Rokita Apologizes To Black Lawmakers For Slave Remark

Group Satisfied, Legislator Says

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita apologized to a group of black state lawmakers Wednesday for his use of a slavery reference to describe black voting trends, the group's chairman said.

"He apologized to our satisfaction. We do believe he was sincere in his apology," state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, told reporters after Rokita met privately with 11 members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

Rokita issued a written statement saying he was grateful for the opportunity to meet with the group and for its members accepting his apology.

"I take to heart the candid, positive conversation, and I look forward to working with all of the members of the Caucus in the future," Rokita said.

During a speech last week at the Daviess County annual Lincoln Day Dinner, Rokita said 90 percent of blacks vote Democrat and questioned why. "How can that be?" Rokita said. "90 to 10. Who's the master and who's the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?"

Rokita said Monday that his message about the black vote was meant to encourage the Republican Party to continue its efforts to diversify, in part by reaching out to blacks.

But, he said, "The word choice that I used in one part of those remarks was poor, and if I offended anyone then I ask their forgiveness for what was an insensitive metaphor."

Several black lawmakers said they did not consider that an apology.

Rokita on Tuesday visited radio talk shows and said he would use whatever words necessary -- "sorry," "apologize," or "mea culpa" -- to express remorse for using the slavery reference. He spent about a half-hour on black-oriented radio station WTLC-AM in Indianapolis, and when asked by the program host if he was sorry for the remark, he said, "Absolutely." He said he was trying to be positive and "it came out the wrong way."

Smith said Rokita called him and told him that he wanted to speak individually with each black legislator, but Smith suggested he meet with the Black Caucus as a group instead. He said Rokita rearranged his schedule Wednesday to do so.

Smith said the group "sensitized" Rokita to some African-American concerns and told him that his office should reflect the diversity of the state. There are 50 whites who work for the office, two blacks, two Asians, one Latino and one Indian, according to the office.

Rokita suggested that the Black Caucus recommend some future employees, according to Smith.

Smith said the group of black legislators considered the matter over, but "we made it pretty crystal clear to him that we don't see ourselves as servants of the Democratic Party."

"We see the Democratic Party as meeting the needs of minorities," Smith said.

Smith said it is time to put the issue of Rokita's remark to rest.

"I think there are greater issues -- education, health, economics for the black community -- that are more important than us spending all this time on a slip of the lip," Smith said. "I do believe that we all make mistakes (and) that if we expect to be forgiven, we need to forgive."

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