By Andrew Doughman
A Nevada assemblyman said he would vote in favor of legislation allowing for slavery if it was something his constituents wanted him to do.
Jim Wheeler, a Republican from Gardnerville, was talking to a crowd of Storey County Republicans in August he when said “yeah I would” vote for slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted.
“If that’s what they wanted, 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 of the, if that’s what the constituency wants that elected me, that’s what they elected me for,” he said. “That’s what a republic is about. You elected a person for your district to do your wants and wishes, not the wants and wishes of a special interest, not his own wants and wishes, yours.”
Wheeler said today that he believes “liberal” operatives are trying to frame him as a bigot by spreading video of the statement on the Internet.
Reached by phone this afternoon, Wheeler now says he would not in actuality vote for anything that would legalize human slavery. Rather, he claimed, he was exaggerating in order to make a point that representing the will of his constituents is important to him. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard if anyone could even fathom believing it,” he said. “I don’t care if every constituent in (Assembly) District 39 wanted slavery, I wouldn’t vote for it. That’s ridiculous.”
Wheeler represents Assembly District 39, which encompasses Douglas and Storey counties as well as part of Lyon County.
The video clip from August surfaced when an employee at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada tweeted about the slavery remark, sparking interest from two Democratic state senators on twitter.
Laura Martin, the communications director at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said she was viewing the months-old clip because someone had sent her the video link in relation to comments Wheeler made about the mining industry.
The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada has done extensive research on mining in Nevada, so Martin said she watched the clip, later overheard the slavery remark, and tweeted “Just saw a video of Jim Wheeler saying he’d vote to bring back slavery if his constituents wanted it.”
The tweet prompted Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, to tweet “you’re joking, right?”
Wheeler made the comment in reply to a question about a piece of legislation before the Nevada Legislature earlier this year.
Wheeler said he was philosophically opposed to the bill but voted for it because his constituents overwhelmingly told him he should support legislation that allowed for DNA testing of someone who is arrested for a felony.
After speaking about that bill, he reiterated that he thinks his role is to represent constituents, even against his own beliefs.
“I was hired to do a job, what the people wanted me to do, so if it is clear to me, even if it’s against my own wishes, what my constituents want, that’s the way I am going to vote,” he said in the video of the August meeting.
Wheeler referenced a blog post from Chuck Muth (http://www.muthstruths.com/2010/06/03/a-politician-with-no-political-agenda/), the head of a conservative advocacy organization called Citizen Outreach, in which Muth posed the extreme example of voting for slavery.
“What if those citizens decided they wanted to, say, bring back slavery? Hey, if it’s what the citizens want, right Jim?” Muth wrote in a post claiming Wheeler would vote for something unconstitutional if the people wanted it.
Referencing Muth’s note, Wheeler said in the video, “So I wrote him a letter back and said, ‘Yeah I would.’”
The revelation of the video drew immediate scorn, even from members of his own party.
“I don’t care what point he was trying to make,” tweeted Jodi Stephens, the director of the state Senate Republican caucus. “Jim Wheeler’s comments about slavery are disgusting and unacceptable.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval also condemned the remarks.
“Assemblyman Wheeler’s comments are deeply offensive, and have no place in our society,” Sandoval said. “He should retract his remarks and apologize.
But Wheeler’s audience in Storey County liked his message. At least one in the small crowd applauded his remark.
“A representative republic,” the audience member said. “Gee what a weird concept.”
“Exactly,” Wheeler answered. “I may not agree with you but if it’s what you want, hey, you can live with the consequences.”
He said nobody should take his words too literally.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard if anyone could even fathom believing it,” he said. “Nobody in that meeting took it literally either. I never heard a comment about it until now. If someone is offended by this, then I sincerely apologize.”
Asked if he regrets making the remark, Wheeler said “Well, yeah, obviously.