Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013 | 2:01 a.m.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, has found himself in the middle of a firestorm after a YouTube video of him saying he’d vote for slavery if his constituents wanted it made the rounds last week.
“I’d have to hold my nose, I’d have to bite my tongue, they’d probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah, if that’s what the constituency wants that elected me,” he told a group of Storey County Republicans in August. “That’s what they elected me for. That’s what a republic is about.”
Now, after facing criticism from Republicans and Democrats, including several calls to resign, Wheeler says he was being “facetious.” He says he would never vote for slavery, though in the video he looks and sounds downright serious.
Wheeler hasn’t helped himself in his defense. In a statement on his website, Wheeler offered a tepid apology and blames the media, which he says are trying to accuse him of being a racist. But that’s an attempt to deflect righteous criticism.
Wheeler’s comments showed incredibly poor judgment, and speaking in a room in which there didn’t appear to be any people of color, he obviously didn’t understand the significance of what he was saying. But he should have.
On his website, he says the comment was “an extreme example I used about supporting my constituents.”
Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? He made it clear that he would go to great lengths to do what his constituents wanted, even if it included voting for something he disagreed with.
In the video, it’s also clear that Wheeler is playing to his conservative base, talking about the government as a representative republic. He said people could have what they wanted, and if it was wrong, they’d hopefully come around on the issue.
Someone even clapped after his comments and said: “Yeah. A representative republic. Gee, what a concept.”
Wheeler made several other stunning comments on the video. He bashed Southern Nevada and its political leaders, and he also suggested plans for cutting Clark County out of the state. That won’t help him get any work done in the Legislature, considering most of the lawmakers are from Clark County.
Despite the calls to resign, Wheeler doesn’t seem to be budging. On his website, Wheeler said he and his constituents agree “99 percent of the time.”
“That makes sense — they elected me because they know that my beliefs align with theirs,” he wrote.
But what really are Jim Wheeler’s beliefs? After pledging his allegiance to do the will of his constituents, he is now hedging, saying he wouldn’t advocate for “an unacceptable issue.”
If the majority wanted it, how could he find it unacceptable given his belief in a representational republic?
There’s a great irony in this: Wheeler went to extreme lengths to show he’ll represent people in his district, but should he return to the Legislature he won’t be able to represent his constituents well. He’ll be marginalized because of his divisive comments.
There’s also a lesson in this: Yes, people vote for representatives, but they’re also looking for leaders. And leaders know better than this.