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Fiore, under fire, plays the victim card

I’ve always liked Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas.

She’s direct and plainspoken about her beliefs. Plus, she and I both love guns.

So I was somewhat surprised last week when she accused Assembly Speaker-designate John Hambrick of waging a “war on women” after Hambrick removed her from her position as incoming chairwoman of the Assembly Taxation Committee for the 2015 Legislature.

I actually thought it was much more likely that Hambrick did what he did because Fiore faces more than $1 million in IRS liens for unpaid taxes, and the resulting political distraction would cripple Fiore’s ability to do her job properly. Besides, throwing around allegations of sexism without evidence is not something the Michele Fiore I know would do.

Not that it matters: Hambrick quickly reversed course and restored Fiore (and freshman Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, R-Las Vegas, who was also removed as vice-chairwoman of the tax committee) to their jobs.

Still, Fiore had to explain herself. That’s big money to owe the IRS, and the liens cover multiple years.

So she did: Fiore and Seaman appeared for an hour on KDWN-AM 720 on Tuesday morning, taking calls and answering questions from radio host Alan Stock who, like me, was skeptical of the “war on women” meme.

“First and foremost, let me say this right up front: I am 100 percent in compliance with the IRS, period,” Fiore declared in her interview, and in a statement she put out afterward.

She went on to explain that an employee was stealing from her two businesses, which offer home health care. (She said the legal process is ongoing against that person and promised “consequences.”) And she claimed that she worked out a payment plan with the IRS, and that she’s current on those payments now.

But she didn’t stop there: She blamed an earlier round of tax problems on her ex-husband, who acted as her bookkeeper. She accused businessman Monte Miller and two Republican political operatives of stirring up bad publicity around her tax troubles. And she didn’t back off her contention that there is a contingent in the Nevada Republican Party opposed to, variously, women, or conservatives, or conservative women.

She didn’t let herself off the hook entirely: Fiore said she was “too trusting” as the CEO of her company and relied on her bookkeeper to make sure IRS taxes were paid, and that she was too occupied with the business of the legislative session in 2013 to see that things were spiraling out of control.

That’s kind of like answering the old job interview question about your weaknesses by saying you’re a perfectionist who can’t go home until the job is done right.

“I hope this puts to rest the unfortunate and unnecessary distractions perpetrated by a select group of people,” Fiore said in her statement. But that’s just the thing: It doesn’t end those distractions. They will undoubtedly continue through the entire 2015 Legislature.

There are plenty of people who have had problems with the IRS and who, like Fiore, have had to make arrangements to pay their taxes (along with fines and interest) over time. And it sounds as if Fiore has learned from the experience — she now says she’s focused on her business to the point where she drives her employees to distraction.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether somebody with those issues is the very best person in all the Republican caucus to be overseeing the committee that produces bills on taxes and tax policy. And it’s hard to argue Fiore is that person.

It’s not because she’s a woman.

It’s not because she’s a conservative.

It’s not because she’s signed a pledge never to vote for a net increase in taxes, and she meant it.

It’s because a person with those issues just isn’t the best person to do that job, and other candidates for the post are available.

But ultimately, this is not a decision that will be made by the public, by pundits or radio hosts or columnists. It’s a decision for the Assembly Republican leadership, and for the defiant Fiore herself. But it’s a decision that will have consequences that reverberate throughout the next Legislature.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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