Friday, Dec. 31, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Being powerful enough to make a governor also means never having to say you’re sorry.
In Nevada, a few political strategists, fundraisers and special-interest groups can heavily influence elections. So it was in 2006, when then-Rep. Jim Gibbons was the prohibitive favorite for governor.
Bolstered by campaign money and name recognition, he handily won the Republican primary. He then eked out a 4-point win over the Democratic nominee, Dina Titus, despite a series of scandals that exploded during the final weeks of the campaign.
Based on numerous interviews with supporters and opponents, the Sun identified five people who are among those most responsible for getting Gibbons elected and asked if they had any regrets for their decision to support him given his rocky term.
Three said they didn’t. They were pleased Gibbons stood by his pledge not to raise taxes.
Among them: Terry Lanni, former CEO and chairman of MGM Resorts International, Nevada’s largest private employer. Lanni acknowledged his company’s endorsement wasn’t about what was best for the state. Rather, it was made because Gibbons was the candidate least likely to raise the gaming tax.
The other two kingmakers — Republican strategists Sig Rogich and Greg Ferraro — refused to comment.
What follows is a summary of the role each played in Gibbons’ rocky campaign and tenure in office and their remarks:
Rogich was Gibbons’ top adviser and confidant during the campaign. A former adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and ambassador to Iceland, Rogich served as Gibbons’ connection to campaign donors and the establishment.
Rogich was drinking with the future governor at McCormick & Schmick’s on Oct. 13, 2006, the night Gibbons would be accused of trying to assault a cocktail waitress in a nearby parking garage.
Rogich continued to advise Gibbons for much of his term, including writing a speech before a special legislative session in 2008.
Former partner at R&R Partners, the premier Nevada lobbying and advertising firm, Ferraro was brought in after Gibbons’ primary win. He coined the memorable label “Dina Taxes” to brand Gibbons’ opponent as a tax-happy liberal and helped guide the campaign during its rocky conclusion.
Ferraro also helped write Gibbons’ inauguration speech.
Gibbons did not have a comfortable relationship with the state’s largest industry, gaming. Gibbons represented Northern Nevada, and had not ingratiated himself with the Southern Nevada establishment. So when Lanni decided that MGM would throw its support behind Gibbons instead of Titus, “it was a huge moment,” said Robert Uithoven, who managed Gibbons’ 2006 campaign.
MGM Resorts and its corporate entities contributed more than $100,000 to the campaign. Lanni twice hosted fundraisers at the lavish MGM Grand Mansion for Gibbons, including one featuring former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that raised as much as $100,000 while Gibbons was struggling to fend off multiple scandals.
Just as important, the MGM endorsement was a thumbs-up to the rest of the industry from its biggest player.
“Why we supported Jim Gibbons is he was less likely to force higher taxes on the gaming industry,” said Lanni, now retired and living in California. “You’re looking to protect yourself.”
He said Nevada needs a broad-based business tax, something that Titus would have been more likely to support. But, “I never thought we’d get a broad-based business tax in Nevada. Not in the foreseeable future.”
He said he doesn’t have regrets because he made the decision on Gibbons’ track record.
“He had a proven record in the House of Representatives, thought he represented Nevada well, all aspects of Nevada, and the gaming industry,” he said. “Dina did not have that experience.”
Lanni said Gibbons’ personal problems “neutered” the governor.
Miller held the first fundraiser for Gibbons’ gubernatorial campaign committee, pulling in more than $100,000 in a single dinner with close friends. He was a staunch supporter and close adviser, helping assemble Gibbons’ 2009 budget.
When former federal Judge Brian Sandoval jumped into the race, Miller switched his allegiance — effectively ending Gibbons’ political career.
“I think he’ll be remembered as a guy who kept his word on taxes,” Miller said. “He was a conservative governor. He said he was. And he stayed with it.
“I don’t regret a bit of it. I was glad to do it,” he said.
But Gibbons “got himself in a position where I didn’t think he could be elected. He got himself in that position. I didn’t. No one else did ... But a guy named Sandoval came along. He was conservative. He said he would not raise taxes.”
Uithoven served as Gibbons’ chief of staff in Congress. He moved to Nevada to lay the groundwork for Gibbons’ gubernatorial campaign and was the day-to-day campaign manager and chief public voice of the campaign.
Uithoven was expected to be Gibbons’ chief of staff. But when he was not immediately named to that post after the election, he pulled his name from consideration.
Uithoven briefly worked with Gibbons at the end of the 2007 legislative session and says he has no regrets over his involvement.
“The alternative would’ve been Dina Titus,” he said. “How would she have handled this recession? Votes throughout her career show she has supported higher taxes. The voters rejected that in 2006. And I think they made the right decision.”