Gov. Guinn: Nowhere Man as Likeable Ike and Silent Cal

Expanded from the 7-7-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 8-11-2006

            Doesn't have a point of view
      knows not where he's going to

— from "Nowhere Man" by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

After attending Gov. Kenny Guinn's first state-of-the-state address in January, 1999, I wrote a column entitled "Gov. Guinn: Dudley Do-Right defrocked as Nowhere Man."

"As I predicted, Guinn reverted to type during the first full moon of his governorship," I stated.

"Just as he did when he helped his predecessor and fellow Gaming Party Governor Bob Miller cut the budget in 1991, Guinn took dead aim at the weak — babies, children, the physically and mentally disabled. He announced major cutbacks for family outreach and children's health insurance early in his speech. A few minutes later, Guinn promised no one will be turned away. That's nowhere, man!"

Self-contradiction without conscience or compunction has turned into the hallmark of his administration.

Within three days last year, he both opposed and supported utility deregulation.

"The time is always right to do what is right," Gov. Guinn said, expropriating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1999 address.

He then promptly announced wholesale firings of state workers.

"Many good people with families will lose their jobs. I ask you to view these deep cuts with the same compassion as I do," he said.

"Beware," I warned. "When someone says 'this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,' you can bet that it's only going to hurt you.

"As an orator, the guv rivals Dan Quayle," I concluded.

That's where I was wrong. Over the past four years, Gov. Dudley Do-Right has elevated himself to the level of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, famous for long, fractured, syntactically senseless incomplete sentences.

Guinn sent up a trial balloon before that 1999 speech, hinting that he'd unveil a major initiative to fix Nevada's failing tax system. Instead, he announced a two-year study which has now been stretched into year four. No recommendations will be forthcoming until after the November elections where Guinn faces only underfunded competition from State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas.

All the major special interest groups have lined up behind Guinn as the inevitable victor of the Gaming Party. Since he's considered such a shoo-in, you'd think he might try to rise above politics and finally demonstrate some of the vaunted leadership about which he always brags.

Ain't gonna happen. He's temperamentally unsuited to do more than fill up an expensive suit. The clue lies with President Eisenhower.

Over the past 30 years, Duke University political science Prof. James David Barber has published several editions of "The Presidential Character — Predicting Performance in the White House." He took the four basic personality types identified by psychologists and applied them to presidents. His forecasts, especially about Ronald Reagan, proved spookily prescient.

Barber combined two different baselines to come up with four personality types. The first involved "activity-passivity. How much energy does the man invest in his presidency?...The second baseline is positive-negative affect toward one's activity — that is, how he feels about what he does," Barber wrote.

The second definition is a bit clinical and vague. If you read "affect" as "feeling" or "emotion," you'll more easily see that the second baseline simply describes how much, or how little, the person loves the job.

"Active-positive presidents want to achieve results. Active-negatives aim to get and keep power. Passive-positives are after love. Passive-negatives emphasize their civic virtue. The relation of activity to enjoyment in a president thus tends to outline a cluster of characteristics, to set apart the well-adapted from the compulsive, compliant and withdrawn types,' Barber wrote.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Bush I, Jimmy Carter and Thomas Jefferson were active-positives. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Woodrow Wilson and John Adams were active-negatives. James Madison, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were passive-positives.

George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower and Calvin Coolidge were passive-negatives.

"Washington's dignity, judiciousness, his aloof air of reserve and dedication to duty fit the passive-negative or withdrawing type best. Washington did not seek innovation, he sought stability," Barber wrote.

"He longed to retire to Mt. Vernon, but fortunately was persuaded to stay on through a second term...he gave the nation time to develop an organized means for peaceful change."

Kenny Guinn was more of a reluctant dragon than Washington. He was schmoozed for years to run for something. He finally caved in when the gambling industry promised him unlimited money to the exclusion of all other candidates.

Barber adds that we have fortunately had few recent presidents of the latter typology because "the passive-negative character presides over drift and confusion, partially concealed by the apparent orderliness of the formalities."

