Sunday, May 25, 2008 | 2:02 a.m.
It seems somehow a miscarriage of justice that after all of his myriad malefactions as governor Jim Gibbons should be undone by his treatment of his wife.
But after newspaper editors in the heart of Gibbons country excoriated their man and defended his lady, and after I had conversations last week with Dawn Gibbons and her attorney, I am beginning to wonder whether the governor can survive until his inevitable announcement that he will not be seeking a second term.
I have previously expressed my discomfort with writing about the private lives of politicians, a queasiness that makes those in the blogosphere want to vomit and some other journalists want to topple me from my high horse. But I have become convinced that the first family’s dissolution has now risen not only to a level of patent newsworthiness, but also to a volume that could drown out Gibbons’ robotic shouting of “no new taxes” and make his otherwise-loud supporters stand silent.
For the governor, it seems, all trauma begins in Elko. The rural Nevada city where Gibbons delivered his infamously plagiarized rant against liberals has now delivered a crushing blow. This time the words were not stolen and they made sense.
The Elko Daily Free Press published an editorial Wednesday afternoon that reverberated across the state, accusing the media of abdicating their responsibility by regurgitating the governor’s spin and implying Gibbons had mistreated the first lady and misled the public about the divorce. “Common sense tells us now would be a great time for the governor to show some human decency and be civil to his wife, in public and in private,” the editorial read.
This from a newspaper in a county that voted almost 3-to-1 for Gibbons in the 2006 race. If this is a sign the governor’s support in rural Nevada is crumbling, not because he has been so masterfully incompetent but because he has been a cad, that is ominous news for him.
“I thought the Elko editorial was outstanding and extraordinary not because it sides with my client in a number of respects but because it seemed to me that they were calling for journalists throughout the state to require public officials in general, the governor specifically, to be open and honest about what they are doing in their public and private lives,” said Cal Dunlap, the relentless former Washoe district attorney who represents the first lady.
As for Dawn Gibbons, I won’t reveal details of my conversation with her because much of it was so intensely personal. But she clearly was stunned by the editorial’s publication while simultaneously grateful that the newspaper had printed what so many have whispered.
The chat with the first lady, ironically, occurred at a fundraiser for state Sen. Joe Heck, who some believe wants to reside in the mansion starting in January 2011. Indeed, the very fact that speculation continues about a primary challenge to Gibbons — or the potential for an open seat — shows how the vultures are circling less than a year and a half into the governor’s term. (For the record, Heck said he was focusing on his reelection — yes, that was rote — and that he wasn’t thinking about a race for governor “at this time” — not sure that was intentional.)
There are common threads running through the governor’s public tenure and his private life that help explain why he is a dead man walking. His penchant for secrecy, which began with that clandestine swearing-in ceremony with the phony homeland security pretext, is one. And his tone deafness when it comes to public relations, with examples too numerous to list, is another.
What did “Gang Gibbons,” as the Elko paper sneered, expect the first lady to do when they tried to keep the divorce proceedings secret and portrayed her as some kind of mansion-squatter? Now the gang that couldn’t govern straight is confronted with a pit bull of a lawyer challenging the constitutionality of the statute that allowed the governor to seal the case.
For a while, just as with the infamous Chrissy Mazzeo affair, I wanted to give the governor the benefit of the doubt. He deserved the presumption of innocence then and a zone of privacy now.
But after what the Elko newspaper printed and what Dawn Gibbons and Dunlap seem committed to do, to show the governor is as dishonest in his private life as he is in his public life, he seems entitled to very little. And the Mazzeo case, once viewed as a he said/she said conundrum, now appears to many voters, including Dawn Gibbons, as a warning beacon.