Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 | 2:01 a.m.
The most important elected position in this state needs a name change: For the next two years, it shall be called “the job formerly known as governor.”
A governor governs. He (or she) leads. He or she has a vision. He or she inspires confidence. He or she understands that hollow slogans and repetitive rhetoric are not governing.
Dick Bryan governed. Bob Miller governed. Kenny Guinn governed. Jim Gibbons has not governed — by any definition of the word — and thus forfeits the title and should be known until he departs as having the job formerly known as governor.
Nowhere was that more evident than during the one-day special session, which was bookended by a speech delivered by the one person in the capital showing gubernatorial bearing and a media availability by the person who has the actual title but left the impression he lives in a fantasy world.
The session commenced with Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley giving a brief but compelling address that was more gubernatorial than anything Gibbons said all day. The speech was rhetoric bolstered by research, a justification for the latest round of cuts leavened by a sober look at what must be done in Session ’09. Madame Speaker talked about the balance needed between reductions and keeping the state performing its essential functions, especially because 93 percent of funding goes to education, health and human services and public safety.
She read off cuts made so no one forgets the 10-figure gutting that has occurred and includes $173.5 million in lower ed funding, $83.8 million in higher ed appropriations and $113 million in Health and Human Service cuts that have affected those who most need government services.
Don’t call Buckley a bleeding heart or simply take her at her word. Perhaps you should listen to Hugh Anderson, of the hardly bleeding heart Chamber of Commerce, who recently wrote to members, “With the cuts already made to the state budget, there will be a limit to the amount of spending that can be reduced without undermining the core services provided by the state.”
Buckley then went through the gimmicks approved Monday and said they were a lesser evil to even more cuts, saying, “Our work here today is to act as crisis managers. When we come back, there will be no Band-Aids left.”
Looking to Session ’09, Buckley articulated a balance that the man holding the job formerly known as governor has yet to do: “We need to develop solutions that balance two things. Education, health care and public safety cannot withstand a 34 percent cut. Our economy is fragile and many families and businesses are hanging on by a thread.”
Then she laid out the contours of her plan: Examine spending (smart political and policy move), creating a “forced savings account” and “ensuring adequate revenue is available” (yes, we know what she meant).
But before you call her a tax and spend liberal, listen to what Bill Raggio, the Senate minority leader, would say later in the day: “There are still people out there who say cut, cut, cut. They don’t have to come in here and vote.”
No, but they do have to submit an executive budget, and a few hours after Buckley spoke, Gibbons gave us the outline of his: Consolidate state agencies, make government smaller and somehow not eliminate any services.
Oh, and what else? It will come to me. Oh yes: NO NEW TAXES.
One fiscal expert e-mailed me after reading the astonishing idea that cuts can be made and services will not be affected and declared, “Nothing short of amazing.”
Actually, it’s nothing short of frightening. The numbers are stark: a 34 percent cut in the budget. In other words: To return services to the levels approved by the 2007 Legislature, it would take a little more than $8 billion. A no-new-taxes budget is $5.7 billion.
It is unsustainable. Hugh Anderson knows it. Bill Raggio knows it. Most lawmakers know it. But Gibbons doesn’t get it.
You know who really gets it? Buckley. She wants to be governor and she acted like a governor Monday.
Many people in the Insider Kingdom — aka, the malest place on Earth — think Buckley can’t win a statewide race against either Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid or a strong GOP contender. Maybe. But the contrast of her Monday performance, a rare combination of memorable eloquence and somber professionalism, with that of Gibbons, an even rarer combination of shocking delusion and stubborn confidence, showed just who was governor for a day and who holds the job formerly known as governor.