The state’s largest newspaper on Wednesday called for the resignation of Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, who said he’d vote to reinstate slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted him to do.
“If an elected official is stupid enough to say there’s a circumstance under which he would vote for human slavery, he’s unfit for public service,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal said in an editorial calling for Wheeler to resign.
Wheeler could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His voice mailbox was full, and someone who returned a call to The Associated Press from Wheeler’s cellphone number hung up when a reporter answered.
Wheeler, a Republican freshman lawmaker elected in 2012, set off a firestorm when a YouTube video surfaced Monday of him speaking to a Storey County Republican group in August.
In the video, which since has been removed from the Internet, Wheeler said he believes it is his job to represent those who elected him regardless of his own beliefs. He referenced an earlier exchange with conservative activist Chuck Muth, a columnist for the Nevada Appeal who in writing about Wheeler’s 2010 candidacy said, “what if those citizens decided they want to, say, bring back slavery? Hey, if that’s what they want, right Jim?”
Wheeler then told his GOP audience, “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 constituency wants that elected me, that’s what they elected me for.”
His comments made national news and were swiftly condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Wheeler offered an apology Tuesday and criticized the news media for taking what he called a “clearly facetious statement” out of context.
The Review-Journal, in its editorial, said neither response is good enough.
Voters, the editorial said, “don’t expect their legislators to be clueless pollsters who base their votes on email and voice mail tallies. They expect their representatives to have judgment, an informed perspective and a moral compass. Mr. Wheeler appears to have none of these traits.”
Late Tuesday, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce also called for Wheeler’s resignation for the slavery comment and a dig against Southern Nevada made during the same meeting with Storey County Republicans.
He said Las Vegas, a region home to three-fourths of Nevadans and the state’s economic engine, wants to take rural Northern Nevada’s mining money and tax dollars and suggested Las Vegas be split from the rest of the state.
“These remarks, too, bring into question Mr. Wheeler’s respect for his fellow citizens and human beings,” the business group said in a statement.
Wheeler’s multi-county district leans heavily Republican. In 2012 he defeated the incumbent, Kelly Kite, in the GOP primary by 192 votes and went on to defeat a Democratic opponent in the general election by a 74 percent to 26 percent margin.
He lost to Kite two years earlier.
Wheeler is up for re-election in 2014.