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Leaps of Logic in a Nevada Primary

Two candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary stretch to blame each other for entrenched energy and education problems.

July 14, 2006

Modified: July 14, 2006

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Summary


In a race that The Hotline calls "the ugliest primary no one is watching," state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus and Jim Gibson, mayor of Henderson, NV, are again trading barbs through television ads across the Silver State.

In her ad, Titus claims that Gibson "was paid more than half a million dollars by Nevada Power to keep utility rates high."  Gibson's law firm was paid this sum for consulting services, but there is no evidence he had any role in determining rates.

Gibson attacks Titus for Nevada's poor education system, blaming her for all of the state's woes on that front.  His statistics are a little off and it takes no small amount of creativity to hold one state senator -- especially one who's in the minority -- responsible for the whole mess.

Analysis


On July 10 Minority Leader Dina Titus released her fifteen second ad, "Power Bills," statewide.  The ad accuses Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson of accepting money from a utility company in order to keep prices high and then claiming "he doesn't remember the details."  Says the ad: "He got the money, and we got outrageous power bills."

Power Grab

In 2002 the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a public entity, attempted to buy out the ailing Nevada Power company, a publicly traded company, saying it could cut ratepayers' bills by 20 percent.  A nonbinding resolution went on that November's ballot asking citizens of Clark County: "Should the Nevada Legislature take appropriate action to enable the electrical energy provider for Southern Nevada to be a locally controlled, not-for-profit public utility?"

 Titus Ad: "Power Bills"

Announcer:  While mayor, Jim Gibson was paid more than half a million dollars by Nevada Power to keep utility rates high.
(On Screen: Las Vegas Review-Journal masthead, "Gibson was paid $527,000")
Announcer: Now he claims he doesn't remember the details.
(On Screen: "Gibson claims he doesn't remember," Las Vegas Review-Journal 7-28-04)
He got the money, and we got outrageous power bills.
(On-Screen: Paid for by Friends of Dina Titus)


Though the resolution was nonbinding -- its passage wouldn't force state lawmakers to take action or require Nevada Power to sell -- the power company geared up to fight the initiative. Seeking legal advice, the company hired Jim Gibson’s law firm.  It is true that Nevada Power paid the firm $527,000, though the money went to the firm, not Gibson exclusively.
   

Further, the ad’s claim that Gibson “doesn’t remember the details,” is misleading.  This statement isn't his; it comes from an editorial in the March 28, 2004 Las Vegas Review-Journal (not the July 28 article referenced in the ad, a typo that has been revised in newer versions of the ad).  The editorial quotes Gibson saying he's "not sure" if he was the one who handled litigation over the ballot initiative for Nevada Power. But the piece makes clear that Gibson provided strategic advice to the company, which Gibson recently confirmed.  Gibson, citing attorney-client privilege, has not given any more details.

Despite the efforts of Nevada Power, the ballot initiative passed with fifty-seven percent approval.  Yet the takeover never occurred, at least in part because the state legislature never enacted the statutory changes required to make such an action feasible.

The ad’s claims that Gibson accepted money are true, but the conclusion that this led to higher utility rates for which Gibson is directly responsible is too great a leap for us.  There is no evidence to suggest that Gibson had any influence on Nevada Power’s rates and even less to back up the water authority’s claim that it would have been able to cut rates by 20 per cent.  Even now, four years later, Titus herself is not calling for a public takeover of Nevada Power but has simply said she would “revive consideration” of the proposal.

Voter's Ed?

In response to Titus’ attacks, Gibson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal , “I’m not tall enough to stretch that far.”  Yet that didn’t stop Gibson from releasing “Report Card” on July 10, a 30-second ad that also defies common sense.  In the ad, Gibson lists Nevada ’s shortcomings in education compared to the rest of the country.  The statistics in the ad, which the Gibson campaign sources to

 Gibson Ad: "Report Card"

Announcer:  The Dina Titus education report card. After seventeen years in the Nevada Senate working on education, here's how she's done. Nevada ranks forty-seventh in the nation in graduation rates. Forty-seventh in per-pupil funding. And dead last for high school graduates receiving a college degree.  Titus had seventeen years to fix the problem. Obviously she's failed.  Now Dina Titus wants to be our governor. What will that mean for our children?
(On-Screen: Paid for by Jim Gibson for Governor)

Education Week, are close to accurate; in reality Nevada ranks lower than the ad says in two of the three categories and slightly better in the last one.  According the data Education Week sent to FactCheck.org, Nevada ranks forty-ninth in the nation in both graduation rates and per-pupil funding, not forty-seventh as the ad states.  Nevada also ranks forty-ninth, not “dead last,” in a high school graduate's chances for attending college, narrowly edging out Delaware .

Noting accurately that Titus has served in the state legislature for seventeen years, the ad claims that “obviously, she’s failed.”  "Now Dina Titus wants to be our governor," it continues.  "What will that mean for our children?”  We're supposed to conclude that education in Nevada would continue to suffer under Titus' leadership, but we are unwilling to go that far.  Blaming all of a state’s educational woes on one state legislator, and one who's in the minority at that, strains credulity. 

The battling candidates have several weeks of air time to fill before the Aug. 15 primary.

- James Ficaro with Justin Bank

Sources


"Titus blames Gibson for Nevada's high electricity rates," Associated Press, 12 July 2006.

Molly Ball, "Gibson, Titus trade ethics allegations," Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11 July 2006.

Molly Ball, "Titus blames Gibson for energy woes," Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12 July 2006.

John G. Edwards, "Nevada Power-Southern Nevada Water Authority Deal," Las Vegas Review Journal, 11 Feb 2005.

Steve Sebelius, "The half-million dollar man," Las Vegas Review-Journal, 28 Mar 2004