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Nevada speaker-elect steps down amid criticism

The Associated Press
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FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2013, file photo, Nevada Assembly Republicans Ira Hansen, takes the oath of office during the opening day of the 77th Legislative Session in Carson City, Nev. The Nevada lawmaker Ira Hansen chosen to serve as Assembly speaker in 2015 has decided to withdraw from the leadership position amid widespread criticism over his past remarks about blacks, gays and women. Assemblyman Hansen, in a statement Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, claims attacks from blacks, gays and fellow Republican officials in Nevada, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, were merely intended to remove him as an obstacle to any tax increase next session. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison, File)

RENO — The Nevada Assembly speaker-elect has decided to withdraw from the leadership position amid widespread criticism over his past remarks about blacks, gays and women.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen in a statement Sunday claims attacks from blacks, gays and fellow Republican officials in Nevada, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, were merely intended to remove him as an obstacle to a tax increase next session.

“The deliberate character assassination and the politics of personal destruction have totally distorted my views and record,” he said. “Ultimately, this whole attack has very little to do with my views.”

Sandoval did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the governor earlier criticized Hansen’s statements on race, religion and sexual orientation, saying, “this kind of abhorrent speech is unacceptable.”

Hansen’s decision was welcomed by the Reno-Sparks NAACP, which had called for the GOP caucus in the Assembly to reconsider its choice of him. The chapter says Hansen demonstrated a long history of racial insensitivity and bigotry.

“It’s a step in the right direction instead of a step backwards,” Reno-Sparks NAACP President Jeffrey Blanck said. “Now, they can choose someone who won’t be so divisive and who won’t have a negative or discriminatory agenda.”

The local NAACP’s bid to deny him leadership of the lower house follows a report by the weekly Reno News & Review citing dozens of Hansen quotes offensive to women, gays and minorities. The quotes, most of which ran in his Sparks Tribune columns, included:

• “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.”

Hansen, who is a Sparks plumbing business owner, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But he said last week that many remarks he made as a columnist and radio talk-show host were being taken out of context. He said his views have evolved on some issues since then.

Michael Dimengo, chief executive officer of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, said he was “heartened” by Hansen’s decision to step down.

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 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.

Republicans gained control of the state Assembly in November’s election for the first time since 1985. The GOP now enjoys a 25-17 edge, and its Assembly caucus must select a new speaker.

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