If there is unhappiness with Gov. Kenny Guinn’s budget and tax program among his fellow Republicans, it was not on overt display at the Nevada Republican Party Convention last week.
The convention, meeting at a Reno hotel casino, greeted the governor’s appearance at a luncheon with enthusiasm. He was introduced by Nevada GOP Chairman Robert Seale, who said Guinn in 2002 led the party to a clean sweep of all state government offices elected statewide and increased GOP strength in the Nevada Legislature.
Normally a deliberate speaker, Guinn spoke as though he were leading a crusade, his voice rising to a peroration that had the audience cheering and stomping. Building on Seale’s introduction, he argued that the GOP’s dramatic 2002 successes can be repeated in 2004—and that the party is facing a particular challenge in 2006 because he and four other of the six state executive officers are term limited and must step down. He noted that the state remains evenly split in party registrations.
“[I]t’s such a slim margin,” he said, “and again points to the spectacular nature of the election of 2002. How can you dominate an election and come out with the wins that we have in an evenly split state? I think it was organization, it was support financially, and it was support from the volunteers, and we have every reason to believe that we can do that again and again if we don’t give up.”
At the 2003 Nevada Legislature, Guinn proposed significant budget increases to raise Nevada’s standing in numerous national rankings where the state places near the bottom, partly in an effort to improve economic development in the state. The budget hikes were paid for with nearly a billion dollars in new taxes, mainly on large corporations. They were approved only after a long holdout by 15 GOP members of the 42-member Nevada Assembly, who controlled the vote under the minority-control provision of the Nevada Constitution. One of the 15 finally broke away during a second special session, allowing a two-thirds approval of the tax program.
The Guinn program enraged some Republican activists, though there was always a question whether the critics were party regulars or those who merely use the party as a vehicle, and Guinn supporters at the conventions said the lunch event put the critics in context.
There was one table at the lunch that was conspicuous for its lack of enthusiasm for the governor, but even there, delegates declined to criticize Guinn. Delegates seated around the table abstained from applause even when the governor was introduced. The table was immediately in front of reporters lined up against the north wall of the hall. When questioned directly, the delegates around the table kept their thoughts to themselves. One of them, Norman Frey of Churchill County, said, “I don’t agree with the entire tax package that he put together at the last legislature, but that’s history, and off we go.” Another, Charles Hollis, said flatly, “I have no comment.”
But the convention made news by bucking the governor—and numerous other Republican office- holders—with its adoption of platform planks softening opposition to nuclear-waste storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada (though the mountain was not mentioned by name). That stance immediately communicated itself beyond the borders of the state. A John Kerry Web page promptly posted a link to a Las Vegas Review-Journal story on the party action under the headline, “Nevada Republican Party Convention: GOP rethinks Yucca battle.”
The platform plank calls for state officials to seek money from the federal government for the dump and “to minimize negative impacts from federal control and exploitation of federally managed lands in Nevada.”
Guinn, Attorney General Brian Sandoval and U.S. Reps. Jon Porter and James Gibbons quickly disowned the plank.
The Republican retreat came on the eve of hearings this week before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on plans for removing nuclear wastes from federal bomb-manufacturing sites in Idaho, Washington and South Carolina and storing them at Yucca Mountain.
Also at the convention, two figures attracted attention for their language in attacking Democrats. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Ziser described his opponent, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, as using his power as assistant Democratic leader “for evil things.” And Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller quoted one of his staff members as saying that Democratic presidential candidate Kerry changes his position on issues “as often as a Nevada prostitute changes her position.”