State Democratic Party Chair Michael John Gray has called on Republican state Rep. Brandt Smith of Jonesboro to apologize for a “blatantly racist attack” on House Minority Leder Charles Blake, following Blake’s introduction of legislation to change the law that explains the meaning of symbols on the Arkansas state flag.
Blake has proposed changing the law to say that the single star over the word “Arkansas” on the flag stands for the historical role of Native American tribes in the state rather than Arkansas’s participation in the Confederacy during the Civil War. The state entered the war with a resolution declaring its desire to defend slavery.
In reporting on that legislation Saturday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sought comment from Smith, who’d suggested in debate two years ago to end the joint holiday for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and slavery defender Robert E. Lee that the flag might be next. Blake doesn’t propose to change the flag, only the statute that explains its meaning.
Smith responded to the D-G:
“We cannot rewrite history,” Smith said Friday.
Speaking by phone, Smith later added that he did not want blacks “to feel any type of anxiety when they look at the flag.”But Smith then questioned the motives of Blake, who is black.”I don’t know whether he’s got any anger or resentment that he’s holding onto personally, that he can’t deal with,” Smith said.
In a news release Saturday, Democrats not only called for Smith’s apology.
Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray responded,“I am profoundly disturbed by Representative Smith’s racist remarks. Rep. Smith is hellbent on embarrassing himself and embarrassing our state by bringing a racist ideology front and center. He attacked Minority Leader Charles Blake not because he wanted to engage in an honest policy discussion, but because he believes Leader Blake’s race inhibits his ability to legislate.
There is no room in the Arkansas Legislature for people who hold beliefs like this.
Racism this deeply woven into an elected official’s remarks requires immediate and swift action. He needs to apologize both for his use of demeaning, insensitive language and for his deliberate racist attack. I am calling on Governor Asa Hutchinson, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, Majority Leader Marcus Richmond, and the Chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party Doyle Webb to condemn Rep. Smith in the clearest and strongest possible terms. I know Rep. Smith’s feelings and words are not indicative of the Republican Party as a whole and their leaders should make that clear to the people of Arkansas.”
The Democratic Party noted that Smith holds a seat once held by Joh Hubbard, who stirred controversy with racial remarks, including calling the institution of slavery “a blessing in disguise.”
I’ve written Smith seeking a response. I also sent a Twitter message to the various Republicans named to see if they’d like to comment.
FYI: Smith is the sponsor of the resolution approved by the legislature that says no permit is needed to carry a weapon openly or in concealment in Arkansas. He says he has no permit for weapons he might carry. He’s also been heard in the past on Sharia law and same-sex marriage (disapprovingly in both cases.)