RENO — Nevada Republicans began the search for a new speaker of the Assembly on Monday as they tried to put behind them a nasty spat over racial insensitivity and bigotry, and Gov. Brian Sandoval disclosed he’d asked Sparks Republican Ira Hansen three days earlier to abandon his bid for the speakership.
“I respect Mr. Hansen’s decision to step down, in his own words, ‘for the greater good of Nevada,’” Sandoval said in a statement released by his office Monday afternoon. He said he first asked Hansen to relinquish his position as speaker designate during a private meeting with him in Carson City on Friday.
“I asked him to do so specifically because of his offensive published writings and statements regarding race, sexual preference and gender,” Sandoval said.
In announcing his decision on Sunday, Hansen said he was the victim of “a carefully orchestrated attack to remove a conservative Republican from a major leadership role in state government.”
Hansen said that Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller were among high-profile Republicans who were behind the effort so as to remove him as an obstacle to any tax increase next session.
Sandoval earlier criticized Hansen’s statements on race, religion and sexual orientation, saying “this kind of abhorrent speech is unacceptable.”
The governor’s statement issued Monday came after Assembly Democratic Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick and others had criticized Republicans for being slow to show Hansen the door.
“These awful comments make me question Mr. Hansen’s ability to lead the Nevada Assembly,” Kirkpatrick said on Friday. “I also question what’s wrong with a growing number of Assembly Republican Caucus members regarding their own views on race, gender, and tolerance.”
Hansen didn’t immediately respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment. He said in an email to the GOP Caucus on Sunday that Majority Leader-designate Paul Anderson has agreed to hold a meeting in his Las Vegas office next Tuesday to consider a vote for the next speaker.
Anderson, R-Las Vegas, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Hansen sent a series of emails to fellow Republicans explaining how he wants the leadership transition to go as smooth as possible, Ralston Reports first reported Monday. Hansen emphasized he remains the caucus leader until the vote by secret ballot on Dec. 2.
Hansen defeated ex-Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey of Reno for the spot during a caucus about three weeks ago.
Conservative activist Chuck Muth, who had defended Hansen, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that Anderson and Assemblywoman Michele Fiore were among the lawmakers he knew were interested in the speakership. Fiore did not immediately respond for requests for comment on Monday.
The 2015 Nevada Legislature is scheduled to convene in Carson City on Feb. 2 to begin a 120-day session. Lawmakers officially vote on the leadership positions that day, but it’s more of a formality based on the earlier caucus elections under rules adopted by each individual party caucus.
“It’s a caucus issue. They decide how they elect their leaders,” Rick Combs, executive director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said Monday.
The Reno-Sparks NAACP called on the GOP Caucus last week to reconsider its selection of Hansen for speaker, citing what it said was a long history of racial insensitivity and bigotry.