Nevada lawmaker stirs outrage saying he would vote for slavery

Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was among those outraged when a state GOP lawmaker said he would vote to reinstate slavery if his constituents wished.
(Kevin Clifford / Associated Press)

One of the fundamental questions of our representative democracy is the role our proxies — that is, those we elect as our voices in Washington, to serve our interests in state capitals and speak for us at City Halls and on county boards — are obliged to play.

Should they channel the impulse of their constituents, as expressed by a majority, or act on the desires of a fractional but vocal minority? Or should they, vested with the wisdom, experience and unique insight that comes from serving in a government and dealing with problems firsthand (please stop rolling your eyes) do what they consider best, even if it may contravene the popular passions of the moment?

One Nevada lawmaker has decided it is best to very much err on the side of the former, and his fealty to the Will of the People has quickly turned him into a national figure, reviled for putting the loco in loco extremis.

On Monday, a YouTube video surfaced of a Republican gathering last August where freshman Assemblyman Jim Wheeler told members of the Storey County GOP he would vote to allow slavery if that was the desire of his rural constituents. “If that’s what they wanted, I’d have to hold my nose ... they’d probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah,” Wheeler said.


Cue the predictable response.

Democrats have gleefully emailed multiple accounts of Wheeler’s comment across the universe, seeking to tar every Republican man, woman and child with guilt by association. Republicans, including Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, have denounced the lawmaker.

“Assemblyman Wheeler’s comments are deeply offensive and have no place in our society,” Sandoval said in a statement. “He should retract his remarks and apologize.”

Nevada’s Republican U.S. senator, Dean Heller, called Wheeler’s comments “insensitive and wrong” and the GOP leader of the state Assembly suggested Wheeler “find a new line of work.”

The semi-contrite assemblyman issued a statement Tuesday morning:

“The media is having a good time with a clearly facetious statement I made in a town hall meeting earlier this year,” Wheeler said. “They’re attempting to spin an extreme example I used about supporting my constituents to accuse me of being racist. Anybody that knows me knows that’s absurd, and anyone that views the comments in context understands that the whole point of the example is that racism of any kind is something that I find completely unacceptable.

“During the meeting, I was asked how I would vote if I believed one way on an issue, and my constituents believed the opposite. I stated the truth that I believe, which is that in a representative republic I’m hired by the people to represent their views. I used an over-the-top example of something that I absolutely do not agree with, and even mentioned that to get me to vote for such a thing, my constituents would literally have to hold a gun to my head. In reality, that isn’t the case at all. If my constituents wanted to do something as outlandish as bring back an abhorrent system, then I simply couldn’t represent them anymore. They would remove me from office, or I’d have to resign.”

Now that Wheeler’s views on slavery have been clarified, perhaps the debate will move on to other burning questions, like whether women should be entitled to vote, Nevada should be admitted to the union as the 36thstate and whether the Earth is, in fact, round.

Twitter: @markzbarabak