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January 29, 2015

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Those who helped put Gibbons in office stand by their man

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Being powerful enough to make a governor also means never having to say you’re sorry.

In Nevada, a few political strategists, fundraisers and special-interest groups can heavily influence elections. So it was in 2006, when then-Rep. Jim Gibbons was the prohibitive favorite for governor.

Bolstered by campaign money and name recognition, he handily won the Republican primary. He then eked out a 4-point win over the Democratic nominee, Dina Titus, despite a series of scandals that exploded during the final weeks of the campaign.

Based on numerous interviews with supporters and opponents, the Sun identified five people who are among those most responsible for getting Gibbons elected and asked if they had any regrets for their decision to support him given his rocky term.

Three said they didn’t. They were pleased Gibbons stood by his pledge not to raise taxes.

Among them: Terry Lanni, former CEO and chairman of MGM Resorts International, Nevada’s largest private employer. Lanni acknowledged his company’s endorsement wasn’t about what was best for the state. Rather, it was made because Gibbons was the candidate least likely to raise the gaming tax.

The other two kingmakers — Republican strategists Sig Rogich and Greg Ferraro — refused to comment.

What follows is a summary of the role each played in Gibbons’ rocky campaign and tenure in office and their remarks:

Sig Rogich

Sig Rogich

Sig Rogich

Rogich was Gibbons’ top adviser and confidant during the campaign. A former adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and ambassador to Iceland, Rogich served as Gibbons’ connection to campaign donors and the establishment.

Rogich was drinking with the future governor at McCormick & Schmick’s on Oct. 13, 2006, the night Gibbons would be accused of trying to assault a cocktail waitress in a nearby parking garage.

Rogich continued to advise Gibbons for much of his term, including writing a speech before a special legislative session in 2008.

Greg Ferraro

Former partner at R&R Partners, the premier Nevada lobbying and advertising firm, Ferraro was brought in after Gibbons’ primary win. He coined the memorable label “Dina Taxes” to brand Gibbons’ opponent as a tax-happy liberal and helped guide the campaign during its rocky conclusion.

Ferraro also helped write Gibbons’ inauguration speech.

Terry Lanni

Terry Lanni

Terry Lanni

Gibbons did not have a comfortable relationship with the state’s largest industry, gaming. Gibbons represented Northern Nevada, and had not ingratiated himself with the Southern Nevada establishment. So when Lanni decided that MGM would throw its support behind Gibbons instead of Titus, “it was a huge moment,” said Robert Uithoven, who managed Gibbons’ 2006 campaign.

MGM Resorts and its corporate entities contributed more than $100,000 to the campaign. Lanni twice hosted fundraisers at the lavish MGM Grand Mansion for Gibbons, including one featuring former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that raised as much as $100,000 while Gibbons was struggling to fend off multiple scandals.

Just as important, the MGM endorsement was a thumbs-up to the rest of the industry from its biggest player.

“Why we supported Jim Gibbons is he was less likely to force higher taxes on the gaming industry,” said Lanni, now retired and living in California. “You’re looking to protect yourself.”

He said Nevada needs a broad-based business tax, something that Titus would have been more likely to support. But, “I never thought we’d get a broad-based business tax in Nevada. Not in the foreseeable future.”

He said he doesn’t have regrets because he made the decision on Gibbons’ track record.

“He had a proven record in the House of Representatives, thought he represented Nevada well, all aspects of Nevada, and the gaming industry,” he said. “Dina did not have that experience.”

Lanni said Gibbons’ personal problems “neutered” the governor.

Monte Miller

Miller held the first fundraiser for Gibbons’ gubernatorial campaign committee, pulling in more than $100,000 in a single dinner with close friends. He was a staunch supporter and close adviser, helping assemble Gibbons’ 2009 budget.

When former federal Judge Brian Sandoval jumped into the race, Miller switched his allegiance — effectively ending Gibbons’ political career.

“I think he’ll be remembered as a guy who kept his word on taxes,” Miller said. “He was a conservative governor. He said he was. And he stayed with it.

“I don’t regret a bit of it. I was glad to do it,” he said.

But Gibbons “got himself in a position where I didn’t think he could be elected. He got himself in that position. I didn’t. No one else did ... But a guy named Sandoval came along. He was conservative. He said he would not raise taxes.”

Robert Uithoven

Uithoven served as Gibbons’ chief of staff in Congress. He moved to Nevada to lay the groundwork for Gibbons’ gubernatorial campaign and was the day-to-day campaign manager and chief public voice of the campaign.

Uithoven was expected to be Gibbons’ chief of staff. But when he was not immediately named to that post after the election, he pulled his name from consideration.

Uithoven briefly worked with Gibbons at the end of the 2007 legislative session and says he has no regrets over his involvement.

“The alternative would’ve been Dina Titus,” he said. “How would she have handled this recession? Votes throughout her career show she has supported higher taxes. The voters rejected that in 2006. And I think they made the right decision.”

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  1. I am no "Kingmaker," but I, too, stand by Gibbons. He was what many ask for: a guy who says what he means and means what he says. For his sticking by his word, he got it stuck to him. For too many politicos, their word is just another promise to be broken. We'll just have to wait and see how long Sandoval sticks by his word to not raise taxes.

  2. "Why we supported Jim Gibbons is he was less likely to force higher taxes on the gaming industry," said Lanni, now retired and living in California. "You're looking to protect yourself."

    Ironic that in retirement Terry Lanni bails on the state and moves to California-- with one of the highest tax bases, and actually provides services to its citizens -- leaving Nevadans to face the consequences of his decision to put the most ineffective Governor EVER in office.

    To the extent that conservatives believe that wealth will "trickle down" to the masses, why does it not follow that the benefits of having a top-notch, well funded education system, and a reasonable level of services will also have a trickle down effect; attracting business and a better educated workforce to our state?

  3. What a joke... What an embarrassing joke that was played on Nevada. We could have had a Governor who actually cares about doing what's right for the good people of our state, but instead we got this joker. And look where we are now. Thanks for nothing, Goober.

    I just hope The Legislature won't let Sandoval ride roughshod over them. We can't afford another 4 years of failure in Carson City.

  4. What is it about conservatives, and their fear of taxes, then they turn around and waste our money on things that do not serve any of the people at all, and the they turn around again, and blame all their problems on the Liberals, Someone please explain to me what is so bad about Liberalism? What is so bad about TAXES? As Americans we must pay our way in this country, OOOOps that's right, conservatives will get their hands on our taxes and waste everything all over AGAIN.............

  5. @smartone -- you made our case. Compare the reputation and opportunities in California's higher eduction system to Nevada's. Would you seriously say that UCLA, UC Berkley, UCSD, etc. are "no better" than UNLV, UNR?

    California has a host of problems, true that. But the state as a whole has recognized the benefit of long term planning for and funding of higher education systems. Think silicon valley would exist if the state hadn't recognized the power of drawing the brightest minds? What does Nevada have that compares? If low taxes are the answer, why is the diversity of opportunity completely lacking here?

  6. In his words and actions, Jim Gibbons demonstrated over and over again that he DID NOT like or respect the people who paid him to represent them. In the end, after all is said and done, that is what did him him. I am glad he will be gone and I am glad he lost the election so resouningly.