He’s being denounced – and rightly so.
A Nevada assemblyman came under fire Monday after a YouTube video surfaced in which he told a Republican gathering he would vote to allow slavery if that is what his constituents wanted him to do.
"If that's what they wanted, I'd have to hold my nose ... they'd probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah," Assemblyman Jim Wheeler told members of the Storey County Republican Party at a meeting in August.
His comments were swiftly denounced by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Do elected officials have an obligation to represent their constituents? Yes. Is it their obligation to do so (dare I use the word) slavishly, even when it is clear that their constituents are wrong? No they do not. Edmund Burke suggested that all a representative owes his constituent is his best judgment. I don’t know that I hold that view in as absolutist a fashion as that great English statesman, but I agree with there is a point at which a representative must be prepared to do what he or she believes to be right even if those who hold elected them disagree. Dare I suggest that the example Wheeler offered up is a classic example of such an instance?
The issue is one that John F. Kennedy dealt with quite forthrightly in Profiles in Courage. Consider the best example found in the book, Edmund G. Ross, who defied the people and legislature of Kansas by refusing to vote to remove President Andrew Johnson from office during the impeachment trial. Similarly, Gov. Sam Houston of Texas courageously stood with the Union when Texas seceded from the Union and was deposed from office for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. Both rejected their constituency in favor of what was right -- and both are recognized as having been right to have done so.
It is reasonable, of course, to question where the line is drawn -- but no, it would never be acceptable to vote for slavery regardless of the strength of the demands made by one's constituents. If Wheeler doesn't get that, he needs to go.