Nevada’s governor really has no political future

When in the course of day-to-day events, it becomes necessary for the state of Nevada to have a leader; the people should declare themselves willing to secure this right.

It matters not whether you are a Republican or Democrat. This is your state and it cannot be governed in absentia by a man who just gleefully oversaw the cutting of $1.2 billion in programs and will likely have to chop an additional $1 billion to keep next February’s budget flat.

Inflation and roll-up costs for new schoolchildren and new clients in social service programs are expected to add $1 billion to the budget.

So that’s how much Gibbons will cut from elsewhere — from higher education, where layoffs have crushed morale, to welfare programs already sliced through the bone.

This is our future under Gibbons and a dysfunctional, part-time Legislature that will have to truly unite to get around the governor.

In the days since last month’s special session ended, I’ve received several phone calls suggesting Gibbons must be recalled.

And while that is a daunting uphill process requiring both organization and fundraising, not to mention a viable replacement candidate, there are other options.

The state Republican Party must now realize what the head of their national ticket has already. Forget about 2010 — Gibbons is a liability in the day-to-day operations of government and also for the party’s chances this November.

GOP presidential candidate John McCain knows this, and now two separate independent polls have confirmed this. Gibbons’ popularity is below that of President Bush and even Congress, and anecdotally his support is falling by the minute.

“I pretty much thought all of the media criticism was unwarranted and unfair,” said Marty Smith, a financial consultant from Las Vegas who voted for Gibbons in 2006. “Then I really started to follow the budget crisis. Even if you throw out all the personal stuff as personal, this guy changes his mind every other day and gives me no confidence he knows what he’s doing.”

Smith, a registered Republican, said he broke ranks when Gibbons called the special session in the wake of news that he excessively texted a married woman on state-funded equipment.

“We didn’t really need (the special session) and he didn’t really even know what to do after he called it,” Smith said. “I pray he’s not still around in two years, or we’ll lose the seat easily.”

Another national pollster, The Mellman Group, confirmed Smith’s fears in a recent survey conducted for Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid to test gubernatorial waters. The poll shows Reid beating Gibbons 49 percent to 32 percent. It also shows Reid trouncing Democratic Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley in a hypothetical primary.

One thing Mellman’s poll didn’t consider, of course, is the effect of having two Reids on the ballot in 2010. Will voters unhappy with Sen. Harry Reid take it out on his son?

Or will even those who like the Senate majority leader think of Rory as just a fortunate one?

Overall, that’s a kind of good problem for Democrats to sort out.

But Republicans, from state Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio down to the average GOP voter in Las Vegas, are trying desperately to abandon Gibbons, just as he has Nevada.

“The real problem is that it’s too soon to do anything for this year,” said one party leader who thinks Gibbons might actually help Barack Obama win Nevada. “As of right now, we may be toast.”

The leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this election cycle will go a long way toward sorting out what happens with the ballot in 2010.

Two potential swing districts in the state Senate are currently held by Republicans who may be attractive candidates to replace Gibbons on the 2010 ballot, should he bow to pressure and not seek another term. But Bob Beers and Joe Heck, the senators facing organized challenges from Democrats this year, first have to win this year.

If either loses, or if Raggio somehow is upended in his primary against conservative Sharron Angle, the change in leadership in the upper house may make for such an unstable environment that neither Beers nor Heck could launch a gubernatorial bid.

The 2009 session is also going to be brutal, leading to the possibility that no one in the Legislature will be able to survive a statewide race.

If you’re looking for clues to 2010 from the recent special session, there are just too many to consider.

Buckley came out swinging against Gibbons in her televised Democratic response speech on the eve of the session. But lost in the coverage of her partisan shots were her very real calls for solution.

“It is sad and pathetic to have to even consider these kinds of cuts,” Buckley said. “I will do everything in my power … to never do this again.”

Rory Reid, dispatched to Carson City to play defense for Clark County, also openly criticized the governor.

Beers and Heck just followed Raggio’s lead and didn’t say a word about Gibbons.

A lot can happen this year to shape Gibbons’ political future. But whether it is a ruling on term limits, an indictment, election surprises or even more embarrassing behavior, one thing will remain clear.

Gibbons really has no future, and it’ll be up to Republicans to figure out how to get around that.

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

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