Yael T. Abouhalkah

GOP lawmakers embarrass Kansas but fortunately don’t punish Valdenia Winn for ‘racist bigots’ remark

Rep. Valdenia Winn is a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, in trouble for implying that some of her colleagues are racists.
Rep. Valdenia Winn is a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, in trouble for implying that some of her colleagues are racists. AP

Back in March, Kansas state Rep. Valdenia Winn probably should not have implied at a public hearing that some of her fellow lawmakers were “racist bigots.”

The Kansas City, Kan., Democrat could have said they were “ignorant,” “uneducated,” “uninformed” or some other word which would have clearly made the point that they didn’t have a solid grasp of the subject at hand — why some immigrants should be allowed to pay in-state tuition at places of higher education in Kansas.

To be sure, those others words would have been harsh. But they still would have been accurate while being less racially inflammatory.

After a sometimes raucous hearing on Friday, a few GOP lawmakers helped dismiss a Republican-led complaint against Winn — one of the few black members of the Legislature — for using the term “racist bigots.”

That complaint could have led to her being censured or even kicked out of the Legislature.

Now, that’s not going to happen.

But sorry, the damage was already done when the complaint was filed.

It was just another example of how the Republican-dominated Legislature keeps creating bad national publicity for the state of Kansas.

Even on Friday, it was obvious that — no matter how the majority-white Republicans spun this matter — it wasn’t ever going to look good for them.

Indeed, at the hearing, a few of the GOP members testifying against Winn still didn’t seem to get it, that by attacking her they were simply giving more ammunition to opponents who question Republicans’ leadership of Kansas.

The background is that Winn knew what she was talking about on that March day when it comes to educational outcomes.

It truly is good for the state of Kansas to annually encourage several hundred students — many brought illegally by their parents to this country as children — to graduate from a high school in Kansas and to be seeking legal status in the United States.

Do that, and they can get the lower, in-state tuition bill at colleges and universities in the state.

Unfortunately, some Republicans who love to talk about giving a helping hand to people for their hard work want to kill the program, which has been around for about a decade.

The GOP view is an anti-immigrant stance that’s popular with a certain number of backward-thinking people in Kansas.

Or as Winn bluntly testified at a March hearing: “This is a racist, sexist, fear-mongering bill. I want to apologize to the students and their parents whose lives are being hijacked by the racist bigots who support this bill because this bill is not an act of ....”

That’s when the offended Republicans called “foul,” with some saying they were being called racists.

In a later interview, Winn noted, “I am trying to talk in historical terms and they are taking it personally.”

Frankly, I can understand why.

But here’s what I don’t support: an attempt to bully Winn into not speaking her mind.

Yes, she has First Amendment rights. And yes, a few Republicans also have made hateful-sounding remarks on the floor.

Winn’s supporters point out she’s a longtime history professor at Kansas City Kansas Community College. That gives her plenty of standing to defend a program that gives hard-working students a little bit of a financial break on higher education classes.

At the end of the hearing Friday, it appears Republicans who wanted to punish Winn finally recognized that fact.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.