanced primarily by trimming the state’s fantastic cumulative spending to levels that were adequate a few years ago.

Mr. Rogers opposes those cuts — especially for the colleges — and argues his new friends, legislative Democrats, have the votes to override an expected Gibbons veto, allowing them to balance the budget by raising taxes, instead.

But increasingly, Mr. Rogers’ rhetoric ascends to heights of shrillness that must lead even his political allies to wonder if he’s doing their cause more harm than good, as evidenced by the regents — his elected bosses — issuing him a letter of reprimand this week.

It may or may not have been Mr. Rogers’ intransigence — his refusal to work cooperatively with the governor to locate the least damaging places to trim the university budgets — that led to the governor’s budget ax falling so heavily on higher education. But in a commentary published in the Feb. 22 Nevada Appeal, Mr. Rogers’ venom soars to new levels.

“I am constantly confused by Jim Gibbons having become the governor of Nevada,” Mr. Rogers writes. “What strange set of facts could possibly have come together to elect this man whose every characteristic supports one cause — Jim Gibbons. The man has absolutely no regard for the welfare of any other human being.

“Rather than a governor, Nevadans elected an executioner,” Mr. Rogers continues.

Good gracious. Before anyone starts riffling through back issues of the paper, in search of those stories you must have missed about the firing squads and the mass burial grounds, it appears Mr. Rogers is being metaphorical, accusing the governor of “executing” the hopes of those who have grown dependent on government.

“Did he snooker us all?” Mr. Rogers continues. “Was he able to camouflage himself to such an extent and hide behind so many empty slogans that a majority of Nevada would vote for this man in the empty suit, for an ideology that has three simple words, ‘no new taxes’?

“These words from Gibbons’ mouth represent a total lack of understanding of the purpose of government. His words also evidence no understanding of the devastation these three little words can cause.”

What motivates this modern Caligula? In Mr. Rogers’ view, Gov. Gibbons “is simply a greedy, uninterested, unengaged human being whose only, and I mean only, goal is to see what Gibbons can do for himself and his greedy friends.”

At the very least, one might expect a normally cautious and thoughtful man, running an operation dependent on taxpayer funding, to avoid attacking a sitting governor so personally. But Mr. Rogers, it turns out, has an explanation for that, too:

“The public is done with Gibbons. He is no longer a governor — even a former governor,” Jim Rogers sneers.

We will refrain from the unlicensed practice of psychiatry, but this begins to seem a bit odd. Gov. Gibbons has neither died nor been impeached. Nor did he run some kind of “Trojan horse” candidacy in 2006, pretending to be a tax-and-spend Democrat. That candidate — the one under whom Mr. Rogers would obviously rather be serving — was Dina Titus, who would have poured the then-state surplus into general-fund spending, cranking up all-day kindergarten and K-12 spending in general. Imagine how much more would have to be cut today, if voters had chosen that option.

Instead, they chose Jim Gibbons. Plurality vote. You can look it up.

Meantime, who is it who shows “a total lack of understanding of the purpose of government,” here? The Declaration informs us that governments “are instituted among men … to secure these rights” — Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Founding Fathers certainly would have recognized an assertion that the right of workers to keep most of what they earn is a “liberty” worth preserving — particularly in hard times.

Meantime, if Jim Gibbons is a such a nonentity, why spend 600 words inviting him to a pissing match?

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