Assembly Jim Wheeler never thought he would be a politician. He was running a successful high-performance auto parts business out of Lancaster, CA. After selling his business in 2005, he decided to retire in Northern Nevada–a place where he used to work on cattle farms in the summer as a young kid.
When gas prices started to spike in 2010, he had a product he wanted to bring to market and called his local congressman, Dean Heller, to ask about government grants that might be available for his product. At the end of their 2-hour conversation, Heller told Wheeler that he should run for office. Wheeler laughed it off and didn’t give it much thought.
Some time later when he was buying hay from Assemblyman James Settlemeyer, Settlemeyer indicated he was running for Senate and Wheeler should run for his open Assembly seat.
In his first run for Assembly in 2010, Wheeler raised $1200 and lost to a popular incumbent. In 2012, when that incumbent voted to raise taxes, Jim personally knocked on 14,000 doors and won the race. Now, Wheeler is running for Settlemeyer’s Senate seat as the senator has termed out.
I had the opportunity to talk with the Assemblyman regarding a wide range of topics: The Nevada Legislature, the Republican and Democrat party, redistricting, the upcoming election and election integrity.
THE NEVADA GLOBE: Over the last few years, Nevada has swung to a significant Democrat majority. The Democrats are only one seat away from having a super majority. Outside of the power changing hands, what else has changed in the legislature? Is bipartisanship possible anymore?
ASSEMBLYMAN JIM WHEELER: Bipartisan agreement was possible in the earlier years, even when Democrats were in charge. But in 2016, things started to change and have gotten progressively worse. Democrats have become more hard left and many of the bills I and other Republicans introduced never made it to committee in this last session.
When Marilyn Kirkpatrick was a legislator, she and I would battle it out but we did so as friends who had different ideas about one bill or another. We both were smokers, so if we needed to hash something out, she would say 7 minutes? 7 minutes was the time it took for use to have a cigarette outside the capitol. We would go outside, scream at each other over our smoke break, and then go back in, discuss and make an agreement somewhere.
Government worked that way–where everyone didn’t get everything they wanted but everyone got a little piece of what they wanted. That is how good government works and how it should be.
Democrats have become more hard left. It has progressively gotten worse. Sandoval provided a backstop when he was Governor. Governor Sisolak does not.
Currently, Nevada is a hard blue state but it is not going to last. National and state policies are not popular with a majority of voters. 64% of people in Nevada don’t agree with these policies–and that includes Democrats. I think people are tired of their freedoms being taken away.
I too, like you, moved from California. How are these new Nevadans registering to vote? Have you noticed an increase in new Democrat or Republican registrations?
Douglas County is a microcosm but it is amazing how every month the GOP is registering more Republicans than Democrats. These are the political refugees from California who enjoy no state tax, no capitol gains tax, and enjoy the freedom and space that Nevada provides. It is freedom that makes this state great. The Southern part of Lake Tahoe is now solid red. Democrats aren’t too happy about that.
There has been much talk by Democrats about raising taxes. How difficult would it be for them to implement a personal income tax?
The state constitution clearly states there can be no state income tax. There would have to be a change to the constitution and would have to be voted on by the people of Nevada. Business taxes can only be raised with a 2/3 vote of the legislature. However, the Democrats in the last legislative session passed a bill to raise taxes and Sisolak signed it. Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and the Democrats played some dirty tricks with that legislation and when they were sued, thanks to James Settlemeyer, the State defended them! But, now that they have lost in the Nevada Supreme Court, they have to pay Settlemeyer’s attorney’s fees.
The Nevada Globe just published an article about redistricting and how it might affect state wide seats. Are you concerned with your district or any other districts that may be impacted by the boundary changes? How will these changes affect the Legislature?
The legislature will be having a special session regarding redistricting sometime in November. After the Democrats are done with redistricting, if they get their way, there is no way Republicans will control one of the houses in the legislature. It is going to take a lawsuit to overturn what they draw and I believe there will be a lawsuit depending on what is passed and what is signed by the Governor. They need 2 districts to get a supermajority in the senate. I am sure they will make that happen. They will turn three Republican districts into two and likely add a new district in Las Vegas. I think they are going to eliminate Senator Kieckhefer’s district and move it into Carson. Senator Kieckhefer introduced a bill that created a bipartisan redistricting commission that would draft the new or existing districts. It never made it to committee. Democrats shelved the bill. Again, these hard-left Democrats aren’t interested in bipartisanship. This is why the most important race in 2022 is the Governor’s race.
Speaking of the Governor’s race and upcoming 2022 elections, have you endorsed anyone yet?
I am waiting on the Governor’s race for a bit. I am friends with Dean Heller. I have lunch with Joe Lombardo tomorrow. Some of the things he has done and said has caused me some concern regarding sanctuary cities and gun laws. John Lee is great guy to work with. When he was a Democrat in the legislature, we were able to work together. Joey Gilbert is a fighter.
What about the US Senate?
Laxalt. I love Sam Brown he is a wonderful guy but Laxalt has the resources to beat Masto. Laxalt is a fighter. He doesn’t fight for publicity. He fights to do what is right. Remember when Masto had backlogged 9k rape kits and Adam came to legislature and got the money to get them done? Aaron Ford took credit for it. But, when there is a fight that needs be fought, Adam is in the middle of it. He doesn’t hunt for the publicity, but he does the right thing.
The Nevada Democrats are fractured between the Sanders and Reid wing. How is the unity of the Nevada GOP?
The state party of Nevada is doing a great job with Michael McDonald’s leadership and his ties to the Trump administration. There are internal factions that aren’t getting along with other factions but that is nothing new.The split in the party between right and center right is a vulnerability. Moderates take a little bit and give up a lot. I am willing to take a lot and give a lot and willing to give a little and get a little but I am not willing to take a little and get a lot. The GOP is the party of America if you stick to those values, you will win.
Since the pandemic, Governor Sisolak has used emergency powers to enact a variety of mandates. Is there not limit or expiration of these powers?
Emergency powers are endless and in order to fix that, I introduced a bill to limit a governor’s emergency powers to 15 days. No governor, Republican or Democrat, should have unlimited power where they can act without legislative consent. The Democrats refused to hear the bill. One told me that he didn’t want to have that fight with the governor right now. But Sisolak is under water in polling so that tells us Nevadans aren’t happy with how he is handling things.
Last question. Since these emergency powers were enacted, Nevada’s voting laws have changed: mail in ballots, ballot harvesting, are now codified in law. Will there still be polling places and how are Republicans adapting to these changes?
Ballot harvesting was a felony a year ago. Now it is legal. We have to learn to ballot harvest just as hard as Democrats. The counties need to up their ballot harvesting game. People will still be able to vote at the polls. But, the Democrats set the rules, now let’s beat them at their own game.
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