I still remember the moment I realized Tom Collins is a real cowboy.
We were in his Assembly office in the Legislative Building in Carson City, festooned with photos of him being there and doing that. He knew the rodeo circuit intimately, right down to the fact that there were events in my own hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif. (That was news to me.)
Collins delighted in revealing bits of ranching trivia, once gifting me a little rubber band he said was used in bull castration.
For sure, Collins’ hat is genuine. And so is the guy under it.
Covering the state Legislature, I also learned Collins was no dummy. He knew plenty about policy and history, and he brought a steely eyed pragmatism to his 10 years of cumulative legislative service. A solid Democrat and union member, Collins could always be counted upon to side with labor.
Collins’ penchant for being outspoken is well-known. Before he unseated scandal-tainted former Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey in 2004, he wasn’t subtle about his chances. “Grandma’s history,” he declared in a Review-Journal report.
But that plainspokenness also created problems.
He once showed up in Carson City wearing a blue lobbyist badge — as an elected commissioner — having been engaged to lobby for a company owned by notorious powerbroker Harvey Whittemore. Another time, he followed a county lobbyist in testifying before a legislative committee, directly contradicting his employee and causing committee members to wonder about the county’s actual stance.
More recently, plagued by a struggle with alcohol that he’s never shied from acknowledging, Collins got into worse trouble. He was cited for drunkenly discharging his .40-caliber Sig Sauer at a stubborn tree stump on his North Las Vegas property in 2012. He was illegally taped during a 2014 telephone conversation describing two female commission colleagues as “no-good [SOBs].” He described would-be supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, who hailed from Utah, as “inbred.” He dismissed reporters, often with a word or two of profanity. (Collins once suggested on Twitter — after I referenced the aforementioned Whittemore incident — that I perform an anatomically impossible act.) Ultimately, the county went so far as to block emails from Collins to certain staffers after Collins sent a message to the county manager describing him in unkind terms.
His attitude left him increasingly isolated on the Clark County Commission. He tried hard, and repeatedly, to get the commission to approve a 0.15-percentage-point increase in the sales tax to hire more police officers. But his colleagues would not budge. Collins stubbornly refused to accept a compromise plan, and set up a vote in which the commission was essentially stalemated, leaving cops with nothing.
It was still a shock on Monday when Collins announced he’d delivered his resignation from the commission to Gov. Brian Sandoval, citing “family matters.” The commissioner had mused aloud about challenging North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee in 2017, and the commission seat was the perfect platform from which to mount a campaign.
It’s hard to imagine Collins with a political future now, although no one should ever count him out. From Donald Trump to Oscar Goodman, voters show an unmistakable affection for plainspoken politicians, no matter what they actually say. That goes double for unpolished, knock-around guys like Collins.
There’s little doubt that Collins faces a tough struggle against what appears to be a host of personal demons. But Collins is a tough guy, a real cowboy, who’s contributed greatly to his state and his community during more than two decades of public service. Let’s all hope he’s tough enough to win this one last rodeo.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or email@example.com.