Cheese, wine, Republicans

When the president of the United States asked Christine Todd Whitman to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, she says she didn’t hesitate very long.

“Because we have a president who truly believes in serving people, who has a core set of values that guide everything he does,” Whitman says. “You read a lot in the papers, though, and I don’t know where it comes from.”

The Republicans, gathered in Reno for a wine and cheese-tasting fund-raiser, laugh at this dig on what most attendees agree is a left-leaning media. Whitman objects to the coverage of issues like the arsenic standard in drinking water.

“Arsenic? We’re not recommending it,” she says, though her grandmother used to carry around a bottle of arsenic to use as a beauty aid. “Nobody is saying it’s good. But if [lowering the allowable standards] means an extra $3,000 or $4,000 on your water bill—can you afford it?

“We may not come up with an answer that will make everybody happy, but the answer will be based on science.”

Republicans realize, she says, that the environment can be protected without sacrificing growth, by taking a “common sense” approach and paying attention to the interests of individuals and industries.

“When environmentalists hear the word ‘balance,’ they start to go nuts on you,” Whitman says.

Laughter. Cheers. “I love it,” says a nearby drinker of wine.

Whitman, along with Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Jim Gibbons and several other prominent state Republicans, were the main attraction at the recent poolside event at the home of Earlene Forsythe, Washoe County Republican Central Committee chairwoman. The evening started with a round-table discussion that VIPs paid $1,000 to attend. Folks with a bit less disposable income paid $40 to chat, snack, drink—the signature wine of the new Siena Hotel & Spa proved popular—and listen to short, funny speeches from the politicians.

Guinn introduces Whitman as his idol.

“She and I have a meaningful bond between us,” he says. “It’s something not even my wife knows about.” Giggles, chuckles. “As governor of New Jersey, she cut taxes 42 times.” Loud whoops. “And even though I haven’t cut your taxes yet, my football number in college was 42!”

Another highlight was the auctioning off of “dinner for 10 at the governor’s mansion,” led by “auctioneer” Pete Ernaut.

“I know Wells Fargo is here,” Ernaut jokes. “And you know, guys, there’s a banking tax in the works. You can pay now or pay later. … And Newmont is here with a large, large expense account. And Randolph [Townsend], for God’s sake, you could sell your tie and pay the ticket here.”

The final bid, $8,100, goes to Newmont Mining Corp. The company also came to the event with a $5,000 check. That $13,100, Guinn says, made the Denver-based business the biggest recent Nevada donor to the party that Whitman describes as the one that “believes in and respects the individual.”

"[The individual’s] wisdom is better than what goes on in the confines of any bureaucracy," Whitman says. "And [the Bush] administration realizes that all wisdom does not reside in Washington."