Government & Politics

Leavenworth County official: ‘Master race’ comment was misconstrued by public, media

Leavenworth County commissioner says he is part of the ‘master race’

While hearing comments from Triveece Penelton, a city planner with Kansas City consulting company Vireo, Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp says 'I don’t what you to think I’m picking on you, because we’re part of the master race.'
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While hearing comments from Triveece Penelton, a city planner with Kansas City consulting company Vireo, Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp says 'I don’t what you to think I’m picking on you, because we’re part of the master race.'

Leavenworth County’s administrator said Friday that the public and the media “misconstrued” a reference to a “master race” that a county commissioner made at a public meeting this week.

Mark Loughry, the county’s administrator, said Commissioner Louis Klemp was not acting in a “racist manner” when Klemp said that he and a black city planning consultant presenting at a Tuesday board meeting were part of the “master race” because they both have gaps in their teeth.

“The use of the term ‘Master Race,’ as ill-advised as it may be, was not a reference to Nazis or used in a racist manner in this instance,” said Loughry, who referred to the county’s zero tolerance policy for discrimination. “I am deeply sorry that one misconstrued comment by a member of our elected governing body has caused so much grief, sorrow and hatred.”

His statement followed a storm of criticism this week, with several Leavenworth city and county officials calling for Klemp to resign.

Klemp’s “master race” reference was as odd as it was offensive for many who watched video of Klemp addressing consultant Triveece Penelton as she shared a land use analysis with government officials.

Klemp had voiced displeasure at the development options for the County Road 1 corridor presented by Penelton, of the Kansas City company Vireo.

As previously reported in The Star, 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.”

“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.”

The county’s other two commissioners, Doug Smith and Robert Holland, called this week for Klemp’s resignation.

“In the best interest of the county, he should resign,” Smith said in a statement.

The Leavenworth City Commission also condemned Klemp’s language and said his comments had “harmed the overall perception of residents, businesses, cities, organizations and agencies in Leavenworth County.”

A statement approved at a special meeting on Thursday also calls for his resignation.

“The City Commission unequivocally denounces the use of ‘master race’ or any other language that has historic ties to racism, division and bigotry in any setting at any time,” it read.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas called Klemp’s words this week “abhorrent” in a Facebook post.

“Mr. Klemp has a First Amendment right to express himself — just as his community has a right to hold him accountable to his toxic words and the ideas behind it,” the ACLU wrote. “At a time when hate-based violence is on the rise across the country, we must make it clear that we stand together as diverse communities and that we do not tolerate hate-based speech, especially not in local government.”

The term “master race” is considered to be part of Nazi ideology that Nordic or Aryan races are superior to others. For many across the Leavenworth and Kansas City areas, the phrase itself was offensive, particularly from an individual who has been accused of making racist statements in the past.

At a December 2017 meeting to set the county’s federal holiday schedule, Klemp called Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States Army, a “wonderful part of history,” and said President George Washington is not properly honored “because he had slaves.” He spent additional time talking about how his ancestors had owned slaves.

He said President Abraham Lincoln’s legacy would not be fully realized because the Confederates had lost.

“We’ll never how great his importance was because the other side didn’t win, which is all good,” Klemp said. “I guess.”

Leavenworth Co. Commissioner Louis Klemp comments on Robert E. Lee, slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington and Abraham Lincoln during an eight minute response while the commission was discussing holidays during a Nov. 30, 2017 meeting.

Loughry said in his statement that his office lacks the power to take punitive action against Klemp. As of Friday afternoon, there was no indication that Klemp had resigned.

Klemp has served on the county commission since he was appointed in 2017 by the Republican Party to fill a 2nd District vacancy after Clyde Graeber left due to health reasons. Klemp had served on the commission years ago. His current term ends Jan. 15.

Klemp did not respond to a request for comment to his public email address. A phone number listed for him appeared to be disconnected. This week, he reportedly told a TV station that the comment was a “joke.”

Penelton also did not respond to a request for comment.

Loughry said in his statement that this is not the first time that Klemp has made reference to gap-toothed individuals being part of the “master race.” He said Klemp has made similar comments “on several occasions over the past year.”

“I will not attempt to defend Commissioner Klemp as he holds an elected position and is capable of defending any of his statements or fielding any calls for his ouster,” he said.

But he accused the media of sharing “parsed and paraphrased” comments related to the incident.

“Watch the video,” he wrote, “and form your own opinion about the context of the conversation.”