Colorado House Republicans are not taking a position on a controversial statement about lynching victims that the GOP caucus leader made during a resolution on the House floor honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
“We are standing in the moral arc of history today,” Rep. Lori Saine, a Firestone conservative and caucus chair, said at the onset of a four-minute speech on Friday. “We have come a long way on that arc since the Reconstruction, when whites and blacks alike were in nearly equal numbers lynched for the crime of being Republican.”
Most historians would dispute Saine’s assertion that lynchings were colorblind.
Julia Kiewit, House Republican spokeswoman, told The Colorado Independent on Tuesday, “I’m not sure what position we could have” on Saine’s remarks. Asked whether House GOP leadership would seek to sanction Saine in any way, Kiewit added, “There have been no discussions about that. … I feel certain that there aren’t any.”
Democrats in Colorado’s Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, meanwhile, say Saine’s comments were “out of touch” and “inappropriate,” but not necessarily indicative of any racist beliefs.
Saine, who is serving her fourth and final term, has not responded to requests for comment from The Independent.
Saine’s floor speech was first reported on Monday by The Greeley Tribune.
The NAACP has found there were 4,743 reported lynchings in the United States between 1882-1968, and that about 73 percent of the victims were black.
Since making her statement, Saine clarified she wasn’t talking about overall lynchings in this country in the 19th and 20th centuries, but only about those that targeted Republicans specifically during the post-Civil War period known as Reconstruction, which ran from 1865-1877. She said she has read research to that effect.
E.M. Beck, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Georgia and one of the country’s experts on the history of lynchings, said that Saine’s comment was “misleading.”
“If you look at the amount of violence during Reconstruction, a large number of whites were killed, as well as blacks, for being Republican or voting Republican. But ‘equal numbers’? I don’t know where she got that notion from. It would be extraordinarily difficult to prove it’s true,” Beck said.
“I don’t know whether to call it intellectually dishonest or just misinformed. I think it’s misleading. … The thing about her comment, what it may demonstrate, is a general lack of knowledge of the prevalence of racialized violence targeting African-Americans.”
Saine insinuated that Republicans faced persecution across the board, and that MLK Day is a time to reflect on that. But, as Beck and many historians have noted, the modern Republican Party bears little resemblance to the GOP of the Reconstruction era.
“Those are very different parties, in the same way the Democratic Party today doesn’t look like the Democratic Party that was totally white supremacist,” Beck said.
The concern some have with Saine’s comment is not with its historical accuracy or lack thereof, but rather with a perception that Saine attempted to co-opt a resolution honoring Dr. King by arguing that white people, too, faced oppression in the United States.
“I feel she did distract from the message of the day and that was extremely inappropriate,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, who chairs the black caucus. “And it was counterintuitive to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Rep. Jovan Melton, an Aurora Democrat and a fellow black caucus member, said, “I thought it took away from the message. We were hearing great presentations from both sides of the aisle. I thought that the resolution was going fine, and to throw this kind of bomb into it, it ruined the tone of what was going on that day, and it was a shock and completely off-base.”
Melton added, “I don’t think (Saine) is a racist at all. … I would say she’s out of touch.”
Black caucus member Janet Buckner, the speaker pro tempore of the Colorado House, was presiding over the resolution on Friday when Saine was speaking. Buckner said she considered gaveling Saine down but thought better of it.
Buckner, also an Aurora Democrat, said she’s confident House Minority Leader Patrick Neville will “do the right thing and let (Saine) know that misinformation, when spoken in public, can be offensive to many people.”
Neville did not respond to a phone call from The Independent but his chief of staff, Jim Pfaff, said, “We’re going to let Lori respond to what she said. It was her statement.”
Saine’s remark about lynchings came in the context of her broader complaint that her Republican colleague, Rep. Perry Buck, wasn’t allowed to be a primary cosponsor of the MLK Day resolution. Herod and Melton were the primary sponsors, as had been planned more than a month ago.
Saine said, in her interview with The Tribune, that Buck, who is white, was denied primary sponsorship because of her “heritage.”
“I don’t know where she’s coming up with the ‘heritage’ piece of this, or that she was barred. I literally have no idea,” said Melton, who stressed that he welcomed anyone to sign on to the resolution but that its primary sponsors had already been determined.
Added Herod, “Of course we allowed (Buck) to be a co-sponsor. She was on the resolution upon introduction. Did they want some kind of different role? Maybe. But Jovan and I — it was our day.”
In an interview Tuesday, Buck said another representative, whom she declined to identify, told her she wasn’t allowed to be a primary sponsor because “it wasn’t my heritage.”
“It is what it is,” she said. “There are some that are very proud of what they say is their heritage. I think Martin Luther King was about unity. I don’t think he’s about race.”