Gov. Sandoval: Who’s fooling whom?

One of the state’s “most successful businessmen” recently spoke to Jon Ralston about his amazement that Gov. Brian Sandoval still sings from the “no new taxes” hymnal. Then came news that IKEA and EarthLink declined to move to Nevada because of our lack of college graduates.

Meanwhile, Sandoval proposes just to cut, including a reported 10-15 percent in education, especially higher education, which businesses such as IKEA and EarthLink care about.

When Sandoval served two terms in the Assembly, he won respect for his work on the Judiciary Committee and struck everybody as sane and unhateful. He quit to become a gaming commissioner, where he certainly didn’t turn the industry upside down but did nothing bad, either.

He left that job to run for attorney general. He sued the Legislature on Gov. Kenny Guinn’s behalf to push through an $836 million tax hike, though he might have refused to act if he had felt that strongly about it. Sandoval didn’t deal with issues like the budget crisis because he didn’t have to.

Sandoval is only 47 and has a history of leaving jobs to move up. One undoubtedly crazy rumor is that the national GOP already has him in mind for vice president in 2012. Sharron Angle and the party’s stance on immigration demonstrated that Hispanic voters have good reason not to vote Republican. How better to counter that than with a Hispanic candidate—or for Sandoval to establish his right-wing bona fides than by gutting government?

That Nevadans elected a governor whose views were mysterious isn’t unusual. Nor would it be strange for a candidate to think and act differently after the election. To paraphrase Mario Cuomo, Democrats campaign in poetry and govern in prose, and Republicans campaign with red meat and govern with medium rare.

But Nevada is different. Generally, the winning candidate for governor enjoys substantial support from the business community, which then should reasonably expect to get some of what it wants and increasingly expects to get all it wants. Ralston called Guinn “the anointed one” when he cruised to victory in 1998 and, indeed, each governor since Mike O’Callaghan in 1970 probably could have been described that way, including Democrats Richard Bryan and Bob Miller.

Hoping to overcome Democratic success—from 1958 to 1998, Republicans served as governor for only eight years—Republicans wanted Guinn to seek office for decades, although he occasionally supported Democrats and wouldn’t be beholden to the GOP base. The favorable obituaries on Guinn masked the far right’s vitriol after the tax hike.

Then came Gibbons. As assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate, he had been a right-wing wild card. Because he was in Congress, state issues were off his radar, but he campaigned on the premise that government is evil. No problem: The economy was booming, and longtime GOP operator Sig Rogich ran his campaign and would provide a steadying hand. Except Rogich was with Gibbons the night he met Chrissy Mazzeo, the cocktail waitress Gibbons either assaulted­­—her version, which is troubling—or helped to her car, although he described her to police as falling-down drunk—his version, which is troubling.

Rogich soured on him. As governor, Gibbons went his own way, gutting the state budget and embarrassing everybody but himself and spokesman Dan Burns, who said, “History will figure out having Jim Gibbons in office was the best thing to happen to the state.” Whatever Gibbons does, Burns has a future in stand-up comedy.

GOP operatives enticed Sandoval into the race to keep Gibbons from winning the primary and costing them the governorship. Lest we forget, even a supposedly tax-and-spend Democratic governor couldn’t hurt them much, thanks to an initiative introduced by their favorite governor (Gibbons) requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.

Twice in a row, Nevada’s business leaders backed Republicans—Guinn and Gibbons—for governor. Fool them twice … uh, can they be fooled again? Will the third time be the charm? If Sandoval pursues this destructive approach, will business leaders recognize their own bad judgment—and will Nevadans?

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