Tennessee Republicans demanded Tuesday that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner apologize for implying that opposition to federal health care legislation may be driven by racist disdain for President Obama.
They could be waiting a while, however, because later in the afternoon Turner said he has “nothing to apologize for.” And House Democratic Leader Gary Odom issued a press release afterward accusing Republicans of “hypocrisy” and “intentionally (taking Turner’s comments)…out of context for the purpose of political grandstanding.”
The spat arose from Turner’s comments during a press conference at the state Capitol Monday, when, standing with Odom, Turner rebuked Republicans for pushing bills advocating “state sovereignty and all that.”
“They’ve done that on a lot of issues,” Turner told reporters. “All of the sudden, we have a black man elected president, and everybody wants to start acting like something’s wrong with our country. I think we need to go back and take a good, hard look at this. I didn’t agree with a lot of the things George Bush did, but I didn’t want to secede from the Union.”
Republicans took umbrage with Turner’s assessments of opposition to Obama and his health care agenda. Three House Republicans — Reps. Jason Mumpower, Glen Casada and Mike Bell — declared to reporters during a press conference they called at noon Tuesday that the Old Hickory Democrat’s comments were inaccurate and inappropriate, and called on other Democrats to denounce him.
“When someone disagrees with the president, all that Chairman Turner and Tennessee Democrats know to do is name-call — in this case, to call people racist,” said Mumpower, R-Bristol. “Democrats don’t have any substance to their discussions or their arguments, all they like to do is name-call and point fingers.”
Bell, R-Riceville, is the chief House sponsor of the “Tennessee Health Freedom Act,” which passed last month in the Senate 26-1. Bell said state residents “from Mountain City to Memphis” have contacted his office to tell him they oppose the federal health care legislation.
“They oppose (it) not because our president is an African American,” said Bell. They oppose it “because they are angry at an oppressive federal government that is overreaching its bounds.”
“We’re a free a country — at least I hope we still are a free country,” Bell added. “And people want to be free to choose to participate in a federal program, or to keep their private insurance. That is what the anger is about.”
Casada found Turner’s implication “offensive,” too, and said he’s getting calls and emails from Tennesseans angry that an elected public servant “would raise and wag his finger and call you racist and call me racist just because you don’t agree with his big government policies.”
“Chairman Turner needs to apologize,” said Casada. “This type of demeaning people to try to put them down has got to stop.”
TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney on Tuesday also joined the chorus, sending a letter to state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester to “immediately ask Rep. Turner to apologize for his personal attacks on the vast number of Tennesseans who do not agree with his Democratic Party’s agenda for our country.”
Responding to Republican calls for him to express remorse, Turner told TNReport he has no plans to retract his comments. Regarding those angered by his sentiments, Turner said “maybe they got a guilty conscience.”
“Anybody who would honestly say that some people are not against (Obama) because he is an African American, I think they’re living on a different planet,” said Turner.
In a press release that outlined a six-point list of what he called “examples of Republican political activities in our state (that) should never be forgotten,” Odom declared, “I find it remarkable that House Republicans would condemn the use of racial overtones in political debate, when you consider recent Republican activities in our state and our country.”
The list went on to point out instances of alleged racism within Tennessee’s Republican party, including a former GOP Party Chairman “sending out Christmas music entitled “Barack the Magic Negro'” and a Republican Senate staffer sending out a “photo composite that pictured all of the U.S. presidents but depicted President Obama in a black background with only two white eyes.”
Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark Todd Engler can be reached at email@example.com.