Montandon takes aim at Gibbons


Red in the face and drenched in sweat, the man who would be governor trotted into his campaign headquarters Tuesday evening.

Mike Montandon, whose three terms as North Las Vegas mayor ended Tuesday, kicked off his Republican gubernatorial campaign by running more than five miles across town on a day tied for the hottest so far this year.

It was 5.2 miles, to be exact, from his old office at North Las Vegas City Hall to his campaign office on West Cheyenne Avenue near Allen Lane, adjacent to the North Las Vegas airport. The run took the 45-year-old Montandon an hour.

"If I thought I could get away with not doing it, I would have not done it," the lanky, 6-foot- 5-inch Montandon said, grinning and wiping sweat off his face with cocktail napkins.

Montandon says he is challenging Gov. Jim Gibbons for the Republican nomination in next year's gubernatorial election because he believes the governor lacks a vision to get the state back on its feet.

He says he doesn't disagree with most of Gibbons' ideas, including his stance against higher taxes, but thinks Gibbons has shown he lacks what it takes to be effective.

He noted that despite Gibbons' position against tax hikes, the legislative session resulted in $1 billion in new taxes over two years as the governor "sat there and watched them get raised." Gibbons vetoed most of the new taxes but was overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature.

"I think he could have worked a lot harder to achieve his goals," Montandon said. "He had some decent goals, but he didn't develop the relationships he needed to get them done."

Gubernatorial spokesman Daniel Burns defended Gibbons' record and performance.

Gibbons "worked hard to keep taxes from being raised," Burns said. "They were raised because the Legislature felt differently than the governor."

Given the way the government is structured, Burns said, there was only so much Gibbons could do.

Montandon says he has shown, in 12 years as mayor of the state's fourth-largest city, that he can turn around a struggling community.

"Nevada looks just like North Las Vegas did when I took over," he said. "It had all the resources; it just needed someone who could get those resources marshaled to get the things done that needed to be done."

Montandon contends he has turned North Las Vegas from a place people moved to because it was all they could afford to a place where people chose to reside for its quality of life. After not building a single new park between 1974 and 1994, he said, the city added at least one park per year under his leadership.

Shortly after 5 p.m., Montandon walked into the mayor's office in a business-casual uniform of khakis and a polo shirt with a North Las Vegas logo. He was carrying big gift-wrapped boxes, presents for his staff.

Montandon re-emerged a few minutes later clad in a Jerry's Nugget ball cap, sleeveless T-shirt, running shorts and Pearl Izumi running shoes.

Accompanied by eight fellow runners, including his equally athletic campaign manager, Bryon Geddes, he walked through the lobby, where supporters held signs with slogans such as "Carson City ... Here We Come!"

The group of runners, not all of whom would make it to the finish, walked down the City Hall steps, then broke into a brisk jog as they turned onto the Civic Center Drive sidewalk, headed north.

With a high temperature of 108 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, Tuesday was tied for the hottest day of the year so far.

Montandon greeted supporters, including the Boy Scout troop he leads and the city Rotary Club of which he is a past president, at four hydration stations along the route. He wore a heart-rate monitor and slowed down when it got up to 170 on the uphills.

At the campaign headquarters, about 100 supporters, including seemingly more children than adults, were enjoying a rock band, moon bounce and barbecue in the parking lot.

Pam Love, 35, said she had gotten to know the Montandons through the home schooling community. Like the Montandons, the Loves have five children, all of whom are being home schooled. "We love their family," she said.

Love said she believes Montandon understands the value of education and shares her conservative values. Though her kids aren't in the public schools, she would like to see teachers' salaries not get cut.

Harriet Ganz, 69, knows Montandon through the North Las Vegas Rotary and said she has been impressed with him as mayor. Tuesday's run, she said, shows that "he's a determined person. He follows through with what he says he's going to do."

Gibbons, in her view, is "not a decision-maker, and I don't think he has the best interests of the state in mind."

Montandon is not the only candidate challenging Gibbons in the Republican primary. Also in the running is Joe Heck, a physician and former state senator from Henderson.

A Review-Journal poll taken in May found that both men are relatively little-known: 71 percent had never heard of Montandon, while 49 percent did not recognize Heck's name.

Gibbons was known to 99 percent, but just 17 percent had a favorable view of him in the May poll. In a poll taken a month later, that number had slipped to 10 percent.

The Republican Party has been rocked in recent weeks by scandals such as Sen. John Ensign's recent admission that he had an extramarital affair with a former staffer.

Montandon said GOP voters are angry and disappointed and are looking for standard-bearers with integrity.

"I am not going to ever say anything critical about anyone else because anybody can make a mistake," he said. "But whenever I go to Republican events, people walk up to me and say, 'If you can keep your pants on ... .' They want to support somebody that they feel is not going to let them down."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.