Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 | 2 a.m.
First, he allegedly shot a tree that stubbornly refused to be cut down on the night of July 3; then, one of his bulls escaped its North Las Vegas enclosure Saturday and he faces more misdemeanor charges, this time for “livestock at large.”
The incidents are funny to some, but to those trying to unseat “cowboy” Tom Collins from his Clark County Commission position, they point to a character, flawed or comical, who shouldn’t be sitting on arguably the most powerful political body in Nevada.
What’s difficult to gauge is how those incidents will persuade voters in November. Collins, a Democrat, is in a three-way race against Republican Ruth Johnson and Independent American Warren Markowitz.
Collins holds a significant advantage in the number of Democratic voters in his District B. After redistricting in 2011, Democrats held a roughly 11,300-vote lead over Republicans or others in that district, almost equal to the number of votes Collins beat his Republican and Libertarian challengers by in 2008 (11,113 votes).
Markowitz could not be reached for comment. Johnson’s campaign manager, Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, believes Collins’ gaffes, along with the ensuing media coverage — his shooting incident is scheduled for a court hearing in late September — should move some independent and Democratic voters to Johnson’s side.
“He is in a very powerful leadership role where judgment is important, and, unfortunately, he has had some mishaps that could bring that judgment into question,” DeRiso said of Collins.
DeRiso didn’t have to say the Johnson campaign needed money — if it had enough, you’d already expect fliers to be printed and mailed featuring bulls and guns and trees entwined with Collins’ face in the background.
“We’d certainly like to raise more money,” DeRiso said.
Political analysts with no stake in the race say it would be hard to unseat Collins.
Longtime political campaign manager Dan Hart said Collins’ district was considered a stronghold of “conservative Democrats with a strong rural component.”
“And Tom Collins is the epitome of a leader for that district,” Hart said. “Yeah, he’s had a couple of public relations gaffes over the past few months, but I don’t think that negates what he’s done for the district and the way he’s protected the district over many years. That district is more ... rough and tumble; it includes rural towns that are agricultural, so his persona fits.”
Johnson and Markowitz have shown “little signs of life,” he added, “and haven’t really caught anybody’s attention.”
Grass-roots campaigning and knocking on doors are important, but money is the lifeblood of political campaigning. So it’s easy to understand how difficult it might be to make hay out of Collins’ tree-and-bull act, another political adviser said, since “it’s hard everywhere to raise money.”
“Even given the ‘gifts’ she’s been given, where is Johnson going to get the money to make use of them?” said the campaign adviser, who did not want to be named.
At the same time, he added, nothing Collins has done has risen to the level of the kinds of public corruption Clark County had grown used to when four previous commissioners went to prison in a bribery scam.
“He didn’t steal money. He didn’t take money from strip-club owners. He didn’t do things that you get unelected for,” the consultant said. “Nothing he’s done has affected how he represents the people out there.”
Collins, meanwhile, said he had raised about $700,000 since his 2008 election and had $300,000 in the bank. Even with a Democratic voter advantage, he said, he’s taking nothing for granted.
“You run two ways,” he said. “You run unopposed or you run scared.”
On advice of his attorney, Collins would not talk about the alleged tree-shooting incident.
He ticked off a list of accomplishments he’s managed in his district to demonstrate his effectiveness.
“I’ve got bridges done seven years early, got traffic lights in three years early. I’ve got rec centers built, walking paths built, trails built. I’ve been able to work with a federal delegation to forge ahead with a national monument,” he said. “Tom Collins is a guy who works for his district. If they want a ‘purty’ face, then they can vote for the Mona Lisa or something.”
Collins’ district encompasses most of the northern part of the county, a section few Las Vegans venture into unless driving to Mesquite, Valley of Fire or Zion National Park. The Moapa Valley, about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, is one of the few populated areas. Looking at it from satellite imagery on Google Maps, it is a long sliver of green jutting out from the northern fingers of Lake Mead.
One of the towns in that sliver is Logandale, where Chris Cook manages the Inside Scoop ice cream parlor and restaurant. Cook said Collins has been the talk of the town lately, with those who like him saying they aren’t bothered by the bull and tree incidents, and those who don’t like him saying it justifies their dislike.
Cook, though, guesses that from all the people who visit his store, it’s about a 70-30 split in Collins’ favor.
“He’s a human being, and I think the things that he’s done for the district outweigh the ill-thinking things he’s done,” Cook said. “I don’t think it should overshadow his commission work by any means. I just think he’s been a blessing to us out here.”