A Leavenworth county commissioner who has faced widespread criticism for comments he made about a “master race” resigned his post on Tuesday.
Louis Klemp made the comments while talking to Triveece Penelton, a black city planner presenting a land use analysis to county officials during a board meeting.
Klemp resigned Tuesday after delivering a letter to the county clerk’s office. The letter was read out loud at the commission meeting the same morning.
“I regret my recent comment made during a Leavenworth County Commission Meeting and for the negative backlash to the community,” Klemp wrote. “My attempts at identifying a similarity (space between our teeth) with a presenter were well-meaning but misinterpreted by some and definitely not racially motivated.”
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Klemp extended his “regret and support” to Penelton.
On Tuesday, Penelton released her own statement, saying Klemp’s comments were “unbelievably inappropriate” and “inexcusable.”
“Global history and racial/ethnic concerns in the United States describe the tremendous damage use of such terminology and similar wording has caused,” Penelton said. “As a successful African American planner with 16 years of professional experience, I have been subjected to a wide range of tactless and at times covertly racist comments.”
“However, no one’s words have been more unthinking than Mr. Klemp’s. In fact, his careless remarks have gone viral.”
Penelton said her land use presentation was the result of a nine-month, community planning process.
Klemp had voiced displeasure at the development options for the County Road 1 corridor presented by Penelton, of the Kansas City company Vireo.
He then made a comment that seemed to suggest that because both he and Penelton have gaps in their teeth, they are part of a “master race.” The term “master race” is part of Nazi ideology that says Nordic or Aryan races are superior to others.
“I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you, because, we’re part of the master race,” Klemp said, as he brought his fingers to his own teeth. “You know you got a gap in your teeth, you’re the masters, don’t ever forget that.”
On Tuesday, Penelton said people need to respect each other.
“I am prayerful that our nation and the world will learn from this moment and recognize that respect for one another’s history, culture, perspective, and impact is essential,” she said. “Respecting one another could help us grow together rather than apart.”
Two other Leavenworth county commissioners had called for Klemp to step down, as did Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer.
“He’s done. He’s done. It was the right thing to do,” Commissioner Doug Smith said Tuesday. “This is a good example of the words you choose do matter.”
Colyer, who had previously called on the commissioner to resign, told reporters on Tuesday morning that the resignation was “news to me.”
Colyer had just finished presiding over the delivery of a Christmas tree to the governor’s residence in Topeka.
“I think Kansans expect us to do the right thing, and that’s what this is about,” Colyer said. “We’re a very tolerant state, we’re the heart of America. We were born — Kansas was really born in the Civil War — we want to look forward, we’re not looking backwards here.”
Wichita Eagle reporter Jonathan Shorman contributed to this story.