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Sisolak blasts local official’s racist remark about his wife

August 10, 2021 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak rebuked comments made about his wife by a rural county commissioner who alleged that her Chinese ancestry should raise suspicions as the state retightens restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The Democratic governor on Monday said that the remarks were racist and called on Republican officials to denounce them.

Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox said without evidence on Tuesday that Sisolak’s wife, Kathy Ong Sisolak, had family in China profiting from selling pandemic-related items, echoing a recurrent conspiracy theory espoused by anti-Sisolak, anti-mask mandate activists.

“She is Chinese. And you put two and two together. ... Is there any better reason in the world to want to do a mask mandate? That’s a direct conflict of interest. I think maybe he should step aside. He shouldn’t even be involved in this,” she added.

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Cox also referenced “Agenda 21” — a 1992 United Nations planning paper that some conspiracy theorists in the Patriot Movement falsely claim substantiates designs to establish a totalitarian “New World Order.” After her remarks, the commission decided to flout Sisolak’s statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces.

Kathy Sisolak was born in Ely and grew up in Las Vegas, where her father worked as a card dealer. She later worked as a public sector consultant, founding the firm Hobbes, Ong & Associates. She began dating Steve Sisolak in 2013 and they were married in 2018, according to the governor’s website.

“I am furious after hearing vile, blatantly racist comments made against my wife — a Nevadan who has dedicated her life to making our state a better place. There is no room for this type of hateful speech from anyone, especially not from an elected official,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Kathy and I, along with so many others, have worked hard to fight back against the anti-Asian racism brought on by misinformation regarding COVID-19, but comments like these only take us backward.”

Cox did not respond to request for comment.

Amid the pandemic, law enforcement agencies saw sharp upticks in Asian-targeted hate crimes between 2019 and 2020, according to data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University, San Bernardino. A report from the California-based advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate documents 6,603 “hate incidents” from March 2020 to March 2021.

The Nevada Republican Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.