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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson
 

Jeff Simpson on the courage it will take to tackle a simple governor and a greedy paper

6 June 2007

NEVADA -- Last July I wrote a column explaining why the city's casino executives were backing Jim Gibbons in the Republican primary to select a nominee for governor.

I thought Lorraine Hunt was the Republican candidate who was closest philosophically to the gamers, and she had won decisive victories in her two runs for the lieutenant governor's post and, before that, the Clark County Commission.

"Her politics are solid, middle-of-the-road Republican," I wrote. "Pro-business. Pro-development. She's a small-business owner. Among the Republican candidates, her politics seem to most closely align with the casino industry and the business community. And she's likeable."

But top casino executives told me that there are two types of cash in politics: Practical money and philosophical money. And businesses don't give philosophical money, they said. Because they expected Gibbons to win the primary and the general election with his rock-solid rural support and solid Reno-area backing, they wanted to get on board.

So the casino money flowed to Gibbons, who won a relatively easy primary against Hunt and state Sen. Bob Beers.

On the Democratic side, casino bosses clearly thought Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson would be the best governor.

"Gibson is seen as an able executive, like industry favorite Kenny Guinn, but with more political savvy," I wrote in July.

Gibson got a bit more gaming money than his primary opponent, state Sen. Dina Titus, but ran an uninspiring race and got walloped by her.

Casino executives thought Gibbons was certain to defeat Titus in their face-off, and their money largely went to him.

Despite a pathetic campaign, Gibbons won a thin victory.

"Short of murder, there was nothing Gibbons could have done to make his campaign worse," said one executive with whom I spoke.

It is hard to believe, but his first five months in office have been even worse than his campaign.

And the gaming industry isn't happy with Gibbons' simple-minded approach to governing, particularly his "no new taxes" mantra.

"For a lot of Nevadans, they'd like to see fewer lines in the sand," the executive said. "This notion of 'no new taxes' is antiquated. What we definitely need is new taxes. It is nothing short of scandalous that most businesses in this community don't contribute.

"We need to get more businesses participating in the economy. It's an easy fix to protect small businesses. Giant national retailers and banks, among others, aren't paying their fair share. Up in Carson City, lawmakers are scraping at the bottom of the purse. And one reason for that is the Review-Journal. The R-J is the voice of the '60s. That frontier mentality that built the town may have worked in 1967, but it is absurd now."

Asked what needs to happen to change things, the executive dismissed the notion that Gibbons might evolve.

"A politician has to step forth and articulate a vision of Nevada," he said. "We need to invest in our communities. He or she needs to ask: 'What do you need for your future to be secure?' I talk to parents and neighbors all the time. They get it. We need to invest in our community, and we need to broaden our tax base to do it right."

Of course, the executive is right. And he and others were right when they thought Gibbons was almost certain to win election last year.

Just as it will take courage for a politician to call for increased taxes and a broader tax base, it will also take courage for the casino business to get out in front of the taxation issue during the next election for state constitutional officers in 2010.

Maybe if they pour enough philosophical money into the next race they can get the practical result they need: A win by a candidate willing to take on simple-minded politicians like Gibbons and a backward-thinking paper like the Review-Journal.