NV-Governor: Gibbons' Comeback Cut Short

I was all set to write a blog post that said, "Jim Gibbons still has a chance!" But, recent events haven't been ...
by | February 24, 2010

I was all set to write a blog post that said, "Jim Gibbons still has a chance!" But, recent events haven't been kind to Nevada's embattled governor.

First, let me tell you what I had been thinking. A combination of personal woes and Nevada's miserable economy have made Gibbons one of the nation's least popular governors almost from the moment he was elected in 2006. For a long time, the main question wasn't whether Gibbons would win a second term. It was whether he could even last one term in office.

Gibbons faces Brian Sandoval, a popular former judge and former state attorney general, in the Republican primary. Since the time he entered the campaign, Sandoval has been the favorite in both the primary and the general election.

But, Sandoval's numbers have stagnated in the upper 30s in the three-way race (former North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon is in single digits). A poll conducted last week showed Gibbons only trailing Sandoval 38%-32%. This isn't Andrew Cuomo against David Patterson. While Gibbons trails Rory Reid in the general election, Reid's last name and the possibility of a good Republican year would at least give the governor a chance.

Gibbons actually has a rationale for why he should be the Republican nominee. He's opposed all tax increases (though the legislature has overridden his vetoes), even with Nevada facing a gaping budget hole. Gibbons can make the case that he is the purest of fiscal conservatives.

Or, at least he could until recently. This year, Gibbons has proposed to take away tax exemptions from the mining industry. That might be a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially given the challenges to balancing Nevada's budget right now. It also might very well undermine the rationale for Gibbons' candidacy, as the Las Vegas Sun explains:

The influential conservative group Americans for Tax Reform wrote letters to legislators this week, asking them to oppose what it called Gibbons' "massive tax increase" on mining. The group had been accusing the governor of violating its anti-tax pledge, which Gibbons has signed.

The political fallout for the governor was clear over the weekend on the Lincoln Day dinner circuit in rural Nevada, a crucial part of Gibbons' base. Republican crowds in mining communities objected to Gibbons' proposal to strip the industry of some tax deductions. In Battle Mountain, a party official shouted down Gibbons' surrogate in the middle of his campaign speech.

The surrogate, university system Regent Ron Knecht, revised Gibbons' message: The governor may have proposed new taxes -- but not nearly as many as he expects from the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The tax issue isn't the only new headache for Gibbons. Many Nevadans no doubt would agree with Gibbons' case that his personal life isn't anyone else's business. That's why it's mystifying that when a reporter asked Gibbons whether a certain friend was accompanying him on a trip he didn't simply say that his personal life is no one else's business. Instead, he brazenly lied to the reported and cursed at him. This incident is getting a lot of attention.

Gibbons almost would have had to enjoy a perfect year to win reelection in a state with the nation's highest foreclosure rate and where the unemployment rate of 13% is second only to Michigan. At this point, Gibbons had better hope that Brian Sandoval has some deep, dark secret that nobody knows about.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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