Initiative petitions are an all-or-nothing proposition. A voter—and a candidate—must take them as written. He or she can have reservations, but in the end it’s either yes or no.
Recently four of the five major candidates for governor spoke before a Nevada Restaurant Association luncheon in Reno. In the course of the discussion and interchange among the candidates, they were asked for their positions on the ballot measure that would put a minimum wage requirement into the Nevada Constitution.
Candidate Jim Gibbons tried to explain carefully his position (which requires an explanation). He said he supports the measure, though he has some concerns about the provisions for indexing the state minimum against the federal minimum.
When his turn came, candidate Bob Beers lit into Gibbons for “flip-flopping,” as Beers elegantly put it. Previously, he said, Gibbons had supported the initiative petition. Now, Beers claimed, Gibbons was backing away from the measure.
This is exactly the kind of thing that makes it difficult for politicans to engage in genuine debate and also makes it difficult for people to respect politicians. Gibbons did not say he opposed the minimum wage initiative. He didn’t change his stance on the yes-or-no decision that ballot measures require. He continues to support it, and he could have left it at that. But he had a nuanced position (on an initiative that does not permit nuanced votes) and wanted to explain it. This is not an indictable offense. He chose to share his doubts with the public while still urging their votes for the measure.
And Beers pounced, cheapening the dialogue that had been underway. Little wonder politicians are so unwilling to be candid, knowing that there is always an opponent eager to take advantage of any opening to launch an intellectually dishonest attack.
If there is an upside to this, it is that Gibbons now knows how it feels because he has been doing the same kind of thing for years.