LITTLE ROCK — A Republican state senator has sparked controversy over his comments from a 2011 speech.
The comments, first reported by The Nation, were part of a speech that Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, made at a Tea Party rally. In a video of a portion of the speech, Rapert, who is white, is seen saying:
“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to try to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!”
Dale Charles, state president of the NAACP, called Rapert’s comments “racist.”
“What he’s saying is that he doesn’t consider African-Americans as a vital part of this democracy. It’s a sad day when you’ve got elected officials with that type of mindset,” Charles said in an interview Friday.
In an email to the Arkansas News Bureau, Rapert said The Nation’s report on his comments was “obviously total distortion used out of context.”
Rapert also defended his comments during a radio talk show appearance Friday on KARN in Little Rock.
He told host Dave Elswick that his use of the word “minorities” was not in reference to race but to a statement he said he made earlier in the speech that a majority of Arkansans disagree with the policies of President Obama. That part of the speech was not included in the segment of video used by The Nation, he said.
“I never said the word ‘black,’ I never said the word ‘African-American.’ It’s ‘minorities,’” he said.
Rapert said that within the context of the speech, “I said that a minority of political interests are standing in the way of the will of the Arkansas people.”
The senator said he believes he has been targeted for attack because of his sponsorship of Senate Bill 34, which would ban an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected — something he says can happen as early as six weeks. If passed, it would be the earliest-stage abortion ban in the country.
The bill passed in the Senate on Thursday and is now in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
Rapert said on KARN that he has received threatening messages from around the country because of SB 34.
“I guess that’s what happens when you take a stand for 53 million lives that have been lost in the nation,” he said.
Candace Martin, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, said in an interview Friday that Rapert’s remarks “had no place in political discourse.”
“Yet again an Arkansas Republican has subjected the state of Arkansas to being nationally embarrassed because of racially charged remarks,” she said, referring to remarks made by two former GOP state legislators, Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch.
Hubbard, of Jonesboro, said in a book he published in 2009 that slavery was a “blessing in disguise” for blacks.
Mauch, of Bismarck, wrote in a letter to the editor in a Little Rock newspaper in 2001 that Abraham Lincoln was a terrorist. In a 2009 letter to the editor, Mauch wrote that Jesus and Paul never condemned slavery.
Both lost re-election campaigns in November after their past comments became issues in their races.