MY COLUMN: The end of the Ira Era was inevitable

“I thought Ira was great. I have hope.”

That was the text I received from a prominent Republican, and a sentiment echoed by many others, shortly after Ira Hansen appeared on “Ralston Reports” last week. I had pushed the assemblyman on his social conservatism and evolution-denying, but he had insisted he was in a different role as speaker and would play ball with the governor.

Six days later, after what Hansen might call an Oriental water torture of revelations about his views on gays, African-Americans and women, he informed his caucus he would step down, followed a few hours later by an unrepentant statement saying he had been targeted by the "powers that be" who are plotting a "massive, more than one billion dollar, tax increase."

Amid questions about who will become speaker – the steady Paul Anderson or Wes Duncan would seem the best choices, the mercurial Michele Fiore the most entertaining – Hansen’s decision brings to a close an embarrassing chapter, albeit brief, in Nevada history. (Yes, it seems we have a lot of those.)

Even in departure, Hansen played the victim Sunday, repeating what he had mewled in a Saturday email: “Politics of personal destruction win.” On Saturday, he had lamented that he had been targeted by character assassins  ("Wasn't it technically character suicide?" one wag wondered.) and he has been enabled by lunkheads and opportunists who cared more about their own influence and pocketbooks than Hansen’s political career.

But Hansen’s own pen was mightier than any of the swords unsheathed by those who never wanted him there. The release of his old columns by Dennis Myers, followed by more revelations of his contemporaneous beliefs by Anjeanette Damon and Steve Sebelius, shocked and offended even those who liked and supported him. And there was, undoubtedly, more coming as at least one TV station was/is working on damaging stories about Hansen.

(Some have wondered why we in the Fourth Estate exposed Hansen now and did not do so earlier. Maybe we should have. But in our defense, Hansen was a backbencher who had been in Carson City for two sessions, so no one really paid attention until he was serendipitously elevated.)

Hansen could not survive. He should not have survived.

Before I was awakened at 4:30 AM by the news that Hansen was stepping down, I had written a column for today that began thusly: “Give Ira Hansen the best of it, and he still has to go.”

I thought that even if you believe Hansen was just being “purposely provocative” (as he claimed) in coarsely and casually racist, homophobic and misogynistic columns, even if you think he’s simply led an ignorant. Bundyesque life (“I’m a good Mormon boy raised in faith in Nevada”), even if you think he’s principled, even brave, on other issues, the speaker-to-be-no-more couldn’t assume the position.

For the Legislature’s sake.

For Nevada’s sake.

And, yes, for his sake.

It was equally painful to read statements of the obvious decrying what Hansen said from fellow Republican lawmakers and the governor as it was to read reflexive defenders claim the speaker-designate was being excoriated just because he is a conservative. At some point, a story about man who used the words “simple-minded darkies,” even just in an analogy, a man who equates homosexuality with bestiality and pederasty, a man who essentially thinks women should have babies and cook dinner, a man who believes there is no science to back up evolution….at some point, that story transcends politics.

This could never just be about the wagons circling around Hansen or those who wanted to kill him because they thought he would embarrass the state or block their agenda. (Yes, Gov. Brian Sandoval and state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson were not happy because they thought Hansen might scuttle their plans for a tax increase/reform package. But it will not be a billion dollars, and while they surely are thrilled with his decision, they did not do this to him. The fault, my dear Ira....)

Yes, it was fun for those of us in the pundit class to watch the Democrats try to tar all Republicans, especially Sandoval, with the Hansen brush. Yes, it was comical to watch not one Assembly Republican speak up to criticize Hansen (Jim Wheeler, who once said he would vote for slavery if his peeps wanted it, came passionately to Hansen's defense) and by their collective silence they are indicted as giving their assent. And it was pathetically hilarious to watch fringe clowns try to protect Hansen by embracing his spin and standing up for him because he is their guy, with one crass and Lilliputian buffoon tweeting, “Conservatives defend Hansen as RINOs crap all over him."

(By the way, real conservatives, not poseurs who claim the mantle without the philosophical underpinnings, were appalled by Hansen, as was National Review’s Charles Cooke, who tweeted last week, “Great. They finally get a foot in the door in Nevada and their leader is a loon.”)

There is, with stories such as this, always the spectacle.

But this really is about a person with an appalling lack of judgment, with virulently hateful views, both of which surely would have percolated in Carson City next year. And for a Republican Party that has just dominated the election cycle, a governor soaring to new popular heights and perhaps gazing eastward, and for a state that is perpetually caricatured, this was too much.

As native Nevadan turned Atlantic Associate Editor Matt Ford concluded in a blistering column, “Barring his resignation, Ira Hansen will walk into the Nevada Assembly chamber this January and take the oath of office as its next speaker. But if the state's founders still lived, they would barricade the doors.”

This would have made history, and the worst kind.

Hansen is not as conservative as some have portrayed him -- as I have pointed out, he voted to extend expiring taxes in each of the last two sessions --  and he may well have been willing to cooperate with the Sandoval/Roberson axis, as he indicated on “Ralston Reports.” Maybe.

But this has nothing to do with where he falls on the political spectrum (“Hey, Harry Reid said Negro, too!”) or with what he claimed were words “taken out of context,” the last refuge of politicians clobbered with their own unfortunate effusions. This is simply about a man who could not escape his past, as none of us can, and because of a growing political storm that threatened to destroy his caucus, his party and himself.

Ira Hansen could never be speaker because he had already spoken too much.

(Picture from HuffPo.)