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Recall drive starts against Nye County assessor

Nye County Assessor Shirley Matson already has received a public reprimand from the County Commission for making racist comments about Hispanics.

Now she will find out whether her remarks will cost her her job.

Three Pahrump women started a recall drive against Matson on Wednesday, one day after the elected assessor became eligible for voter-led removal from office under state law.

Stephanie Lopez, Karin Williams and Michelle Withers have until Oct. 4 to collect more than 3,600 signatures and force a recall election.

"I won’t stop until it’s done," Lopez said.

Matson was elected to a four-year term in November. Her troubles began on March 11, when she sent an email to Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo asking him to investigate the citizenship of workers building a new county jail in Pahrump.

She claimed she was getting complaints about the workers, whom she described as "all Mexican/Latino non-English speaking."

The email was the first of many between Matson and the sheriff, who told Matson her comments were blatantly racist and her request unconstitutional.

Shortly after the messages were made public, far more offensive rants from Matson surfaced, including ones sent out before last fall’s election in which she railed against the "dirty filthy Mexican/Latino illegals" who she said devour the nation’s resources like locusts.

On March 25, county commissioners voted unanimously to reprimand Matson for embarrassing the county and violating its personal conduct policy.

The public rebuke carried no penalty because she is an elected official who answers only to voters.

Lopez said she started the recall effort because she took Matson’s comments personally.

"When I read that in the paper when it came out, I was sick to my stomach," she said. "My kids don’t judge a book by its cover or they get in trouble. Somebody’s failed to teach this woman that."

Matson’s comments were so harsh and unwavering that Lopez questions the assessor’s ability to perform her duties in an unbiased way.

"My maiden name is Withers, but I look Hispanic. Would I be treated differently because of my last name?" Lopez said.

Matson declined to comment on the recall when contacted at her office in Pahrump on Monday.

Recall drives are a regular occurrence in Nye County.

"It’s at least one a year, and I’ve been here for 17 years if that tells you anything," county Clerk Sam Merlino said.

Only a handful of those yielded enough valid signatures to force an election and only one, in 2000, succeeded in removing an official from office.

"Luckily, they don’t all go to election, because it’s a lot of work and a lot of money," she said. "We’ll see how this one goes."

As of Monday, Lopez and company had collected a few hundred signatures, most of them during a four-hour kick-off event Saturday at a Mexican restaurant in Pahrump.

The town 60 miles west of Las Vegas is home to 36,000 people, 83 percent of Nye’s total population. Recall petitioners plan to seek out voters across the vast rural county. Lopez said she collected her first dozen signatures before she left the county offices in Pahrump after filing the recall paperwork on Wednesday.

"I had people stopping me at my car," she said.

But Lopez knows forcing a recall election won’t be easy. It will require valid signatures from at least 3,613 county voters who actually cast ballots in last year’s general election.

Lopez said she might never have launched the recall had Matson simply apologized for her comments.

Now recall backers are looking for unique ways to reach their goal.

On Saturday morning, they plan to set up a drive-through location in front of the Pahrump community center, so voters can sign the petition without getting out of their cars.

Lopez also is selling T-shirts through her Facebook page, which she runs under the name "Positive Pahrump."

The slogan on the shirts is "Adios Matson."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@review journal.com or 702-383-0350.

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