If an elected official is stupid enough to say there’s a circumstance under which he would vote for human slavery, he’s unfit for public service.
But Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, went further than that in an Aug. 10 appearance before the Storey County Republican Central Committee. He also suggested his constituents would be stupid and depraved enough to demand the return of the human rights travesty that nearly destroyed this country 150 years ago.
The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada discovered YouTube footage of Mr. Wheeler’s comments, in which he defended the idea of voting for whatever his constituents wanted — even if they called for making slavery legal. That clip quickly became a statewide story, then made national news, embarrassing all of Nevada in the process.
“If that’s what they want, I’d have to hold my nose, and bite my tongue, and you’d probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah, if that’s what the citizens of the, if that’s what the constituents want that elected me, that’s what they elected me for,” Mr. Wheeler said of slavery.
Public sentiment should have a role in crafting policy, but only within the limits of the Constitution, a document state lawmakers swear to uphold. Aren’t Republican lawmakers supposed to champion individual rights, a government of enumerated powers and the document that lists them? Mr. Wheeler must have missed the lessons on the 13th and 14th amendments — and never heard of the Civil War.
But voters don’t expect their legislators to be clueless pollsters who base their votes on email and voice mail tallies. They expect their representatives to have judgment, an informed perspective and a moral compass. Mr. Wheeler appears to have none of these traits. On Monday, he tried to claim his comments were “taken out of context.” On Tuesday, he offered an apology. Neither response is good enough.
Mr. Wheeler needs to resign his office. Today.