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April 23, 2014

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Jon Ralston tips his hat to Gov. Kenny Guinn for standing his ground for the good of Nevada

Ten years ago he was Kenny of the 1,000 Days - the time period between his ridiculously early campaign announcement and his election - and The Anointed One - the community luminary chosen by the elites to carry the state forward.

Now, as he prepares to leave office after two terms, Kenny Guinn's gubernatorial record is under a microscope that finds the 2003 tax increase prominent and everything else blurry. But years from now, when the valedictories are forgotten and the view becomes telescopic, yet magnified by history, the Guinn record, especially the tax increase, will appear remarkable - for what he tried to do, for what he did and for what his tenure truly represented.

Of all the governors I have known, Guinn has been the most human, the least political and the most frustrating. He is a man whose weakness - his refusal to draw a line between the political and the personal, his inability to suffer fools, especially those in the Legislative Building - is also his greatest strength. He personally believed in what he was doing, so the political calculation to him generally was irrelevant.

If you want to know where the state would be now if Guinn had not stepped forward and endured endless, mindless and painful obloquy from his own party and worse, from his longtime friends, consider this: Why has there been no serious groundswell among GOP legislators, either in 2005 or now, to repeal that $833 million tax increase?

"What we achieved will take a lot of years for people to look at," Guinn said last week during a two-part interview on "Face to Face."

In that interview, he candidly acknowledged he knew a tax increase would become necessary when he first ran and he tried to lay the groundwork for it in his first term. Despite the subsequent purring of the economy that has resulted in surpluses since the tax increase, the projections at the time were not so sanguine.

The forecast showed that the state needed $704 million just to keep pace with burgeoning school enrollments and other mandated state commitments, including social service programs. To have erased that increase would have resulted in cuts - cuts that no Republican who opposed the tax increase at the time ever proposed and the same reason it will never be repealed.

It is that financial foundation that is Guinn's legacy, as tortuous as it was to achieve, through two special sessions and a botched Supreme Court case. Guinn showed some pride in that accomplishment last week, but he also indicated that some of the wounds have not and may never heal - wounds inflicted by legislative opportunists and know-nothings and by once-dear friends who abandoned him during his toughest hours.

And that raises the flip side of Kenny Guinn, the sometimes infuriating side of Kenny Guinn, who declared on the program, "I don't have time to argue with people who don't know what they are doing."

Ah, but he did have time during 2003 to argue with those people, many of them who took his silence as license to build support to oppose him. And Guinn didn't help his case with what some of the Gang of 63 saw as a patronizing and arrogant attitude, which almost all governors have toward lawmakers.

"He had no ability to suffer people who had not done any work and had made a political calculation not to be involved in taxes," said one insider. "Guinn has no political antenna whatsoever. His single biggest flaw as governor was he trusted everybody."

But even though he was lampooned as gaming's gross receipts tax puppet, even though he was dubbed a Republican in Name Only (RINO) by some, the fact is that Guinn secured most of the money he requested.

And along with the catalog of his other achievements - the Millennium Scholarship, Senior Rx, privatizing the workers' comp system - his signature success is that he refused to let the state fall further behind.

Kenny Guinn may have been too nice a guy to be governor and he may have been too nice when he should have been combative. But 1,000 days after he leaves and we have the perspective to look back, my guess is many will be longing for someone with the courage and humanity of The Anointed One.

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