Capital stooges

From Jim Gibbons on, the nation’s governors are putting the goober in gubernatorial

Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

On a breezy day, Gov. Jim Gibbons stood on a grassy lakeside and announced, using sports metaphors and rambling vagaries, his resignation. For the good of Nevada. He wore a sharp red jacket, black skirt and heels; hair in a neat barrette. His resignation left open a potential run for president, but for the time being, Nevada wouldn’t be hosting a lame duck. Because he cares about us.

Or maybe that’s wrong. Maybe Gibbons came back from several years on the Appalachian Trail and owned up to a bodice-ripper affair and promised to hunker down and keep running the state.

Or maybe—this must be it—he was impeached for trying to sell John Ensign’s senate seat. Gibbons goes from governor’s mansion to Letterman to TMZ, mostly because of the boyish grin and flop of Robert Kennedy hair.


From the Sun
Ensign’s scandal needs some closure (Las Vegas Sun, 7/14/09)

Nah. Nevada’s governor hasn’t made Letterman, despite his associations with assorted extramarital ladies, an ugly divorce, an odd deal with a federal contractor, a nannygate, an alleged assault on a cocktail waitress and a boatload of problematic or incomprehensible policies that anchor a state shot full of holes in its hull.

Looking around the nation’s gubernatorial landscape, one might imagine this is a precedent-setting low moment in which Nevada showed up strong—state execs are popping up in fits of ethical convulsion almost weekly; it’s as if they’re tired of being upstaged by the ruination of reality-TV stars. In fact, that could be the next generation of Big Brother: former and should-be-former governors locked in a gubernatorial mansion forced to connive their way toward dominion using clever strategery.

But upon looking at the history of governorship in the nation, you will be no doubt disappointed to know that this is not a moment of historic anomaly. We need to try harder. It seems the chieftains of the 50 states have often found themselves in disrepute, leaving little hope that Gibbons will make his mark on either the national or state level with such patchwork skullduggery.

For example, here are some recent highlights from Wikipedia, which lists political scandals in a long, long entry (minus the above-mentioned):

In 2007, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Tim McGreevey resigned after admitting to an adulterous affair and to appointing his lover to a government office.

In 2005, Republican Ohio Gov. Bob Taft was convicted on four first-degree misdemeanor ethics violations for failing to disclose gifts from lobbyists, such as golf outings, an $87 stuffed teddy bear, clothing and a football autographed by University of Toronto, Ohio, players.

In 2004, Republican Connecticut Gov. John Rowland pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax fraud and served 10 months in a federal prison.

In 2000, Democratic Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards was convicted of extortion.

The list goes on and on and on, clear back to Democratic Wisconsin Gov. William Augustus Barstow, who resigned in 1856 “amid investigation of corrupt business practices and election wrongdoing.”

And so it seems that as Nevada trudges on with its battle-worn governor, from one disappointment to another, one middling scandal to the next, nothing, really, has changed in politics. While we can’t really hope for the state to whip itself into shape and recover from recession any time soon under his leadership, we can at least aspire to get our captain on the Wiki list.

“Gibbons’ travails have attracted wide media attention statewide, but Las Vegas isn’t a major media hub, so few Americans outside the region have heard of him,” says the National Journal in ranking Nevada No. 2 behind New York in Most Dysfunctional States this week. “Even state Republicans acknowledge that Gibbons has been an unmitigated disaster—and it actually began before he won office in 2006 ...”

If only he’d take a cue from Sarah Palin and bow out so that the nation could deep-think about him while Nevada washed its hands of the whole affair. Or am I thinking of our senator?

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