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March 24, 2017

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Ira Hansen, Nevada’s incoming Assembly speaker, under fire for racist comments

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Cathleen Allison / AP

Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, speaks on the Assembly floor during the second day of a special session at the Nevada Legislature on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Carson City.

Updated Friday, Nov. 21, 2014 | 8:07 a.m.

Political and activist groups are calling for Republican Ira Hansen to step down as the Nevada Assembly speaker-elect.

Hansen came under fire Thursday after unflattering columns he penned for the Sparks Tribune resurfaced. His writings made national headlines and upended the state’s political landscape heading into the legislative session.

Hansen, who had a column for 13 years with the paper, wrote that Democrats have a "master-slave" relationship with "simple-minded darkies."

In other works he disparaged gays, women and Hispanics.

Jeffrey Blanck, branch president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, said the group has known of Hansen’s leanings for a long time.

"We understand that the caucus has many newly elected members who may not be as familiar with Mr. Hansen's past as we are. They need to know he has beaten the drum of intolerance for decades," he said.

Hansen’s comments are “bizarre” and “out of touch,” said Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national group that aids Democrats in state races.

"Republicans gained full control of only one state government in the entire country in 2014 - Nevada - and the elevation of Ira Hansen to the Assembly speakership shows why no other states joined them."

Las Vegas journalist Jon Ralston reported that Hansen said his comments were “taken out of context.” Hansen told Ralston that his office “will always have an open door to all backgrounds and political viewpoints.”

The Reno News and Review first reported the story by digging through the Sparks Tribune’s microfilm archives where Hansen’s comments date back to 1994.

Hansen couldn’t be reached on Thursday. His phone went to voicemail and he didn’t respond to email requests by the Las Vegas Sun.

Assembly Republicans elected Hansen to be the chamber’s speaker days after the party won control of the Legislature on Nov. 4. His rise to the top had Democrats and moderate Republicans worried about the upcoming session. There are 11 new Republicans in the chamber. Many ran on promises of no new taxes and other conservative platforms. Moderates in both parties are hoping to raise money for the state’s education system by raising tax revenues. Hansen’s Republican Assembly caucus was thought to be a barrier to raising new revenues for education.

State Democrats, reeling from losing control of the Legislature, won’t gain political leverage for the upcoming session. But they could benefit in 2016, said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada Reno.

“This is like the first shot at 2016,” he said. “Democrats can say: ‘look at the people you elected and then you put them in charge.' ”

Nevada doesn’t have a positive track record when it comes to prominent figures making disparaging public remarks.

Hansen’s writings were reminiscent of Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler’s comments on slavery, U.S. Senator Harry Reid’s comments about President Barack Obama and rancher Cliven Bundy’s comments about African Americans.

Aaron Ford, the state Senate minority leader delegate, didn’t have an opinion on whether Hansen should step down as the Assembly’s elected leader. "I won’t get involved in the Assembly’s business about its leadership,” he said.

Ford, who is African American, called the comments hurtful and harmful.

Ford said his son asked him about Wheeler’s comments after they happened. Ford had a conversation about the issue with his child.

“I am likely to have that same conversation with my son this time,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval told the Associated Press that Hansen’s comments were “abhorrent.”

"I wholeheartedly disagree with Assemblyman Hansen's past public statements on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation,” he said.

Republican Assembly members Paul Anderson and Michele Fiore did not return phone calls from the Las Vegas Sun.

Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said in a statement that Hansen's reported comments "give me great concern," and "statements like these do not have a place in public discourse."

Here are other controversial statements made by Hansen uncovered by the Reno News and Review:

On women

"Women, historically, have been the nurturers and mothers while men have been the providers and defenders," Hansen wrote in 1997

"Thanks to the ’sexual revolution’ and the ’women’s liberation movement,’ women chose to act as foolishly as men, and illegitimacy also went through the roof. … Abortions get about one out of every four children conceived.”

On race

"The shrewd and calculating [black] ’leaders’ are willing to sacrifice the children of their own race to gratify their lust for power and position. The relationship of Negroes and Democrats is truly a master-slave relationship, with the benevolent master knowing what’s best for his simple minded darkies. For American blacks, being denied choice and forced to attend the failing and inferior government school system is a form of involuntary servitude. Let’s call it what it truly is—educational slavery.”

“The lack of gratitude and the deliberate ignoring of white history in relation to eliminating slavery is a disgrace that Negro leaders should own up to.”

“Locally, gangs and their associated criminal activity are obviously dominated by immigrants, especially Hispanic immigrants. You cannot read a story about criminals or watch a news report locally without noticing a grossly disproportionate amount of Hispanic involvement.”

On gays

"One fact of homosexuality deliberately downplayed is the grossly disproportionate numbers of child molesters, called ’pederasts,’ which fill their ranks. In fact, they are called, in the homosexual vernacular, ’chicken hawks.’ Many of these pederasts are not the least bit ashamed of their vile behavior and have adopted the militancy now so common with their fellow homosexuals.”

“Yet another pet theory of the left has fallen by the wayside. In case you have not heard, the complete human gene code has now been mapped, and scientists have dealt a fatal blow to the ’gay gene’ theory.”

Around the web

Hansen's writings were quickly picked up by news outlets around the country. Here's what they're saying:

Washington Post: Nevada’s new Assembly speaker has a long history of controversial comments about women, blacks and gays

Huffington Post: Calling Nevada's incoming speaker racist and sexist would be a huge understatement

Salon: Simple-minded darkies': Meet the white supremacist who’s about to be Nevada’s House speaker

Mediaite: Allow Nevada’s New Assembly Speaker to Tell You About Gays, Latinos, ‘Darkies,’ and Dems

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