Nevada speaker steps down after racist remarks surface

Nevada speaker steps down after racist remarks surface
Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen will not take the State Assembly speaker position next year, he announced Sunday. The speaker-elect has faced criticism for a history of bigoted sentiments he expressed in a regular local newspaper column.

Hansen, a two-term assemblyman, first told his fellow Republicans in an email that he would not assume speaker duties, according to Nevada journalist Jon Ralston.

“Politics of personal destruction win,” Hansen wrote to his caucus. “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. You are a great group that can hopefully do great things and my staying will harm the caucus. I wish you all the best. Thanks for hanging tough through these difficult past days. If this were just about ‘me’ I would fight this out to the bitter end, but it is going to harm all of you.”

For 13 years, Hansen wrote a column in the Sparks Tribune, a small local newspaper. The Reno News and Review reviewed his columns and published last week a number of racist, misogynistic and homophobic portions.

"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 wrote in one instance.

"Today, when Army men look at women in the ranks with 'longing in their eyes' it very well may constitute ’sexual harassment,'" he wrote in another column. "The truth is, women do not belong in the Army or Navy or Marine Corps, except in certain limited fields."

Hansen, a denier of evolution, also consistently linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claimed he proudly kept a Confederate flag in his home “in memory of a great cause and my brave ancestors who fought for that cause.”

Last week, Hansen became the target of intense scrutiny over the history of columns, which became available online only recently.

“No Nevada official has ever given the public a more detailed blueprint to his thinking than Hansen,” The Reno News and Review wrote. “For many years, starting on May 11, 1994, he wrote a column for the Sparks Tribune. The Tribune did not go online until relatively recently, so access to and knowledge of most of the Hansen columns has not been easy. We reviewed every column on microfilm for this piece, covering a period of 13 years, plus a few that did make it onto the Trib website. In these columns, his viewpoint evolved very little. In fact, some columns ran unchanged time and again as the years passed.”

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a fellow Republican, denounced Hansen’s writings.

"I wholeheartedly disagree with Assemblyman Hansen's past public statements on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. This abhorrent kind of speech is unacceptable,” Sandoval said.

Hansen released a statement later Sunday that confirmed his resignation. He insisted that he was the victim of a media-led “character assassination.”

“For the greater good of the State of Nevada and the cause I support it is necessary for me to withdraw as Speaker Designee. The tens of thousands of people who both read my columns and listened to my radio shows through two decades in the media know this has been a carefully orchestrated attack to remove a conservative Republican from a major leadership role in State government. The deliberate character assassination and the politics of personal destruction have totally distorted my views and record. Ultimately, this whole attack has very little to do with my views. The powers that be are planning a massive, more than one billion dollar, 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.”

Whether Hansen will remain in his Assembly seat is unclear, according to Ralston.