Nevada speaker-elect steps down amid criticism

RENO — The Nevada Assembly speaker-elect has decided to withdraw from the leadership position amid widespread criticism over his past remarks about blacks, gays and women.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, in a statement Sunday, claims attacks from blacks, gays and fellow Republican officials in Nevada, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, were merely intended to remove him as an obstacle to any tax increase next session.

“The deliberate character assassination and the politics of personal destruction have totally distorted my views and record,” he said. “Ultimately, this whole attack has very little to do with my views.”

Sandoval did not respond to a request for comment.

But the governor earlier criticized Hansen’s statements on race, religion and sexual orientation, saying “this kind of abhorrent speech is unacceptable.”

Hansen’s decision was welcomed by the Reno-Sparks NAACP, which had called for the GOP caucus in the Assembly to reconsider its choice of him. The chapter says Hansen has demonstrated a long history of racial insensitivity and bigotry.

“It’s a step in the right direction instead of a step backwards,” Reno-Sparks NAACP President Jeffrey Blanck told The Associated Press. “Now, they can choose someone who won’t be so divisive and who won’t have a negative or discriminatory agenda.”

The local NAACP’s bid to deny him leadership of the lower house follows a report by the weekly Reno News & Review citing dozens of Hansen quotes offensive to women, gays and minorities. The quotes, most of which ran in his past Sparks Tribune columns, included:

— “The relationship of Negroes and Democrats is truly a master-slave relationship, with the benevolent master knowing what’s best for his simple minded darkies.”

— “For American blacks, being denied choice and forced to attend the failing and inferior government school system is a form of involuntary servitude. Let’s call it what it truly is — educational slavery.”

— “The lack of gratitude and the deliberate ignoring of white history in relation to eliminating slavery is a disgrace that Negro leaders should own up to.”

Hansen, a Sparks plumbing business owner, said he did not receive any phone calls from Sandoval or Assembly Republicans asking him to withdraw.

“For the greater good of the state of Nevada and the cause I support it is necessary for me to withdraw as speaker designee,” he said, adding he was the victim of “a carefully orchestrated attack to remove a conservative Republican from a major leadership role in state government.”

Hansen said earlier this week that many remarks he made as a columnist and radio talk-show host were being taken out of context and that his views on some issues have since evolved.

Michael Dimengo, chief executive officer of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, said he was “heartened” by Hansen’s decision to withdraw.

He cited a May 2013 letter in which Hansen wrote homosexuality is a choice of sexual behavior like adultery, pedophilia and bestiality, and gays “are not a ‘minority’ any more than adulterers are a minority.” The letter was written on official state letterhead.

“I find his writings to be patently offensive and totally unenlightened as to the latest research on the matter,” Dimengo said. “You need to question how can a person be elevated to a position of leadership that commands the respect of all Nevadans when by his ideology and expression of it he’s dividing people.”

But conservative activist Chuck Muth of Las Vegas defended Hansen, saying he was merely trying to be provocative in his columns to get the public to think about issues.

Muth also criticized Sandoval, Heller and other leading Republicans for attacking Hansen’s statements.

“Why should any Republicans give a damn about what the NAACP thinks? They don’t vote for our candidates. That is not who our base is,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Republicans gained control of the state Assembly in November’s election for the first time since 1985. The GOP now enjoys a 25-17 edge and its Assembly caucus must select a new speaker.


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