Kenny Guinn is great at appointing orderly study committees. Rehearsing for TV during the 1998 campaign, his aides told him to take some positions. Guinn refused, insisting that it was up to the campaign managers to tell him what to say, according to "The Anointed One," the positively-reviewed book by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

Shades of Ole Ike.

"On a great many occasions in the biographies, Eisenhower is found asserting himself by denying himself, taking a strong stand against the suggestion that he take a strong stand," Barber writes.

Passive-negatives "hold back from power's exercise. In terms of their own motives, one wonders why they take the job," Barber muses.

"The trouble with the passive-negative type in the presidency is that he leaves untapped the energizing, initiating, stimulating possibilities of the role. He is a responder. Issues are 'brought to his attention' — and there are too damned many of them. Under the flag of legitimacy, the nation unites and drifts...the body politic lapses into laxness and the social order deteriorates as neglected tensions build up. Eventually, some leader ready to shove as well as to stand fast, someone who enjoys the great game of politics, will have to pick up the pieces," Barber concludes.

Passive-negatives are often popular in office. Witness "Silent Cal" Coolidge. God help them, and us, when they actually have to do something.

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, D, was a perfect passive-negative, governing by symbol and press release. Only once did he have to do something big and he muffed the medfly invasion, which doomed his future as a potential president.

Guinn makes his case for re-election based on two transparent accomplishments, the Senior Rx and Millennium Scholarship programs.

The first follows the George Dubya mandate that a for-profit insurer must be involved. Guinn's original version was so underfunded that no insurer would bid. State Assembly Democrats fixed it up, but it's capped at 7,500 people, grossly underserving the number of needy.

The scholarship program, based on payments from tobacco companies generated by addicting increasing numbers of young people, awards $10,000 to any Nevada high school student graduating with a "B" average. Unfortunately, it costs the state university system $40,000 to educate the average four-year undergrad. Dudley Do-Right has again done it wrong, imposing a $30,000 per student unfunded mandate onto an already starving higher educational system.

But "Senior Rx" and "Millennium Scholarship" are great-sounding symbols, aren't they? Jerry Brown would appreciate them.

Read more about it

First deaths without trauma center —

Victim's family wonders "what if?"

Man hit on freeway dies

Sen. Neal proposes emergency solution, Guinn poo-poohs it.

Fiddling on horseback
Veteran reporter checks off the paradoxes of Guinn's self-enforced powerlessness

The 1991 Barbwire from the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Legal Journals using Barber's typology to predict the tenure of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The ghost of Brown's medfly knocked at Kenny Guinn's door this year. The state's only level one trauma center in Las Vegas closed after 58 surgeons quit, fearing malpractice lawsuits. People will die as as result.

Guinn could have acted by invoking the substantial emergency powers of his office. He chose instead to promise a special session of the legislature and encouraged the various parties to work out a solution in the meantime.

"After the July 1 announcement that the trauma center was closing two days later, Guinn released a statement that said absolutely nothing and proposed no solutions for what is a huge problem. Remember: Las Vegas is one of the deadliest places in the country for things like car accidents, and now WE HAVE NO TRAUMA CENTER," Las Vegas CityLife political reporter Jimmy Boegle commented last week. (No emphasis added.)

Shades of Jerry Brown throwing PR at a problem.

"We are all concerned by the developments at UMC, and the medical malpractice situation that has left the trauma center physicians feeling that leaving the hospital is a viable option," Guinn said. "UMC and our other area hospitals are working hard to ensure the best care is possible for our residents and visitors who need emergency services during this time."

Now there's a run-on sentence Dwight Eisenhower could have uttered.

Boegle commented that "Guinn then went on to say that he's done everything that he can, and that only the Legislature can do more. In other words: Blah blah blah blah. Blah."

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported "the closure of University Medical Center's Trauma Center left Las Vegas the only city of its size in the nation without such a life-saving facility for critically injured victims of car crashes, shootings, stabbings and other types of trauma.

"For a decade, the UMC facility annually served 11,000 trauma victims from Nevada and parts of Arizona, California and Utah," the paper noted.

Nowhere man leaves us in the middle of nowhere again.

Be well. Raise hell.


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Copyright © 1982-2004, 2006, 2007 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org/ He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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