To be governor, Gibbons has 150,000 reasons to get busy now

Setting down his fishing pole next to his political polls, Jim Gibbons decided to take a nap in the cool shade. It was only June. With the Republican gubernatorial primary in the bag like a fat trout, there would be plenty of time to campaign before November's general election against whatever minnow the Democrats offered for his supper.

With most of the big-money contributors and high-priced GOP consultants in his camp, it appeared to political pundits that Gibbons was flying first class to the Governor's Mansion.

His campaign insiders even allowed him to take a little time off and enjoy himself. Didn't Will Rogers say something about going fishing until Election Day? So that's what Gibbons had decided to do.

His primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and state Sen. Bob Beers, decried Gibbons' strutting confidence and criticized his refusal to face them in a debate of the substantive issues.

"Arrogant, arrogant, arrogant," they said, but who really cared? The more they complained, the less he listened. With so few voters paying attention and few in the media giving him a hot foot, it wasn't easy to tell whether the public believed Gibbons was being arrogant or merely gubernatorial.

Name recognition is a beautiful thing, and Gibbons had earned plenty as a congressman to add to his own list of personal and professional credentials. He had made a name for himself as a staunch conservative, but when Beers emerged with the Tax and Spending Control initiative and began collecting signatures, the front-runner came out against it.

With many of Nevada's unions and business titans against the plan, which would tie tax increases to inflation and population growth, the initiative had plenty of critics.

When the unions mounted an aggressive assault on TASC, there was plenty of clucking about how the signature drive was doomed to fail.

But the Beers brigade, headed by Bob Adney, kept plugging away and received a break when a separate group of conservatives sued the AFL-CIO activists for harassment. The effect was to quiet labor for several crucial days.

On Monday, it was so quiet you could hear the crickets chirp when the TASC committee submitted more than 150,000 signatures, far more than the 83,184 needed to qualify for the November ballot. Unless the challengers are able to block the plan in court, it will go forward.

Question is, which Republican candidate could take advantage of the political benefits generated by TASC?

Only Beers, but he is a long shot to be on the November ballot. If Gibbons' sleep was restless, it barely showed.

While some focused on those 150,000-plus signatures and the potential court challenges, Beers concentrated on the 150,000-plus addresses that accompanied those signatures. Talk about a target market. Those are registered voters who are, at least on one subject, like-minded with the challenger. And that's potentially a huge benefit in the primary. Back in 2002, Gov. Kenny Guinn won his primary with about 97,000 votes.

Accept the initiative, and Beers benefits. Block it, and Beers portrays himself as a victim of political chicanery.

Gibbons, meanwhile, has slept right through all the noise as he dreams of a general election that he's still favored to win.

Beers, meanwhile, continues his plan to give Gibbons a real race. Of course, even if Beers fails, he could bruise Gibbons like an overripe tomato and soften him up for the winner of the hotly debated Democratic primary between state Sen. Dina Titus and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson.

What about going fishing until Election Day?

Actually, back in 1932, Will Rogers wrote, "Instead of calling each other names, why you can do everybody a big favor by going fishing, and you will be surprised but the old United States will keep right on running while you boys are sitting on the bank. " That's a statement about the durability of the American system despite juice politics, not because of it.

But, hey, fishing is fishing.

Money rules politics, right?

And front-running has its privileges.

Back in the shade, Gibbons slept on, his confidence high, his line slack, his enemy Beers barely containing a grin.

In the pond, something big, really big, was about to break the surface.

Had Jim Gibbons been awake, he would have easily recognized it as The One That Got Away.

• John L. Smith's column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal's Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.


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