There are few modern Las Vegas traditions more entertaining than listening to Jim Rogers speak his mind. As Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor for five years, Rogers was known for his brash talk on issues, especially his crusade against Gov. Jim Gibbons to stop budget cuts from crippling Nevada’s education system. Although he stepped down from the post last year, Rogers remains outspoken about the governor’s performance and the state’s crisis, among other things.
Rogers, who has lived in Las Vegas for nearly 60 years, also has a soft side. He is a champion of philanthropy, having donated nearly $250 million to universities in the West, including a $28 million pledge to UNLV’s law school. Although he spends time and some of his estimated $300 million fortune on travel and his collections (cowboy memorabilia and antique cars, mostly), he still runs KVBC Channel 3 and is already working on a new public cause: the overhaul of University Medical Center.
We caught up with him in his Western-motifed office at the station, where, at age 71, he works about five hours a day.
How do you think the governor did with the State of the State Address?
I thought he was outrageous. It was insulting to the people of the state to ask them to commit financial suicide so he can have his political ways. It was a subterfuge. I really believe that he believes that no government is the only good government, and he’s using the downturn in the economy to forward his political views. I think he’s one of the great lightweights of all time.
Do you ever regret the things you say?
No, I really don’t. There were some things I could have handled better. I’m very calculating. People will think I shoot my mouth off sometimes, but when I do I’ve thought about it for hours. I’ve been very critical of the governor from the get-go. I didn’t like him. I thought he had no intellectual capacity. He has no creativity. I think he’s lazy. I think he’s arrogant. I think he’s destructively arrogant. I think he is really an empty suit.
Describe the state of Nevada education in one word.
Why isn’t education at the top of Nevada’s list of things to save?
If you have a great number of people in the community who have no education, they don’t understand the importance for their children to have an education. They don’t understand the importance for the economy to have an educated population. But we are a people now who don’t look past Friday night. What am I going to do this Friday night? Am I going to have the 36 payments for the Buick? Am I ever going to be able to buy a house? Other than that, they don’t think of anything.
What is your motto?
My motto is very simple: “Keep moving.” It’s better to make a bad decision than no decision. If you make a bad decision, you can straighten it out, but if you make no decision then nothing goes right. You’ve got to have some spine. You’ve got to tell people, “I’m not going to put up with this.” There’s too much backroom talk. When people have said, “How can you dare to take on the governor?” I say, “Well, I have to. I don’t work for him, he works for us.”
Do you ever think you’ll retire?
You don’t want to retire; nobody does. What are you going to do? Sit around? What can you do? Retirement to me is quitting, and I don’t want to quit. I like what I do; I like getting involved in things.
When are you most happy?
I like to travel. I like to go around. I like to meet lots of people. For example, I don’t go to meetings that are more than half an hour long. I’ve told people all along if you want me to vote on something you better have it done in the first hour. I get bored very quickly and I’m not patient at all. I push people. I think most people don’t live up to their capacity.