Thursday, May 6, 2010 | 2 a.m.
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Gov. Jim Gibbons is attacking GOP challenger Brian Sandoval by resurrecting a 2002 campaign controversy, when then-attorney general candidate Sandoval told a newspaper columnist that he would enforce all laws, even those he believed to be unconstitutional — including mandates as objectionable as forcing Jewish people to wear Star of David badges in public.
The Gibbons campaign compared Sandoval’s position to Nazis during World War II who claimed they were “just following orders” and said it shows the former federal judge “would promote ethnic bias and anti-Semitism, justifying this by saying that he would just be doing his job to enforce it.”
The 8-year-old statement is from a Las Vegas Review-Journal column documenting an exchange between Sandoval and members of the newspaper’s editorial board.
According to the column by Vin Suprynowicz, Sandoval was asked if as attorney general he would enforce a state law prohibiting “anonymous political leafleting even though it clearly violates the First Amendment.”
“Sandoval explained the AG is obligated to enforce any enactment of the Legislature, no matter how unconstitutional,” the columnist wrote. “ ‘Come on,’ I demanded, ‘you’re saying that if the Legislature passed a law requiring all Jews to wear yellow Stars of David sewn on the outside of their clothing, you’d enforce it?’ ‘It’s my job to enforce it,’ Mr. Sandoval replied.”
The quote became an issue at the time, with then-Democratic attorney general candidate John Hunt citing it in campaign ads. Sandoval won the race in a landslide.
Hunt’s campaign manager was political consultant Dan Hart, a close confidant of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid. Hart is running a third-party group, funded by $500,000 from the Democratic Governors Association, that has run ads attacking Sandoval.
Sandoval’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday, saying Gibbons’ attack “is so repugnant it is beneath the dignity of the office of Governor.” It called the news release a “ridiculous act of desperation. But unfortunately this is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Jim Gibbons.”
Phyllis Friedman, Nevada director of the Anti-Defamation League, Las Vegas, said she could not comment because the issue is related to a political race.
The attack comes as Arizona’s new immigration law has injected the intersection of race and law enforcement into the gubernatorial campaign.
Sandoval has faced criticism from the Hispanic community over his support for the Arizona law, which compels local and state law enforcement to question the identity and immigration status of people if there is reason to believe they are not here legally.
Critics of that law say it is unconstitutional and will inevitably lead to racial profiling.
Sandoval has said racial profiling is illegal and “I do not support it.”
Gibbons, however, has endorsed the racial profiling of people who look “like a terrorist,” but only awkwardly defined what he means by that. “If they want to have a racial profile of Irishmen, then I’m going to question that,” he said during a debate last month.
In 2002, Sandoval told the Las Vegas Sun that he stood by the statement that he would uphold the state’s laws, adding the question involved a “ridiculous premise” and that he was simply trying to answer with the attorney general’s duties in mind.
“I am absolutely not anti-Semitic and any attempt by my opponent to paint me that way would be offensive and an obvious desperation move,” Sandoval said.
The Jewish community’s reaction at the time was split. At a rally organized by Democrats a day after his remarks were published, attorneys and Jewish community leaders said Sandoval’s statements showed a lack of judgment. But the then-president of the local Anti-Defamation League, Burton Cohen, defended Sandoval and criticized the questioner.
“In my close to 40 years in this community, I have never seen a question asked of someone that is more despicable,” Cohen said, according to a Sun story at the time. “It is Jew-baiting at its worst.
“A question like that is only designed to incite prejudice.”