Northern Nevada Assemblyman Under Fire for Slavery Comment
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- A Nevada assemblyman under fire for saying he'd vote for slavery if that's what his constituents wanted says his remarks to a Republican group this summer are being taken out of context.
In the video on YouTube from the August meeting, freshman Republican Assembly Jim Wheeler of Minden says he'd have to hold his nose and vote for slavery if that's what his constituents wanted.
Contacted by phone Monday, Wheeler says he was trying to make a point that he's elected to represent his district. He says he wasn't condoning slavery.
But his remarks touched off a whirlwind of condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval says Wheeler's comments are "deeply offensive," and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller says they were "insensitive and wrong."
Assemblyman Wheeler released a statement to Channel 2 Monday night saying:
"The media is having a good time with a clearly facetious statement I made in a town hall meeting earlier this year. They're attempting to spin an extreme example I used about supporting my constituents to accuse me of being racist. Anybody that knows me knows that's absurd, and anyone that views the comments in context understands that the whole point of the example is that racism of any kind is something that I find completely unacceptable.
During the meeting, I was asked how I would vote if I believed one way on an issue, and my constituents believed the opposite. I stated the truth that I believe, which is that in a Representative Republic I'm hired by the people to represent their views. I used an over the top example of something that I absolutely do not agree with, and even mentioned that to get me to vote for such a thing, my constituents would literally have to hold a gun to my head. In reality, that isn't the case at all. If my constituents wanted to do something as outlandish as bring back an abhorrent system, then I simply couldn't represent them anymore. They would remove me from office, or I'd have to resign.
In the bill from the 2013 session that we were discussing, I'd heard from an unusually large number of constituents, and the comments were 3-1 in favor of the bill. That's a very clear mandate, and it was enough for me to set my opinion aside and represent the voters of District 39. Despite the media spin that claims I don't think for myself, I give careful consideration to the votes I cast, and I find that 99% of the time my constituents agree with me. That makes sense – they elected me because they know that my beliefs align with theirs.
Unlike some legislators, I don't believe that my Assembly seat is a platform for my personal issues. I occupy the people's seat: it's my job to represent them faithfully, as I have done. As long as my constituents agree with my positions, I'm confident that they'll keep hiring me to do the job. And if they ever decided that they wanted me to advocate for an unacceptable issue, they'd have to find somebody else to bring that to the Assembly.
If my comments were taken with offense by anyone, I sincerely apologize. I intended the statement as an extreme example of something unacceptable, and hope that's how it's taken."
Governor Brian Sandoval said in a statement:
"Assemblyman Wheeler's comments are deeply offensive, and have no place in our society. He should retract his remarks and apologize."
Senator Dean Heller said in a statement:
"Assemblyman Wheeler's comments were insensitive and wrong. As an elected representative, it is Assemblyman Wheeler's responsibility to protect Nevadans' civil liberties at all times. Such statements have no place in public discourse."