Slow learning curve

When Assemblymember Ira Hansen declined the speakership after we reported on his attacks over a period of years on women, racial minorities, gays, Israel, and miscellaneous others, one of our readers wrote to us, “You have accomplished what journalism is supposed to accomplish—speaking truth to power.” Perhaps. But we would have been happier if Hansen had learned more from the incident.

In his Nov. 22 statement, which readers can read in our Upfront section on page 8, he began and ended with a halfhearted apology. In between were rationalizations, excuses, and blame—for others. He took responsibility for his actions just long enough to then pass that responsibility off to others. The buck doesn’t stop with him.

As Las Vegas journalist Steve Sebelius wrote, “That’s not so much an apology as an attempt to weasel out of some incredibly offensive remarks, and an abject avoidance of the personal responsibility that Republicans often say we need more of these days. What Hansen needs is a real apology.” It would be appropriate for us to demand one, too, but we’re not going to. Obviously, from his resentment and language, he doesn’t regret anything, so what’s the point in another insincere “apology”? No, what Nevadans need to consider now is how to limit his poison from spreading.

Is this going to be it? Must we live with meanspirited, dogmatic officials who find the best way to power is pitting our citizens against each other? If so, we can expect voter turnout to continue being weak and the pool of available candidates to shrink.

This is not just the fault of the crappy candidates we get. It is also the fault of voters who let themselves be taken in by cheap, shallow, absurd claims in criminally deceptive campaigns and then go to their polling places and reward purveyors of the lowest common denominators.

One indication of how sneering and vicious politics has become is that figures who once were considered pretty partisan now have no interest in being in politics because it is such a garbage dump. In 1996, U.S. Rep. Barbara Vucanovich stepped down from her northern Nevada House seat after serving seven terms. “There’s just no cooperation,” she later said. “Nobody wants to get anything done. But it’s sad because it’s more of a battle than it is representing people and governing properly. They’re not doing that.” The leading candidate to replace her, former Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner, after waiting years for the chance to run for the seat, declined the race because of the mess Congress has become.

Intelligent conservatives like Vucanovich and her daughter, former state treasurer Patty Cafferata, who were working for the Grand Old Party when Ira Hansen was just a bad rumor, have stood aghast watching loons bring the GOP into disrepute. Across the country, conservatives have been equally appalled as Nevada legislators like Michelle Fiore have affiliated themselves with crazy and dangerous wingnuts. At conservative website American Patriot, this was posted when Hansen’s godawful newspaper columns became known: “I think it is every man’s right to think what he feels; but that sort of hatred has no place in public business of any sort, whether it be local, state or federal. Conservatism or, more specifically, Republicanism and white nationalism are not compatible at all. … The Nevada Assembly just made a huge blunder.”

Ira Hansen said his words were “being portrayed as intentionally hurtful and disrespectful.” It wasn’t a portrayal. It was reality. Words have consequences, and using them recklessly can hurt good people, and our politics.