“I don’t wear an R on my hat for Republican, and I don’t wear a D for Democrat. I wear a P, for people.” – Former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn
(Steve Sebelius/Slash Politics) – Since his tragic and untimely death July 22, Gov. Kenny Guinn has been lauded as a man of great compassion, great determination, great humility and great integrity.
Every word of it is true.
I recall this newspaper, and this writer, greeted Guinn’s election in 1998 with comic disdain. “Oh, my God! They elected Kenny,” we screamed on our cover, borrowing from South Park. “Those bastards!”
Over the next eight years, however, Guinn would go on to win us over, proving that when he said he hewed to no party label, he was serious. For this, he earned our respect, and that of the entire state. We came to know a man who truly did care about Nevada and its most valuable citizens, and who had the courage to stand up on their behalf.
One of the more curious pejoratives leveled at Guinn after his 2003 call for a gross-receipts tax in Nevada was RINO, for “Republican In Name Only.” Implicit in the charge is the idea that no true Republican would ever endorse a tax increase of any kind, even if the object was to fund Nevada’s schools to a level considerably less than the national average.
But whatever you call Guinn, you can’t look at his legacy as anything other than an unqualified success. He created the Millennium Scholarship, which has enabled more than 60,000 Nevada students to get a college education. A diploma was what enabled Guinn to succeed, and he wanted to ensure that every child in Nevada had the same opportunity. What could be more Republican than that?
Guinn believed in the role of government to help people, especially schoolchildren and senior citizens. And it’s only in the last 40 years or so that his fellow Republicans would recoil from that idea. Guinn didn’t, and he governed like it.
It was not Guinn who left the Republicans, but modern-day Republicans — nihilists, really, using the cloak of a once-responsible party to conceal an irrational hatred of government — who left Guinn. He didn’t share their philosophy; doubtless, he probably didn’t even understand it. But Nevada benefited all the more because he didn’t.
Guinn was a throwback to a less partisan time, when Republicans and Democrats could argue with respect, and in the end find enough common ground to forge a compromise that served the interests of the people. The result may not have pleased the ideologically pure on either side, but it recognized that governing is often about finding the pragmatic balance of the possible.
Modern Republicans eschew all taxes, regardless of the benefits. They vote against unemployment benefits in hard times, even as real people (their constituents!) suffer. They pursue winning and holding office as an end in itself, instead of using that office to do the good and necessary things to serve the people who put them there.
Guinn was not like that, and we all are the better for it. More than one person has remarked since his death how badly we need more — not fewer — people such as Guinn. In the end, it was he who embodied what it means to be a real Republican, and his detractors who were the imposters. But more than that, Guinn was a statesman. For that, he’ll be missed most of all.
(Editor’s note: This column appears in this week’s Las Vegas CityLife)