Gibbons curses the darkness

Jim Gibbons certainly looks the part of a governor. It’s as though someone sent over to central casting asking for “a governor type.”

It’s unfortunate that his looks are where his qualifications to actually be governor end. Many of Gibbons’ embarrassing misadventures have been entertaining for Nevadans, but the joke is getting less funny all the time.

What has happened in the Nevada clinics scandal calls for bold action by the state’s governor. Instead, Gibbons gave another demonstration that he just barely believes in government at all, even at a time when the health of Nevadans is endangered.

Republicans and Democrats alike were dumbfounded by his extending his “no new taxes” mantra to “no new inspectors.” At a time when his allegience should have been to the well-being of his fellow citizens, it went instead to doctrinaire beliefs, in this case opposition to regulation. “You do not have enough highway patrolmen to stop everybody who makes a mistake,” he said inanely and irrelevantly at a time when 28 percent of health inspector positions in state government are vacant.

If there was one thing the state’s regulators did not need at this moment in history, it was someone telling them to do nothing. Yet that’s basically what Gibbons did. He filled the air with purple prose about an all-out effort to stop shoddy clinic practices, but he would not reverse the position he took last year when he cut 10 health inspector positions. He aligned himself with a clinic he’s supposed to regulate. He suggested that annual inspections (which are scarcely enough) are “overkill.” He kept trivializing the problem ("only” seven people got hepatitis), even blaming it on the press, then started trying to fire people, including some legally insulated from his political interference. He talked about holding clinicians “accountable” after they’ve infected people. It was a little like a general calling “Charge!” from the saddle of a wooden horse. At a time when the public needed action and reassurance, Gibbons fell back on dogma.

Meanwhile, as the governor set his laissez faire example for other state leaders, federal and local officials swarmed over the state, joining the inadequate force of state inspectors, doing the regulating and investigating that Gibbons opposes. Just as the chief executive became less relevant in last year’s legislative session, now state government is being eclipsed by other levels of government in this health crisis.

This isn’t mere intransigence, it’s recklessness. It leads to some inescapable conclusions: This man is just not very smart. He lacks executive skills. He postures but can’t lead. It was bad enough when he was threatening his own political future with his incompetence, but now he’s threatening the health and welfare of Nevadans.

Other public officials need to isolate him and limit the damage he does. And Republicans need to follow GOP Sen. Joe Heck’s example and stop limiting their expressions of dismay to hallway chatter and speak out publicly in hopes of changing Gibbons’ ways for political reasons, since he seems beyond the reach of intelligent dialogue.