Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005 | 11:02 a.m.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, a combat veteran who authored a controversial constitutional amendment on state taxes, hopes Nevada voters are kinder to him than they were in 1994 as he takes a second stab at the governor's mansion.
Gibbons, a Reno Republican serving his fifth term in Congress, formally announced his 2006 bid for governor, starting a string of campaign stops across the state and a war chest of nearly $2 million.
Gibbons made his first announcement this morning at the East Las Vegas Community Senior Center at 250 N. Eastern Ave., flanked by former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Clark County Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald.
"We can always do better, and we will, by making sure government respects the wishes of those who fund it -- the hardworking taxpayers," Gibbons said. "We must protect the freedoms we enjoy today to raise a family, start and grow a business, and keep government at arms length from our homes and businesses."
Gibbons told his supporters that education is his top priority. He said his plan includes passage of his Education First ballot initiative that would require the Nevada Legislature to fund education before approving the entire state budget.
He vowed to work closely with the university and community college Board of Regents to strengthen higher education, an apparent nod to university system Chancellor Jim Rogers, who passed on his own run for governor but who plans to fund a political action committee and aggressively campaign for higher education.
Gibbons said he would reach out to neighboring governors to make sure Nevada receives its fair share of water from the Colorado River.
And he also vowed to make sure that veterans and senior citizens have a viable health care system.
And he pledged to "protect and defend the rights of the individual."
Gibbons noted the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain that gave the government greater latitude to take property. He said he would introduce legislation to place restricts on eminent domain actions by state and local governments.
If he wins, the 60-year-old Gibbons would become the first Northern Nevadan to assume the state's highest office since Republican Gov. Bob List of Carson City turned the trick in 1978. And Gibbons would reverse the sting of his 1994 loss to then-Democratic incumbent Gov. Bob Miller by a margin of 53 percent to 41 percent.
At the time of that defeat, Gibbons was a fiscally conservative assemblyman and commercial pilot for Delta Airlines, who had been a decorated veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.
He actually carried 13 of Nevada's 17 counties but lost to Miller in heavily populated Clark County and in Washoe County, his home base.
Polls so far have suggested that Gibbons is the front-runner as he faces at least two other Republicans, Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and state Sen. Bob Beers of Las Vegas, in next year's GOP primary.
The leading Democrats who intend to run or who are thought to be considering a gubernatorial bid are state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus of Las Vegas, Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson and Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins of Henderson.
Veteran Las Vegas political adviser Kent Oram, who helped run Miller's 1994 campaign, said Gibbons will be a different candidate than he was 12 years ago.
"He's stronger, he's a congressman and he's gotten a ton of free press," Oram said. "He's a lot stronger than he was in 1994. It always makes a difference when you're not facing an incumbent."
The winner of the 2006 race will replace two-term Gov. Kenny Guinn, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits. In order for Gibbons to be that victor, Oram said, the candidate will have to do well in Clark County because it has about 65 percent of the vote.
"If you have a strong candidate from Southern Nevada, that could well be an edge over a strong candidate from Northern Nevada," Oram said.
In 1994 Gibbons ran low on campaign money in the weeks leading up to the general election. But Oram said Gibbons could benefit from his large campaign war chest in 2006 if the Democrats beat each other up in their primary and the winning Democrat is low on money heading into the general election.
"That would be a big advantage for Gibbons," Oram said.
But Oram said Gibbons faces potential fallout in Northern Nevada if his wife, Dawn, a former assemblywoman running for his congressional seat, gets battered in her race.
"If she faces a tough race, that could rub off on him," Oram said.
Another veteran Las Vegas political consultant, Don Williams, also said that Gibbons now has an extensive congressional voting record that can also be used against him by opponents. And Williams, who handled the 1978 advertising for List, said Gibbons could run into problems in Southern Nevada in terms of name recognition.
"With all that time as a congressman, does anybody in Southern Nevada know anything about him?" Williams said. "I never see him. He certainly needs to do some profile-building down here."
Gibbons campaign manager Robert Uithoven confirmed that Gibbons has close to $2 million in his campaign war chest. Gibbons was also expected to benefit Tuesday night from a fund-raiser at the Sterling Club in Las Vegas. That benefit, expected to bring in $250,000, featured an appearance by Kemp.
Beers said he has seen polls showing Gibbons in the lead, and the senator also said he has far less campaign money to spend. But Beers wasn't phased by Gibbons' official entrance into the race.
"I don't know that he's vulnerable," Beers said. "The campaign will be issue-driven, and each candidate will outline their ideas about the problems we face. I don't know yet where he stands on issues. It's really early.
"I'll continue to share my vision of the problems we have in our state and the things we need to do to address them."
Hunt issued a statement this morning saying "a healthy discussion of the issues important to voters will be good for Republicans and good for the state of Nevada."
Gibbons raised his statewide profile when he won his first congressional term in 1996. Since then Gibbons has had virtually no opposition in four successful re-election campaigns to represent a district that is one of the nation's largest in terms of land mass. It incorporates Washoe and Carson City counties, as well as the state's rural counties, and includes outlying areas of Clark County, including Mesquite.
He serves on the House Homeland Security, Resources and Armed Services committees and has maintained the largely conservative voting record that he had in the Assembly.
Gibbons took credit for introducing legislation in 2001 that eventually led to formation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Like other members of Nevada's congressional delegation, Gibbons has been opposed to efforts to ship the nation's high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.
But he also landed in hot water earlier this year on two separate occasions. He apologized in February after stating on a nationally televised broadcast on NBC that opponents of corporate-funded presidential inauguration parties are communists.
He then admitted in March that a speech he gave to Republicans in Elko included passages that he lifted from a copyrighted speech delivered two years earlier by an Alabama official. The speech included a phrase that referred to opponents of the war in Iraq as "liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals."
Oram warned that Gibbons will have to weather plenty of criticism from opponents for those remarks.
"Your past can and will be used against you in a political campaign," Oram said. "Character is always the number one thing. His vulnerability will be his mouth."
While running against Miller, Gibbons actually became better known as the author of the Gibbons Tax Restraint Initiative. That constitutional amendment requires any new or additional state tax to pass both the Assembly and state Senate by at least a two-thirds margin.
Although there are 63 members of the Nevada Legislature, as few as eight senators or 15 assemblymen can kill any proposed tax increase under the Gibbons initiative.
The tax restraint provision is what threw the 2003 Legislature into disarray as it grappled with a record state tax hike. The tax hike initially fell short of passing because of opposition from Assembly Republicans.
But the Nevada Supreme Court stepped in and issued a controversial ruling that waved the two-thirds requirement in order for the Legislature to balance the state budget and provide money for education.
Ironically, the Supreme Court ruling spawned the Education First initiative from Gibbons and his wife to require the Legislature to fund education first before voting on the entire budget. That proposed constitutional ballot measure passed in 2004 and will have to be approved again in the 2006 general election before becoming law.
If Gibbons makes it to the general election, it will represent the second time that both he and an initiative he authored appeared on the same ballot.