By Mark Waite
Gary Hollis, the Nye County Commissioner with the white cowboy hat, made it to his last official function as a commissioner, a special conference call on the public defender contract Dec. 28, breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank.
The two-term commissioner failed in his bid for a third term, losing to political neophyte Frank Carbone in the Nov. 8 general election. Hollis was admitted to the hospital Dec. 13 and underwent a triple bypass before returning home two days before Christmas, where he continues to make a steady recovery.
A Las Vegas native who moved to Pahrump in 1969 after finishing a stint in the U.S. Army, Hollis worked in drilling exploration and was employed at the Nevada Test Site off and on from 1980 to 1998.
His first foray into politics was one term on the Pahrump Town Board from 1996 to 2000. In 2004, he defeated Paula Elefante by a margin of 51.8 percent to 48.1 percent to win the District 3 seat. The incumbent, Henry Neth, polled only 110 votes to finish third in the Republican primary after the district was redrawn following the 2000 census.
In 2008, Hollis won a second term, defeating Harley Kulkin 1,876 to 1,598.
But after capturing almost half the vote in the June Republican primary in 2012, Hollis lost handily after early votes came in on election night.
“The job is only given to you temporarily. The district seat belongs to the people and when they want a change they take it to the polls and make the change. Everything is done for a reason. Maybe the good Lord found out I had too much on my plate and wanted me to take care of my health and take care of myself,” Hollis said.
It was Hollis who wanted a change when he ran for county commissioner the first time.
“I just didn’t think that the county commission was going in the right direction — more taxes, more regulations wasn’t the answer. The answer was let’s make the regulations to handle the growth, that’s what we need to do. Don’t go any farther than that. The commission wasn’t going that way. They wanted to put aggressive regulations to control growth,” he said.
The one thing the outgoing commissioner is most frequently associated with, outside of his white cowboy hat, is his unabashed support for the Yucca Mountain project. Hollis made numerous trips around the country to lobby for the project, or attend events by pro-nuclear organizations like the Energy Communities Alliance. His position as the county commission’s liaison on nuclear waste even led to a tour of nuclear facilities in Sweden and Finland. During the 2012 campaign, he boasted Yucca Mountain would create 7,000 jobs.
Hollis said if he didn’t aggressively push for it, the county wouldn’t have gotten the last $3.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy last January. He calls it settlement agreement money instead of Payment Equal to Taxes PETT funds, which at one point in 2007 was more than $11 million annually flowing into the county from the U.S. Department of Energy for the land value of Yucca Mountain.
“We came a long way since 2005 and look, $70 million was generated through the settlement agreement, PETT funds to Nye County during that particular time, or almost that much. You’ve got to be happy about being able to put $70 million in the bank and be able to use that money. We were doing almost $2 million per year in chip sealing roads and pavement. My district alone since 2005 has 70 to 80 miles of chip seal road,” Hollis said.
PETT funds were used to build the courthouse in Tonopah, the new county commission chambers in Pahrump, county libraries, water and sewer projects, he said. Nye County plans to use interest from the funds to pay off the bonds for the new $17.7 million Pahrump jail.
Hollis hopes to be a consultant for the Yucca Mountain project on his own after leaving office, but doesn’t have any contracts with any other communities. Proponents are awaiting a Jan. 7 decision from the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals on whether the DOE should be ordered to complete the license application and release the safety evaluation.
In April 2010, Hollis pushed through an agenda item for $293,705 to fund an emergency responder training facility on 10 acres of county land on East Mesquite Avenue. Hollis said it was needed not just for volunteers and deputies in this area, but agencies have used it, like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Las Vegas Metro SWAT teams and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I’ve had a lot of good commissioners that I’ve worked with, one of my strongest assets to be was Commissioner Joni Eastley, me and her worked very closely with each other. We didn’t always agree but we agreed to disagree and kept the communication line open and tried to work to a conclusion,” Hollis said. “Commissioner Borasky absolutely has been a good friend and a good commissioner, he’s worked very, very hard on both sides of the fence. He absolutely has listened.”
He thinks Commissioner Dan Schinhofen will be the frontrunner to carry on his advocacy for the Yucca Mountain project.
Hollis said he doesn’t know much about incoming county commissioner Donna Cox, but has had discussions with Carbone.
“If he continues the way he’s been talking, he’s going to make a very, very, very good commissioner. I think he’s got his heart in the right place,” Hollis said.
His advice for a new commissioner?
“Do not think that you can do it all,” Hollis said. “You need three people to sign on it and sometimes that’s not easy when you’re going across the line and you’re fighting on two fronts. So I would suggest to them to not try to think that they can do it all.”