Top Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from Nevada’s Assembly minority leader over comments he made on a conservative radio talk show that Democrats say show the GOP wants to suppress the minority vote.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, touched off a political firestorm when he said the 2014 election could be a boon for Republicans because many minorities and younger people won’t vote.
“It’s a great year for Republicans,” he told Dan Mason on KOH-AM radio in Reno, noting “a lot of minorities, a lot of younger people will not turn out in a nonpresidential year.”
Democrats pounced with a barrage of criticism.
“Mr. Hickey’s comments were insulting and out-of-touch,” said Zach Hudson, Nevada Democratic Party spokesman. “But it reflects a broader problem. Republicans will do whatever they can to suppress the vote next year.”
Hickey has tried to tamp down the controversy, saying he didn’t mean to imply that a winning election strategy involves discouraging younger and Latino voters from participating.
He tried further to assuage the minority-voting issue during an appearance on the television news show “Ralston Reports,” telling host Jon Ralston that he has a “yellow” wife (she is Korean) and four “olive-skinned” children.
Hickey apologized in a statement Thursday.
“I am sorry about my recent comments and regret I made them,” he said. “It was not my intention to alienate any anyone, but I did misspeak, plain and simple and for that I apologize. I agree with Gov. Sandoval that Republicans must earn the trust and confidence of all Nevadans. I look forward to working with the governor and my fellow Republicans in accomplishing just that.”
His mea culpas did nothing to harness the growing political uproar that comes as leading state Republicans try to reclaim control of a dysfunctional party and recruit minority voters.
“I disagree with the minority leader’s statements,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s first Hispanic governor. “We must earn the trust and confidence of all Nevadans and seek their support on Election Day.
“Pat’s comments do not reflect my views, and he should reconsider them.”
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Hickey’s remarks “are divisive, insensitive and run counter to the basic duties and honor of public service.”
Hickey insists he was only referring to historical voting patterns.
“I meant to say that in nonpresidential-year elections, higher-propensity voters have tended to help GOP turnout numbers,” he said in a statement.
Robert Uithoven, a longtime GOP strategist who is running for state party chairman, said he doesn’t agree with any comments that would discourage young or minority voters and added that he believes Hickey’s apology is sincere.
During the 2013 Legislature, Hickey supported a resolution calling on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, as well as a bill signed into law that allows people in the United States illegally to obtain driver privilege cards.