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January 29, 2023

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One hand gives Obama an invite, the other a slap

Governor Jim Gibbons

Edward Lawrence, left, of Channel 8 News interviews Gov. Jim Gibbons about renewable energy during the dedication ceremony for Sempra Energy's new El Dorado Energy Solar facility January 22. Launch slideshow »

When is an invitation not really an invitation?

On Tuesday, Gov. Jim Gibbons invited President Barack Obama to meet with him. In a polite letter, Gibbons said he understood Obama would be in town in May and that he hoped the president could find time to meet with the governor and various business leaders to talk about finding ways to help Nevada’s ailing tourism economy.

That was the invite.

Then came the caustically written news release that Gibbons’ office put out the same day that was about as inviting as a loaded bear trap.

After noting in opening that Gibbons had written Obama requesting a meeting, the release went on to say, in so many words:

You’ve insulted Nevada, Mr. President. You didn’t give us enough stimulus money, Mr. President. And since you’re coming here to help raise money for Harry Reid, certainly you can take some time to sit down with me.

Disrespect and an invitation? Call it a dis-vite.

“The governor acted exactly the way we would have recommended — in the letter,” said Cindy Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute, author of “The Guide to Good Manners for Kids” and “Teen Manners.” “The news release took a different tone,” she said.

But some things are beyond etiquette. Politics, for instance. Maybe the governor was being rude like a fox.

We asked Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor of The Cook Political Report, where she makes her living analyzing U.S. Senate and governors races. Duffy said Obama’s on a different plane, popularity and power-wise, than Gibbons. And maybe with some humor, a clever governor could play with that.

But then, she said, “like many things in the governor’s life, he seems like he’s just looking for someone else to blame.”

Republican campaign consultant — and no Gibbons fan — Steve Wark said Gibbons’ two-tone approach sent a mixed message.

You can be ironic and playful, and that’s fine. Or you could just be straight ahead and polite, and that’s fine. Or you could even just snarl and be nasty, and there’s a place for that, too. But you can’t try and be all things at once, because then no one knows what the heck you’re trying to do.

To find out what the governor was trying to do, we asked the man behind the news release, Daniel Burns, the governor’s communications director. It was absolutely a serious invitation, he said.

“We have a president who only cares about his popularity. So if I were to send an invitation to the president, I would try to get as much publicity as I could because this president seems really concerned with publicity,” Burns said.

We asked Wark whether that was a good strategy.

“I would hope for his sake that Dan Burns was told to say that,” Wark said.

At any rate, the ball is now in the president’s court. To find out how Obama should respond, we asked P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude.”

Forni said that though the rules of polite private behavior are not exactly the same as those for relations between politicians, he doubted the governor had done himself or the state any good.

“The president will probably never ask the governor to apologize or explain himself,” Forni said.

“He will ignore it.”

We asked the White House whether the president would accept the invitation.

The president’s schedule has not been finalized, a White House official said.

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