CARSON CITY – A rural Nevada assemblyman said Monday he wasn’t serious when he told a Republican group that he would vote for slavery if that is what his constituents wanted.
State Democrats on Monday made public a YouTube tape of Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, addressing the Storey County Republican Central Committee on Aug. 10.
The tape, circulated by email without comment by Democratic Party activists, shows that Wheeler volunteered the slavery reference when describing how he decides to vote on issues.
He said that he conducts polls in local newspapers to gauge public support. During his first and losing campaign, he said, conservative blogger Chuck Muth asked if Wheeler would support slavery if his constituents want it.
“Yeah, I would,” Wheeler told the Storey County audience, adding the he probably would have to “hold my nose.”
He went on to explain that voting the way your constituents want is part of the Republican form of government, winning applause from the audience.
The slavery reference occurs 37 minutes into the 51-minute tape. At another point, Wheeler jokes that “California wouldn’t even take Las Vegas.”
“Obviously I would never vote for slavery,” Wheeler said Monday. “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. My constituents would never want that, and I would never vote for slavery.”
He noted that he did not personally favor Brianna’s Law, which requires taking DNA samples from people arrested for felonies, but voted for it because his constituents favored the bill.
Wheeler added his slavery reference was “taken out of context,” and that Democrats are targeting him for defeat because he opposed gun control legislation.
In his first term in the Assembly, Wheeler serves one of the most conservative areas in the state. Douglas County has not elected a Democrat in several decades. He was named the worst member of the Assembly in a Review-Journal poll of legislators, reporters and lobbyists at the end of the 2013 session.
Nevada’s top Republican leaders moved Monday to condemn Wheeler’s comment.
“Assemblyman Wheeler’s comments were insensitive and wrong,” Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said in a written statement. “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.”
Republican Go. Brian Sandoval also released a statement saying the comments “are deeply offensive, and have no place in our society. He should retract his remarks and apologize.”
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.