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May 26, 2024

Politics:

Nevada Assembly’s speaker-elect steps down amid racism controversy

Hansen claims he was victim of ‘orchestrated attack’

Tesla Special Session Sept. 11, 2014

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 Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 | 11:12 p.m.

After facing a firestorm of criticism for racist comments he made publicly, incoming Assembly Speaker Ira Hansen announced that he would not lead the chamber during the upcoming legislative session.

After announcing to his legislative colleagues that he was stepping down, Hansen issued a news release today saying the controversy surrounding him had been an "orchestrated attack."

"The deliberate character assassination and the politics of personal destruction have totally distorted my views and record," he said in the release. "Ultimately, this whole attack has very little to do with my views. The powers that be are planning a massive, more than $1 billion, tax increase and I stood in the way as speaker. I have already served two terms as an assemblyman without any of these vicious attacks. It was only when I had risen to leadership that this smear campaign occurred. That is the real reason for this and it is vital the public understands that."

It is unclear whether Hansen will continue to serve as a lawmaker representing Sparks, but he said the media was painting the wrong depiction of him. He implied he was a victim of "race-baiting."

"Politics of personal destruction win," he wrote in a message to Nevada lawmakers. "I need to step down. I hope that you all know that the Ira that you have known through these years and weeks is the real Ira and not what the media is painting me to be."

Hansen first came under fire on Thursday after the Reno News and Review uncovered invective-filled columns the lawmaker wrote for the Sparks Tribune in the 1990s and 2000s. Among his opinions, Hansen wrote that Democrats have a "master-slave" relationship with "simple-minded darkies." He also disparaged Hispanics, members of the LGBT community and women, and boasted of having a Confederate flag in his home.

Political and activist groups, such as the Reno-Sparks NAACP, immediately called for his ouster, and leading Republicans – including Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller - added their voices to those criticizing Hansen.

Hansen initially responded by saying his writings were taken out of context.

"These comments were meant to be purposely provocative in various political, cultural and religious views," he said. "I have the utmost respect for all people without regard to race, gender, religious or political beliefs."

Michael Dimengo, chief executive officer of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, said he was "heartened" by Hansen's decision to withdraw.

He cited a May 2013 letter in which Hansen wrote homosexuality is a choice of sexual behavior like adultery, pedophilia and bestiality, and gays "are not a 'minority' any more than adulterers are a minority." The letter was written on official state letterhead.

"I find his writings to be patently offensive and totally unenlightened as to the latest research on the matter," Dimengo said. "You need to question how can a person be elevated to a position of leadership that commands the respect of all Nevadans when by his ideology and expression of it he's dividing people."

But conservative activist Chuck Muth of Las Vegas defended Hansen, saying he was merely trying to be provocative in his columns to get the public to think about issues.

Muth also criticized Sandoval, Heller and other leading Republicans for attacking Hansen's statements.

"Why should any Republicans give a damn about what the NAACP thinks? They don't vote for our candidates. That is not who our base is," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The Assembly Republican caucus will now have to choose a new leader. The 25 Republicans can choose their next speaker designee. The Assembly will approve the caucus's choice at the beginning of the legislative session in February.

Paul Anderson, the Republican Assembly's majority leader designee, would be next in line for speaker. He was unavailable for comment, as were Republican Assembly members Michele Fiore and Pat Hickey.

Hansen was elected to office in 2010 and was designated as the speaker after Republicans won control of both legislative chambers in the Nov.4 election.

Martin Griffith and Scott Sonner of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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