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December 22, 2014

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Bipartisanship emerges in anger at Gibbons over session deadline

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Sam Morris

The full senate meets to vote on the “Race to the Top” education funding bill during the second day of the special legislative session Wednesday, February 24, 2010 in Carson City. The bill passed and faces a veto in its current form from Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Special Session - Day 2

Senators Barbara Cegavske and Mark Amodei discuss the upcoming vote on the Launch slideshow »
Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Sun Coverage

For all their differences over cuts and fees, Nevada’s Legislature has found an unlikely unifying force: Gov. Jim Gibbons.

On Wednesday, Gibbons rankled members of both parties by amending his special session proclamation, adding a firm deadline for the Legislature to adjourn: 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

Although Gibbons’ staff says the governor has the authority to end the session, the legislators think he cannot legally adjourn them. Furthermore, Gibbons soured his diminished goodwill with Senate Republicans by attacking longtime leader Bill Raggio.

The governor targeted Raggio on a public-affairs TV show Tuesday, saying the Reno legislator had not attended most of the meetings he and his staff have held on the budget crisis. On Wednesday, Raggio fired back on the Senate floor, saying that he had indeed attended more meetings than Gibbons.

“Either the governor’s memory is failing or he has been misinformed, or he is intentionally distorting the facts,” Raggio said.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said Gibbons had “crossed the line” with his remarks. “We rally as a team of senators, no matter what party you are from, when one of our folks is attacked. We are here to work together and not have those kind of disagreements.”

Lawmakers seemed to send that message Wednesday by passing a bill that would allow Nevada to apply for federal Race to the Top education money. They did so unanimously in the Assembly and by a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

The governor’s spokesman Dan Burns said Gibbons would veto the bill.

To be sure, legislators have a long way to go in the special session. The Republican caucus had an internal fight over the amount of increased fees they could support while Assembly Democrats and Republicans battled over cuts in education.

But by setting a deadline, Gibbons has given lawmakers an incentive to find common ground and solve the state’s $887 million budget crisis quickly.

The Legislature could challenge the governor if it can’t complete its business and needs more time, but such a fight would play out as an ugly constitutional showdown in state Supreme Court. Lawmakers want to solve the crisis without that kind of spectacle, which would stoke public outrage and lead to comparisons to the political paralysis in Washington, D.C.

Plus, lawmakers have other matters to attend to.

As one veteran lobbyist put it: “The reality is Sunday was probably their end deadline anyway. They want to be back raising money, back to their jobs, back to their homes.”

Practically, Gibbons’ actions further isolate him from the legislative branch. Last month, he angered lawmakers when he issued an order that state workers under his authority not speak to legislators without his approval. Gibbons’ staff said the move was necessary because legislators were asking time-consuming questions that distracted agencies from state business.

Politically, the exercise of executive power serves to combat the notion that Gibbons had been an absentee governor in his first term. He has taken hits from the Legislature and his political opponents for what they describe as hands-off leadership in his first term.

Political observers say Gibbons, who faces a tough Republican primary, is reasserting himself with the help of an aggressive senior staff. His actions this week also presage a likely campaign theme: Gibbons versus the establishment.

“He’s running against the establishment even though he’s at the head of that establishment,” said Eric Herzik, head of the political science department at UNR. “Jim Gibbons seems to be his own party these days.”

Herzik said such a strategy is wrought with challenges, but could resonate with conservative voters, particularly those drawn to the anti-government Tea Party movement. He has vilified the Legislature for overriding his veto last year and raising taxes.

Democrats and Republicans alike see the gubernatorial currents in the special session and are working aggressively to muddy Gibbons’ conservative credentials. Lawmakers have repeatedly drawn attention to his proposals to increase certain fees for state agencies and reduce tax deductions for the mining industry. Gibbons is campaigning on the theme that he has honored his pledge not to raise taxes.

This week, he removed some of the proposed fees in his revised budget plan. His staff said the moves were not political, but the result of his policy to only levy fees on parties that agree to the increases.

As for setting a deadline, Burns called attention to the cost of holding a special session — $50,000 a day — and said the governor was simply exerting his constitutional authority. He said legislators were playing politics by needling Gibbons’ staff on fees.

“There are members of the Legislature and members of the media who want to poison the atmosphere around Gov. Gibbons for no reason other than spite,” Burns said. “That’s bad politics and it doesn’t serve the state of Nevada.”

Still, Herzik said shifts like that on fees could undercut Gibbons’ message.

“Strong leadership is often consistent leadership,” he said.

Sun reporter David McGrath Schwartz contributed to this story.

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