Indiana's secretary of state asked forgiveness Monday for evoking images of slavery in describing black voting trends during a Republican event in southern Indiana last week.
During a Thursday speech at the Daviess County annual Lincoln Day Dinner, Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita (pictured) said 90 percent of blacks vote Democrat and questioned why.
"How can that be?" Rokita was quoted as saying by the Washington Times-Herald. "90 to 10. Who's the master and who's the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?"
Several black lawmakers expressed anger over the remarks.
State Rep. William Crawford, D-Indianapolis, who is black, said Rokita's statement likened blacks to being ignorant, uninformed and compelled to vote Democratic.
"What compulsion? We don't intimidate," said Crawford, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "We don't buy votes. He needs to apologize to the people he offended, the people that he called ignorant and uninformed, and that is 90 percent of those African-Americans who choose to vote their level of interest as they define it for Democrats."
Rokita, who is white, said on Monday that he had been trying to empathize with African-Americans, who he said face community pressure to conform politically.
But, he said, "The word choice that I used in one part of my remarks was poor, and I had no intention of being that way. But if I offended anyone, then I ask their forgiveness because it was insensitive metaphor."
Rokita said he had called some members of the black community to ask their forgiveness and explain his overall message. He said friends in the black community told him they knew what he meant.
"I was empathizing with African-Americans of my generation who face political pressure -- pressure from inside their community and outside their community -- any time they show any kind of individualism," said Rokita, who is white. "My point was that that's unhealthy. It diminishes us as a people and it's something that the Republican Party has a strong history of fighting against."
But some black lawmakers were still upset.
"I can't even begin to fathom what could have been going through Rokita's mind, to let those words come out of his mouth, especially this close on the heels of the Imus debacle," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.
Brown was referring to 66-year-old radio legend Don Imus, who was recently fired after calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."
Indiana has had just one black Republican state representative in the past 25 years, Brown said. James Vanleer of Muncie served one term in 1995 and 1996, which Brown said showed the Republican Party was not reaching out to blacks.
Brown also questioned how many blacks worked in Rokita's office. The office provided figures showing that there were 50 white employees, two blacks, one Latino, one Indian and two Asians.
Democratic state Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary, chairman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, said Rokita's comment showed a lack of sensitivity.
"It bothers me that he did not understand some words that excite emotional response, and that is what has happened," Smith said.
State Rep. Carolene Mays, D-Indianapolis, said she thought Rokita's comment "was along a very racist line."
"(I) find it very, very offensive," said Mays, who is black.
Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, a radio talk show host and political analyst, said he believes the controversy will subside.
"Definitely Todd Rokita gets the stupid-remark-of-the-year award so far," said Hakim-Shabazz, who is black. "But until I see his name spelled with three Ks, I think he's OK."
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