CARSON CITY — Assemblyman Jim Wheeler issued an apology Tuesday for his statement that he would vote for slavery if that is what his constituents want.
But the Republican freshman from Gardnerville took a swipe at the news media, contending that reporters used his “clearly facetious statement” to somehow “accuse me of being a racist.”
The state Democratic Party on Monday released a YouTube video filmed in August in which he told a Storey County Republican group that he votes the way his constituents want, often using polls to gauge their views on issues.
No one at the meeting even asked him about slavery, but Wheeler on his own brought up the slavery example. He said he would “hold my nose” but vote for slavery if that is what his voters wanted.
After news reports broke on his statement, both Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., condemned Wheeler. And after their statements, he apologized.
“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,” Wheeler said.
On Tuesday, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce issued a statement calling for Wheeler’s resignation.
“His remarks are unacceptable and should not be tolerated. There is no place in Nevada state politics – or anywhere – for an individual with this mindset,” according to the statement.
Both the U.S. and Nevada constitutions outlaw slavery and all legislators must swear an oath to defend and support those constitutions. Nevada, known as the “Battle Born State” for its admission to the union during the Civil War, was founded in part because President Abraham Lincoln was looking for congressional support to outlaw slavery.
His slavery comments have produced a storm of criticism in the national media and on blogs. But the biggest criticism has come from his fellow Nevada Republicans. State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, tweeted that Wheeler should look for a new job.
Wheeler represents District 39 in Douglas County, one of the most Republican and conservative counties in Nevada. The county has not elected a Democrat in at least three decades.
He defeated incumbent Kelly Kite, R-Minden, in the 2012 Republican primary in a campaign in which he stressed how Kite had gone along with Sandoval to vote to continue $620 million in state taxes that otherwise would have expired.
Kite recently filed a complaint with the secretary of state that asserts Wheeler does not live in the district and that he has not paid state taxes on businesses he owned in Michigan.
Wheeler denied ever owning businesses in Michigan. He said he spent time earlier this year with a girlfriend outside the district in Washoe Valley, but they now live in a rental home in Gardnerville.
In its news story Tuesday, the Review-Journal never mentioned the word racist.
But Wheeler in his statement said: “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.”
Racism of any kind, he added, is “something that I find completely unacceptable.”
Only 0.9 percent of Douglas County’s population is black, although one African-American woman, Democrat Joetta Brown, repeatedly ran for the District 39 seat without success.
“I stated the truth that I believe, which is that in a representative Republic, I’m hired by the people to represent their views,” Wheeler said. “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.”
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.