Bad! That’s a bad Assemblyman Jim Wheeler!
That was the message the Assembly Republican caucus sent Monday after meeting with Wheeler over his YouTubed remark that, if his constituents favored it, he’d go ahead and reluctantly vote to re-institute slavery. He also suggested splitting Clark County off from the rest of Nevada, or maybe trading it to California in exchange for Lake Tahoe.
Wheeler, a Gardnerville Republican, previously had explained his slavery remark was “clearly facetious” and apologized “if my comments were taken with offense by anyone.”
But his colleagues weren’t buying it: “The Assembly Republican caucus hereby reprimands Assemblyman Jim Wheeler for his offensive comments regarding slavery and the relationship between Northern and Southern Nevada,” reads a short resolution sent out Monday. “His comments were divisive and do not reflect the Republican values of the caucus and we wholeheartedly repudiate them in their totality.”
And with that, Wheeler’s fellow Republicans fixed themselves firmly between the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce — which has called for Wheeler to resign — and the Lyon County Republican Party, which passed a resolution supporting Wheeler and saying he’s “come under attack by forces employing unethical pressure in an attempt to manipulate Nevada’s Legislature, diluting the voice of the people.”
I suppose those forces now include … the Assembly Republican caucus?
Ironically, the contact person on that resolution was Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, who himself got into trouble in late September for telling a radio host that 2014 would be a great year for Republicans because minorities and young people tend not to turn out in off-year elections. (It turns out, that’s true, but exulting in that fact is probably something better done in private.)
And, double-irony, one of the people who condemned both Hickey and Wheeler was Gov. Brian Sandoval, who himself stepped into hot rhetorical water back in 2002, when he was running for attorney general. Sandoval told the Review-Journal editorial board that he’d enforce all laws passed by the Legislature, even ones of suspect constitutionality.
Then-Review-Journal columnist and editorial writer Vin Suprynowicz pressed: “You’re saying that if the Legislature passed a law requiring all Jews to wear yellow stars of David sewn on the outside of their clothing, you’d enforce it?”
“It’s my job to enforce it,” Sandoval replied.
That unfortunate position became a minor issue in the 2002 attorney general’s race, but criticism was muted when groups such as the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas and the Anti-Defamation League came to Sandoval’s defense. Even Sandoval’s opponent in the race didn’t accuse him of being anti-Semitic.
As someone who deals with words every day — and who has experience with hundreds of hours of live and taped TV shows — I have sympathy for people who say things they later regret. Every such flub, however, can reveal something about a person’s character.
In Wheeler’s case, it was the extremity of his devotion to following the will of his constituents, which is not necessarily a good thing. (What if they want something bad, such as slavery?) In Hickey’s, it was his backtracking after having said something that was true, albeit an uncomfortable truth. And in Sandoval’s, it was a desire to maintain a consistent position about the job of attorney general, divorced from the reality that all lawyers should understand: consistency can be a morally neutral virtue.
It’s not as if Democrats haven’t had problems, too. Our own U.S. Sen. Harry Reid once mused aloud about President Barack Obama’s lack of a “Negro dialect” (unless he wanted to have one). Vice President Joe Biden once made a tin-ear remark about Indian accents and 7-Eleven store owners.
But, as Wheeler is surely learning, each ill-considered remark and how you react after you’ve made one can have big consequences. That’s good advice for all of us: Think before you speak, lest you be wholeheartedly repudiated in totality.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.