Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nevada just elected a new governor, former congressman Jim Gibbons, in November, but some of the state's residents are having a case of voter's remorse. So why wait three-and-a-half years to make amends? Instead, some Gibbons critics support a recall election to replace the governor.
Gibbons' biggest problem is a federal investigation into his tenure in Congress. The allegations against him may sound familiar to you and they certainly sound familiar to former Congressman Duke Cunningham. Cunningham is serving 100 months in prison for doing something quite similar to what Gibbons is accused of doing: accepting gifts in exchange for helping the gift-giver, Warren Trepp, secure no-bid government contracts.
The Trepp affair is actually the fourth legal controversy the governor has faced in the past six months. He's also been accused of hiring an illegal immigrant as a nanny, assaulting a cocktail waitress and setting up an illegal legal defense fund (oh the irony!).
In the governor's defense, investigations into those other three matters didn't result in any charges, with Nevada's secretary of state (a Democrat) ruling just last week that Gibbons (a Republican) didn't break state law in the defense fund matter. Investigators also haven't filed any charges against Gibbons based on his relationship with Trepp and the governor denies he did anything wrong.
The political damage has already been done, however. Gibbons' approval rating recently cratered at 29%. This for a politician who represented a third of his state in Congress for a decade and never took less than 59% of the vote.
There's a campaign to oust him, complete with a Web site that's counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Gibbons will have served the six months he needs to be recalled under Nevada law (anyone who follows college sports is familiar with this Web genre).
A Las Vegas Sun article earlier this month included this juicy tidbit: "As talk of Gibbons' troubles buzzed around Carson City, a senior Democratic legislator and a high-level Democratic source independently confirmed Tuesday that preliminary discussions have begun about a potential recall of Gibbons." One Las Vegas Journal-Review columnist went further, saying, "The recall effort is inevitable."
While the effort may be inevitable, success is another matter. To get a recall on the ballot will take more than 145,000 signatures from registered voters, which is 25% of the people who voted in November's election. California law only requires 12% and meeting that standard took millions of dollars and hordes of signature gatherers when governor Gray Davis was recalled in 2003. Any candidate who wanted to run against Gibbons would also have to meet the 25% threshold for signatures.
Those obstacles make me inclined to say that a recall of Gibbons is highly unlikely. Of course, I would have said the same thing about Davis four years ago.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.