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Front Page - Friday, November 1, 2019

Some politicians just can’t hide their inner biases

Something about being in the public eye seems to invite foot-in-mouth disease.

Example 1: Last November, a newly elected Democrat from Memphis, State Rep. London Lamar, offered her social and political analysis in a Facebook video she made after the midterm elections:

“Let’s just call a spade a spade. Tennessee’s racist. Period. Period. Like, Tennessee is racist.”

Blowback, I believe is the current term, ensued. How dare she say that?

Lamar, who is black, soon apologized for what she termed “an overgeneralization of white people.” Among her defenders was Mary Mancini, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, who called Lamar’s comments “a mistake made in anger.”

Example 2: Fast forward just a few months to March of this year, when Mancini, who is white, landed in the same sort of jam for practically the same words:

“We have a little bit of a problem in this state, and I’m just going to say it outright,” Mancini told Coffee County Democrats. “This is a racist state.”

She, too, quickly took flak and back-pedaled. Sort of.

“In the heat and the frustration of seeing and hearing the constant drumbeat of bigotry, misogyny and homophobia coming from the Republicans at the State Legislature, I used a poor choice of words and vented my frustration and I apologize,” she said in a statement.

Both women would have been better served had they moderated their original comments or, perhaps better still, resisted the urge to utter them at all.

But were their assessments wrong? I invite you to consider that as we get to Example 3: Warren Hurst, a Sevier County commissioner.

Perhaps you’ve read of or heard Hurst’s recent tirade against the world as he sees it. It would be hard not to have; he’s all over the internet and in the national news.

It started with an Oct. 21 meeting of the commissioners. The main order of business was a vote to declare the county a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary, a place where law officers will not enforce laws that they say they believe violate the constitutional right to bear guns.

Commissioners were afforded the opportunity to make remarks before their vote. Hurst, who apparently had multiple grievances weighing on his mind, did not limit himself to the topic at hand.

A local TV station reported his comments included these:

“We got a queer running for president, if that ain’t about as ugly as you can get.”

“I’m not prejudiced, but by golly, a white male in this country has very few rights, and they’re getting took more every day. You’ll hear ’em stand on the stage and say, ‘Oh, I’m for the poor and the black.’ You never heard one of them say ‘I believe white people have rights, too.’”

Sevier County, I’ve learned, is exceedingly white: 95.2%. The 25-member County Commission is even whiter: 100%. And 24 of the 25 commissioners are men.

Based on that, you would think that white men in Sevier County would be pretty much in the driver’s seat. But maybe Hurst takes a broader view of white male oppression.

A statement on the county website seeks distance from him: “The statements made by Commissioner Hurst at the Sevier County Commission meeting of October. 21, 2019, do not reflect the opinion or position of Sevier County administration.”

You’d hope not. A county that relies on tourism – Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg draw millions of visitors a year – can’t really afford to appear like a Klan refuge. But news reports from the meeting indicated that some in the audience at the meeting that night – one news report said “many” – applauded Hurst. Amens were heard.

Two observations: Anyone who prefaces a statement with “I’m not prejudiced, but” is about to open mouth and insert foot. And it’s clear that the right to make a fool of himself in public hasn’t been “took” from any white man yet.

Or the right to embarrass an entire state.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com