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Nevada

[State of the Valley]

Note to GOP: Grow a pair

Pols should give the media equal access

“They’re almost as bad as reporters,” Jimmy says, flashing his best Jersey-boy smirk. “Their egos are weak, and they need the attention. Besides, they got no nails.”

The guy’s been driving the Strip for 25 years. He used to hang out with the boys who ran the town in the late ’70s, and he understands how things used to work. He’s not a big fan of the corporate Vegas.

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My buddy Fast Jimmy says too many politicians lack “nails.”

I’ve known him for 15 years. We met through a buddy, and Jimmy introduced me to two loan sharks—Fat Man 1 and Fat Man 2—who worked the cab shacks just west of the Strip. They’d loan cash to drivers who returned to the garage without the money they earned that night. Too many had lost it playing video poker during their lunch breaks. It was before the explosion in the number of payday-loan centers.

“That Jim Gibbons. He’s scared,” Jimmy says, ending a few moments of quiet. “You can see it in his eyes. He gets that look, and you know he’s lost. Hell, he knows it.”

Some guy in an SUV with California plates cuts in front of our vehicle. A younger cabbie would’ve flipped him off. The world’s too violent. Jimmy knows better.

“Gibbons will never go on your show. He’ll never talk to any reporter who asks him four or five questions about the same thing. There’s nothing in it for him, no value,” he says. “Nope, no value.”

I explain why I want to talk with the embattled governor. We’d ask questions about the state’s budget crisis, criticisms of his leadership, his thoughts about political threats from his right and left flanks, the law-enforcement investigations that have targeted him and his pending divorce.

“There’s nothing in it for Gibbons. Why would he talk with any reporter? Besides, he doesn’t need you guys,” says Jimmy as he pulls into the Paris driveway. He picks up a fare. It’s an attractive young couple from Dallas. They’re here for the weekend.

I admire Jimmy. He’s raising two grandkids on his own after his daughter ran off with a guy with a drug problem. It’s crack.

“Why would any Republican talk to you guys anyways?” he says as he drives the couple east on Harmon to the Hard Rock. “You never give them a fair shot.”

I tell him it’s not about party orientation. It’s about access.

Gibbons could be a Democrat and reporters would go after him just as hard, I say. Besides, I argue, there are too many questions about his leadership skills, too many investigations into alleged wrongdoing; there’s talk that Reno Mayor Bob Cashell or State Sen. Bob Beers, both Republicans, could challenge him in their party’s gubernatorial primary in 2010. And then there’s the state’s budget crisis.

“Most reporters don’t hate Republicans or Democrats,” I say. Jimmy doesn’t believe me—never has when I offer this line of thought. “We dislike politicians and business executives or anyone else who denies us access.”

“Get over it, pal,” Jimmy says. “No one has to talk to you. You’re lucky I even let you in the cab.”

He knows how to bust my chops.

I tell him the story about political consultant Sig Rogich, the one where Rogich tells me that he wouldn’t recommend that Gibbons or Sen. John McCain or any of his other Republican clients come onto our radio program.

“You won’t give them a fair shot,” Rogich explains.

I’m convinced that Rogich’s definition of “a fair shot” is different from mine. The longtime political player’s willing to put Gibbons on local TV-news programs when he knows the reporters won’t ask much beyond a softball first question, and they certainly won’t follow up on what Gibbons says.

These guys figure that access is key, I tell Jimmy, and besides, all they want to do is promo their “exclusive” with the governor. It’s not about substance. It’s about bragging rights.

The couple hops out of the car, leaving Jimmy a $5 tip. Not bad for a short ride.

I ask Jimmy what to do about getting that Gibbons interview. Besides, I want to book another Rogich client, Sen. John McCain.

“Nothing,” Jimmy says.

“Huh?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “These guys aren’t coming on your program. Besides, they’ve got no nails. Someone who does knows they could take you down in a second.”

Dave Berns is the host and senior producer of KNPR’s State of Nevada. The program airs Mondays through Fridays at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on News 88.9-FM, KNPR. You can reach him by e-mail at dave@knpr.org.

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