—“King Lear,” Act I, scene I, line 92
The voters of Nevada, like the voters of America, so often choose the worst candidate. Nevadans certainly did in the gubernatorial race of 2006, picking the dim Jim Gibbons over the bright Dina Titus.
Indeed, Gibbons is probably the worst governor Nevada has ever had in a state where mediocrity often reigns.
One Nevada historian rejects the qualifier “probably.”
“For consistency of corruption and inanity, Gibbons stands alone,” he says.
Another historian says he had always thought that the worst was Robert List (1979-1983). But now he ranks List “a distant second” to Gibbons.
Steve Sebelius, editor of CityLife of Las Vegas, has been particularly savage about Gibbons. Sebelius, along with his colleague Hugh Jackson, are the toughest journalists in Nevada today — and the most truthful in a media that prefer evasion and have an undue respect for those in high office.
Sebelius on Gibbons: “He has no insight, no leadership and no honesty because he refuses to admit that this state has relied on a ridiculously infirm tax system.”
More Sebelius on Gibbons: “A bad governor, struggling to turn attention away from a personal life that’s become a laughingstock from coast to coast”…“Our obstinate, pathetically bumbling governor.”
Jackson, CityLife columnist, is equally blunt: “Gibbons is an ass” and “a dysfunctional governor.”
Corruption? Taxgate (paying $39.71 tax on a parcel that was originally billed at $5,000 after he visited Elko County to pressure the assessor). Textgate (having 687 textual relations with a woman, allegedly his paramour, on a state cell phone). Nannygate (hiring an illegal immigrant while campaigning about the “evils” of immigration).
Gibbons is unfazed by scathing criticism. His mantra is as constant as it is simple: “No new taxes.” And why not? In this backward state his stance is a winner, the key to his re-election in 2010.
The Nevada Republican Party reinforces this dogma with its version of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: All blessings of liberty and self-government flow without having to pay taxes.”
But Gibbons does have a plan: unconscionable budget cuts. Education is being gouged. Textbook funding for K-12 is slashed by $48 million.
Other areas hit: a public health fund to the tune of $27 million and transportation projects costing $50 million. Meanwhile, heads of state agencies must pare $106 million.
Chancellor Jim Rogers, one of the Last Angry Men in Nevada, deplores the draconian cuts. He declares that education is more than just a question of “getting degrees so you can get a job.”
“Education is designed to build a culture and frankly I’m very distressed about the culture we have in Nevada,” he notes. “We are not a caring society.”
Rogers adds: “We’re mediocre.… Keep funding us the same way and that’s what we’re always going to be. We’re going to lose all of our best kids out of high schools here who all go away to schools someplace else and never come back.”
His solution: a general business tax graduated so that a company making “hundreds of dollars a year” pays more.
Columnist Jackson agrees. He cites Big Business firms “that make oodles of money” operating in Nevada but don’t pay taxes on those earnings. He puts such biggies in that category as AT&T, Macy’s and Bechtel.
One of the Last Angry Women in Nevada is Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley. As CityLife put it in an editorial, Buckley is angered “by a state that pays its teachers a pittance, kicks its mentally ill to the curb and saves money by scrimping on textbooks.”
“It’s time to admit that a 1960s state financial structure no longer works,” Buckley says. “It’s time to step into the 21st century.”
But you can’t enter this century with Scrooge as governor.
Casinos run Nevada. They pay 6.75 percent gross gambling tax. The New Jersey rate is 8 percent. But all efforts to raise the Nevada rate are beaten off by the casino lobby —abetted by gutless politicians.
Nevada relies on the sales tax, a regressive tax where the poor and economically marginal pay proportionately as much as wealthier citizens.
Jackson denounces Gibbons’ response to the budget crisis as “curling up in the tattered old security blanket of tiresome ideology.”
Describing the Gibbons alliance with state Sen. Bob Beers in the fiscal catastrophe, Jackson declares that the unholy duo is “happy to allow the state’s already inadequate education system, physical infrastructure and social services to suffer damage that will only be more costly to repair in the future.”
As Jackson rightly concludes: “That’s what Republicans do.”
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.