CARSON CITY, NV - A Nevada assemblyman steps into a political firestorm saying he'd vote to bring back slavery if his constituents wanted it.
The debate that followed centered on questions of racial politics and bigotry, but perhaps basic high school civics should be part of the conversation.
When video of Assemblyman Jim Wheeler's August appearance before a Storey County Republican group surfaced Monday, the reaction was immediate and just about universal.
Fellow Republicans recoiled and condemned.
Democrats looked on gleefully as the national media picked up the story.
Wheeler's problems actually date back to 2010. He was running for the Assembly, a race he would lose, and was quoted as saying it wasn't his views that mattered, but those of his constituents. He had no political agenda.
That prompted a puzzled response from Conservative activist Chuck Muth who wondered on his blog about a candidate with no political agenda. If that were true, he wrote, why have elections at all?
"What if those citizens decided they wanted to, say, bring back slavery?" wrote Muth. "Hey, if it's what the citizens want, right Jim?"
Wheeler wrote Muth back with a response which apparently remained at the time between the two men.
Fast forward to that Storey County Republican meeting in August. Wheeler is a sitting assemblyman fielding a question whether he'd ever vote for a bill he opposed but the voters wanted.
The answer was yes and he gave an example. Brianna's Law, a measure requiring a DNA sample from anyone arrested on a felony charge. Wheeler felt it was unconstitutional, but after seeing his mail run three to one in favor, he voted for it.
Then retold the three year old story of Muth's question and his response.
"I wrote a letter back and said 'Yeah, I would (vote to reinstitute slavery) if that's what they wanted. I'd have to hold my nose and bite my tongue. They might have to hold a gun to my head, but I would if that's what the citizens, the constituents wanted."
We spoke briefly with Wheeler today. He declined an interview request, but issued a statement apologizing, but explaining it was his belief that "in a Representative Republic I'm hired by the people to represent their views." adding "I used an over the top example...."
"It's a simply ridiculous statement," says Truckee Meadows Community College political scientist Fred Lokken, a registered Independent. "If he's nothing more than a mirror it completely defeats the purpose of representative government."
Wheeler now says of course he'd never vote for such a measure and there's no reason to doubt him.
His understanding of American democracy and his place in it, Lokken says, is another matter.
"It's the worst kind of representative. We want people who have a backbone, basically are very clear in their convictions, are drive by a particular moral compass. That's how we evaluate a candidate."
It is, Lokken says, basic high school civics.
While we expect our elected officials to listen to us, we don't expect them to check their own knowledge which should exceed our own and their morality at the door when they enter office.