Add the Kansas governor to the list of people who say they believe a county commissioner’s “master race” comments to a black city planner were Nazi-tinged, racist and crossed the line — not a bizarre, orthodontic-themed joke that somehow landed wrong.
The comment in question was made at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday in Leavenworth, just outside Kansas City. Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp apparently had taken issue with a development project presented by a planning consultant, who also happened to be the only black person in the video filmed during the 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,” Klemp, who is white, told Triveece Penelton.
Since that meeting, several city and county officials have called for Klemp to resign.
On Saturday, Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer joined the chorus.
“Racial and discriminative language have no place in our society, and most especially when spoken by someone holding a public office,” Colyer said in a statement. “The inappropriate remarks made by Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of the county which he represents. As such, I call on him to step down as County Commissioner.”
Leavenworth Mayor Mark Preisinger called a special meeting during which he denounced Klemp’s comments and urged him to apologize to the county 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.”
For his part, Klemp has not publicly defended his comments.
Klemp could not be reached for comment Sunday. He declined on Wednesday 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.
Penelton 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 defended Klemp, saying the commissioner has made similar comments about people who have a gap in their teeth. Klemp, Loughry said, meant that he and the woman are part of the master race.
“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.”
But that explanation excluded the 779 million or so Google hits for “master race,” namely Adolf Hitler’s belief that blond, blue-eyed and tall Aryans were the superior race, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was more than a belief system: German scientists began a program of forced sterilizations of people they considered inferior: ethnic minorities, the physically disabled, the mentally ill and Jews.
Klemp’s comments did not happen in a vacuum. In December, a month after he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission, he went on a meandering, disjointed soliloquy about a number of racially incendiary topics: slavery, the Civil War, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and exactly which historical figures are deserving of a national holiday.
“Not everybody does them all, because we have Robert E. Lee, who, God, Robert E. Lee, wonderful part of history,” Klemp said, speaking of the commander of the Confederate States Army. “We don’t have Washington anymore. He may be removed anyway because he had slaves.”
According to the Kansas City Star, Klemp said his great-grandfather owned slaves and President Lincoln’s legacy wouldn’t be fully realized because of the outcome of the Civil War.
He also took umbrage with the fact that King has a federal holiday all to himself while George Washington has to share Presidents’ Day.
Facing criticism, Klemp said his comments about the holiday schedule were “disappointing and lacking in clarity.”