African-American legislators are condeming Sen. Don Gaetz' comments about opponents to the redistricting process, saying he used language that evokes lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan.
Speaking to reporters about legal challenges to maps that have been approved by the House and Senate, Gaetz said certain factions were set out from the beginning to challenge the process in court no matter how lines were drawn. Gaetz, R-Niceville, is the Senate's incoming president and oversaw the redistricting efforts.
"We were told by individuals who testified on behalf of special interest groups -- I'm sorry, non-partisan groups -- that we would be sued no matter what the lines were, no matter how the districts were drawn," Gaetz said Thursday. "My father used to say some people would complain if you hung them with a new rope. And we have people who all along had a lawsuit strategy and hope that somehow they could find some judge somewhere who will agree with their contentions."
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, was among three legislators who issued press releases within minutes of each on Friday afternoon blasting Gaetz's comments.
Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, the Democrat's point person on redistricting in the House, Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, the Legislative Black Caucus chairwoman, also issued news releases criticizing Gaetz. But Joyner's statement was the most biting.
Gaetz told the Times/Herald his dad's colloquialism was about hangings, but not in the context the black legislators alluded to, and he said he meant no harm.
"I come from cowboy country in the upper Midwest where horse thieves were viewed as a low form of life, and stealing a person's horse 150 years ago in my home country was almost a capital offense," Gaetz said. "It was in that context that my father made the comment."
He said he didn't mean to offend minorities with his statements Thursday.
"It was clearly ironic," Gaetz said. "It was absolutely not in the context of lynching blacks. I am sorry if offense was taken. Those who know me and those who work with me are well aware that no offense was meant."
Gaetz said he didn't know black lawmakers were offended by his comments until he heard about their news releases. No one called him to complain or asked him to clarify his statements, he said.
Here is the full text of Joyner's statement:
TALLAHASSEE – Senate Democratic Leader Pro Tem Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) on Friday called on Senate President-designate Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) to apologize for his unacceptable remarks following the Senate passage of redistricting maps.
“Senator Gaetz is quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying: ‘My father used to say, 'Some people would complain if you hung them with a new rope.' This statement is highly offensive to me. The use of his analogy reflects back on an extremely violent period in our country’s and our state’s history. And it shows an insensitivity on the part of the Senator about the hard-fought passage of Blacks from slaves to citizens.
“It wasn’t too long ago when a black man could find himself hung from a tree for casting a casual glance at a white woman. It wasn’t too long ago when the Ku Klux Klan still roamed the state killing black men because they so feared what they did not care to understand. It wasn’t too long ago when a group of white vigilantes shot and lynched Sam Carter in the prelude to the Rosewood massacre, the tragic events of which this legislature only recently and finally acknowledged. And it seems like only yesterday when the terrifying white robes of the KKK marched through my hometown of Lakeland and my father cautioned his children – I was 4 years old at the time - to douse the lights, close the blinds and lock the doors.
“In the conclusion of this week’s ‘State of Black Florida’ summit, sponsored by the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, Senator Gaetz would do well to reflect on his inflammatory words and the chilling effect they impose not only on Blacks, but anyone who knows and appreciates their history. He would do well to reflect on his concern for fair minority representation during the redistricting hearings, and his disconnect from Black history immediately following the vote.
And he should be deeply ashamed.”