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Nevada’s Scumbag Governor May Get Re-Elected in Spite of Himself

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Republican Jim Gibbons’ first term as governor had enough drama to raise eyebrows even in the state that’s home to Sin City — allegations that he cheated on his wife, a possible dalliance with a former Playboy model, an ugly encounter with a cocktail waitress and a nasty divorce.

Another politician might have gone away quietly, abandoning a bid for another term as the Republican Party establishment cast him aside and the campaign contributions dried up.

Not the unapologetic Gibbons.

“I’m not a quitter,” says Gibbons, who in one court document compared living with his wife to being stuck in a phone booth with an “enraged ferret.” To her charges that he was unfaithful, the governor said in one deposition that he hadn’t had sex — with anyone — since 1995.

Gibbons is pressing ahead with his re-election campaign, highlighting his opposition to tax increases and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and boldly proclaiming, “Yes, we are the party of no!” But he’s running on political pocket change — $35,000 in the latest campaign finance filing — and trailing in the polls by double digits to Brian Sandoval, who was the state’s first Hispanic judge.

The GOP primary is June 8, with early voting beginning on Saturday.

Gibbons is facing the prospect that he could be the first sitting governor in the state to lose in a nominating contest in 100 years. Even his supporters don’t like him.

“Personally I don’t care for him,” said Chris Cook, 79, of Gardnerville, who will vote for Gibbons nonetheless. “He came through. When he said he wasn’t going to raise taxes, he didn’t.”

Dale Lindberg, 76, a retired aerospace engineer, said the soap opera of the governor’s personal life has hurt Gibbons, but he may vote for him anyway.

“I’ll say one thing about him, what you see is what you get,” Lindberg said of Gibbons, a 65-year-old former combat pilot who served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.

The governor’s woes mirror the Republican Party in Nevada.

After thumpings in 2008, the Nevada GOP has yet to find its footing. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid looks like an easy, high-value target as his popularity has plummeted, but a GOP establishment vs. tea party fight in the Republican race has scrambled the contest. In all, 12 candidates are vying for the chance to take on Reid.

The state party only elected a chairman last week after a period of being largely rudderless, and it suffers in silence the embarrassment of Republican Sen. John Ensign’s sex scandal that has triggered ethics and Justice Department investigations.

The winner of the GOP gubernatorial primary likely will face Democrat Rory Reid, the senator’s son.

Sandoval, 46, entered the race with a distinguished political resume — state assemblyman, Nevada Gaming Commission chairman, attorney general and federal judge. He left his lifetime appointment to the federal bench in September to run for governor, and quickly amassed nearly $1 million in contributions.

A moderate during his two terms in the Assembly, Sandoval has shifted to the right in the primary — echoing Gibbons’ tax opposition and taking a hard line against illegal immigrants by supporting Arizona’s tough new law.

It’s a move Gibbons and Democrats have seized on as political posturing, leaving some voters skeptical.

“There’s something about him I don’t trust,” Cook said of Sandoval. “He doesn’t have a track record.”

Still, Gibbons has alienated lawmakers with his give-no-quarter, bulldog approach.

He refused to budge from his staunch no-tax stance during a budget battle when Nevada’s economy was collapsing under the weight of the recession. And Gibbons continues to blame legislators for the state’s economic woes — unemployment that hit a record 13.4 percent in March and record high home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders crafted a $6.9 billion, two-year budget using federal stimulus money and $800 million in temporary tax increases to withstand Gibbons’ veto — an executive exercise the governor used a record 48 times, earning his veto stamp a place in the Nevada State Museum. Lawmakers overrode him 25 times, also a record.

Until Gibbons, no governor had ever vetoed a state budget.

“He suffered a good deal of unpopularity, particularly among public employee groups,” said former Gov. Robert List.

Gibbons’ personal life has been equally contentious. Less than a month before the 2006 election, Gibbons was accused of assaulting a Las Vegas cocktail waitress in a parking garage. No criminal charges were filed, though a federal civil lawsuit filed by Chrissy Mazzeo is pending.

He filed for divorce in May 2008, claiming incompatibility with Dawn Gibbons, whom he married in 1986. She, in turn, accused him of extramarital affairs with a former Playboy model and a woman he exchanged more than 800 text messages with on his state cell phone in 2007.

Though seen around town and on trips with other women, Gibbons has steadfastly denied any sexual relations, maintaining both women are just “good friends.”


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