A Kansas county commissioner is facing calls for his resignation after he brought up the idea of a “master race” in an off-the-cuff comment while talking to a black woman during a meeting.
“I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you because we’re part of the master race. You know you got a gap in your teeth, you’re the masters. Don’t ever forget that,” Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp, who is white, told the woman, a Kansas City city planner who was making a presentation about a development project that Klemp did not seem to approve of. As Klemp spoke, he motioned toward his teeth.
Klemp’s comments, made during a Tuesday meeting of the Leavenworth Board of County Commissioners, were rebuked by officials in Leavenworth County, just outside Kansas City. Leavenworth Mayor Mark Preisinger called a special meeting during which he denounced Klemp’s comments and urged him to apologize to the city planner.
“It just violated common decency. . . . It’s time for him to resign,” Preisinger said. “He’s been an embarrassment to the county, which reflects on the city and reflects on everyone.” Preisinger said the comments were, at best, a poor attempt at a joke.
Klemp did not return a call seeking comment Friday. He declined to speak to a television reporter who knocked on his door, but he implied off-camera that his comment was a joke, NBC affiliate KSHB reported. The woman also did not return a call from The Washington Post. She told CBS affiliate KCTV that she does not want to be part of the story.
Leavenworth County Administrator Mark Loughry said that media accounts of Klemp’s comments are not accurate, and that Klemp meant to say he and the woman are part of a master race because they both have a gap in their front teeth. Loughry said Klemp has made such a reference several times in the past about people who have a gap 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,” Loughry said in a statement. “Leavenworth County has a zero tolerance for racism or discrimination in any form from any staff members. I am deeply sorry that one misconstrued comment by a member of our elected governing body has caused so much grief, sorrow and hatred.”
Two other county commissioners have also called for Klemp’s resignation.
“I’m ashamed of one of our commissioners and what he has done,” Commissioner Robert Holland, who was sitting next to Klemp during the meeting, told KSHB. “We shouldn’t be labeled as Leavenworth County, the racist county. That’s the way I feel we are being labeled.”
Preisinger said Klemp has a history of making comments with racist overtones.
Last December, Klemp went on a meandering monologue during a discussion about the holiday schedule and mentioned historical figures that he felt should be honored. Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, was a “wonderful part of history,” he said. He also said that his great-great grandfather owned a slave and that some black people don’t support Abraham Lincoln, and he wondered whether Oprah Winfrey should have a federal holiday.
He also said he’s bothered that there’s a holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but not for George Washington. “I think George was a pretty important guy. Studied him in grade school and junior high. I guess they don’t study him anymore,” Klemp said.
(Washington is honored each year, along with other presidents, on Presidents' Day, which falls on the third Monday of February. The federal government calls the holiday Washington’s Birthday, though it doesn’t usually fall on his birthday — Feb. 22 — and it’s known in many states as Presidents' Day.)
Facing criticism, Klemp said his comments about the holiday schedule were “disappointing and lacking in clarity.”