Wheeler faces a steep road to recovery

Reno Assemblyman Pat Hickey was correct when he said recently that Republicans would be helped by lower minority- and female-voter turnout in a non-presidential-election year. His defense of his comment, in which he pointed out that he has a “yellow” wife (she is Korean), was less defensible.

Democrats predictably made political hay of the comments, and the top two elected officials in Hickey’s own party, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller, publicly rebuked him. Time will tell whether the comments derail Hickey’s political career; powerful lobbyists scheduled a mid-October reception and fundraiser at a Reno lounge in an effort to rehabilitate his image.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler of Douglas County likely won’t be as lucky.

Asked at a Storey County town hall meeting how he would vote if his constituents leaned one way and he leaned the other, Wheeler used the worst possible example imaginable to illustrate his point. He referenced a 2010 blog post by Chuck Muth, a columnist for the Nevada Appeal, in which Muth facetiously asked if Wheeler would support bringing back slavery if that’s what the voters wanted.

“Yeah, I would,” he told the audience. “If that’s what they want, I’d have to hold my nose, I’d have to bite my tongue and they’d probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah, if that’s what the citizens want, the constituency wants.”

Wheeler is misguided in his apparent belief that lawmakers are elected to robotically support whatever 50.1 percent or more of their constituents support. Ask most voters what they want most in a lawmaker and you’ll hear words such as “moral,” “well-informed” and “intelligent.” Wheeler’s comment was none of those three things.

With our history in this country, “bring back slavery” obviously implies the enslavement of black people. Wheeler represents Douglas and Storey counties and part of Lyon County, none of which has much of a black population to speak of. If he’d made his slavery comment in, say, Atlanta, he would have stepped down under unrelenting pressure by now.

When news of Wheeler’s comments broke, he said they were “clearly facetious” but added that if they were offensive, “I sincerely apologize.” He added that he absolutely doesn’t agree with slavery, and that’s easy to believe.

But the damage has been done. Sandoval and Heller stepped in again, with the former saying Wheeler’s words were “deeply offensive and have no place in our society.” Democrats called what he said “reprehensible and disgusting.” The story has been picked up by media outlets nationwide, including The Washington Post, and Wheeler was skewered on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”

It makes Wheeler’s constituents look bad. It makes Nevada look bad. And it makes Wheeler look very bad.


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