By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
The voice of rural Nevada is not being heard at the Legislature, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler said Thursday on Nevada Newsmakers.
“I’m worried about rural Nevada actually not being represented in this session,” said Wheeler, R-Douglas County.
The quick approval of Senate Bill 143, which will subject almost all private gun sales and transfers to a state background check, is a good example that the majority of Democrats — mostly from urban Clark County districts — are not listening to the concerns of the rural counties, Wheeler said.
Wheeler said Democrats pushed the controversial gun bill through the Legislature with little or no input from Republicans.
Democrats didn’t need Republican votes to pass the measure, since they hold large majorities in both houses. In the Assembly, Democrats hold a two-thirds majority, large enough to pass any bill — including tax bills — without any Republican votes.
“I don’t believe we were heard with this particular bill being shoved through,” Wheeler said. “They (Democrats) say they didn’t hurry this bill through. They did. And even so, 504 people from the rural areas showed up in opposition to this bill to testify while only 42 people signed in, in support of this bill. And most of those were from out of state.
“The ones that came in opposition came from here,” Wheeler added. “So I think our voices need to be heard a little more as we go forward in this session.”
Wheeler said he is also concerned another north-south rift is growing at the Legislature.
“I see it happening. I see it coming again,” he said. “And for years. we were able to talk back and forth and say something like, ‘Well this won’t be good for the north.’ And they say, ‘OK, we didn’t realize that.’
“It doesn’t seem to matter this session,” Wheeler said. “I hope that is not true. We are very early in the session and I hope we will be able to move on and actually talk back and forth.
“We live in a different part of the state up here,” he added. “This whole state isn’t Clark County.”
Democrats were not listening when Republican voiced issues with the gun bill, Wheeler said.
“When this bill went to committee, we found out all of the flaws,” he said. “We tried to put an amendment in that actually would have made the bill acceptable. That amendment was turned down on party lines. And it wasn’t turned down north and south. It was turned down, Democrat to Republican. And that bothers me. it bothers me a lot. Let’s talk about things. let’s not just push it through.”
When the gun-background check bill was before the voters in 2016 as a ballot question, it passed by a slim margin — less than one percent of the total vote.
It was not implemented because the FBI did not want to do the background checks, as dictated by the ballot question’s language. So Democrats fixed that issue and moved it through the legislative process.
Wheeler noted that the ballot measure was defeated by voters in 16 of 17 Nevada counties. Yet it passed because Clark County — with more than 75 percent of the state’s population — voted for it by a wide margin.
“Sixteen counties did not want this bill and it lost overwhelmingly in those 16 counties,” Wheeler said. “But of course, our main one is Las Vegas and Clark County and it passed down there to make it law.”
Wheeler is concerned Nevada’s conservative voices will not be heard in the current Legislature.
“In our districts, the Republican caucus still represents a million people in this state, around there somewhere, and they need to have a voice, too,” Wheeler said. “And I don’t want their voice silenced. and that is the thing I want to try and get through in this session. Their voice will be heard.”
Host Sam Shad said he sensed Wheeler was angry with the GOP predicament.
“I’m not really angry,” Wheeler countered. “I understand who controls the house. I don’t like the fact that we are getting run over. And as I said to you before, what bothers me more than anything is that we represent a million Nevadans or so, somewhere between 700,000 and 1.2 million, and those people’s voices can’t be silenced. That would anger anyone. I’m not angry with the other side. They are doing their priorities. I get it. Elections have consequences.”
Wheeler, however, praised new Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, comparing him to former GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, who left office at the beginning of the year because of term limits.
“He (Sisolak) is open to discussion,” Wheeler said. “Our previous governor — if I wanted to talk to him even though he was a Republican and I was the leader of the caucus on the Republican side — I had to go through his Chief of Staff, Mike Wilden. Great guy. Love the guy. With this governor (Sisolak), I’ve got his cell phone number and we text back and forth and he answers me. I may not like his answers sometimes but he does answer me, I’ll give him that.”