Missouri House rejects derision over slavery remarks

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 3:55 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — There will be no formal rebuke for a Missouri lawmaker who made an analogy between slavery and a proposed expansion of government-run children's health care.

The House Ethics Committee on Tuesday defeated a Democratic resolution that would have condemned remarks made by Republican Rep. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph.

While debating an unsuccessful Democratic attempt to eliminate or reduce premiums for families in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Schaaf last month pointed out a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln.

"He fought against making a person toil under penalty for the benefit of someone else who could toil for themselves," Schaaf said. He then added that Democrats wanted government to pay the children's insurance premiums that families currently are paying.

"That is slavery. When you take somebody who could do it and expect somebody else to do it, that is slavery," Schaaf said in the March debate. "That man on the wall tried to end it in our country, and they want to bring it back."

The Democratic-leaning Web site posted an audio recording of Schaaf's remarks.

Schaaf later defended his comments in an April letter to the St. Joseph News-Press, writing that "taxpayers are being enslaved" by expanding government programs to cover those who can afford to pay for services themselves.

House Democrats earlier this month filed a formal remonstrance objecting to Schaaf's remarks in the debate and newspaper letter. The resolution would have denounced Schaaf's remarks as "deeply offensive to the people of Missouri and the members of the House of Representatives."

But it was rejected 6-4 by the House Ethics Committee, with Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, joining five Republicans in opposition. Kelly said he was offended by Schaaf's remarks but broke ranks with his party because he said the condemnation was an improper use of the chamber's formal remonstrance procedure.

Schaaf did not attend Tuesday's hearing but said later in an interview that the issue had become "a mountain made out of a molehill" and called it "just the usual politics of the legislature."

Schaaf said his initial point was poorly communicated because he did not make clear that he was referring to economic slavery and not U.S. slavery of African-Americans. Later Tuesday, he apologized on the House floor for offending other lawmakers.

But Schaaf said he stands behind his argument that expanding the health insurance program is "economic slavery."

"They are asking the taxpayers to work and pay taxes to the benefit of someone else who could work," Schaaf said in an interview Tuesday.

House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, who is chairman of the Ethics Committee, said allowing the resolution to go forward could have set a precedent where every controversial remark sparked a remonstrance. When asked by reporters if he was offended by Schaaf's statements, Tilley, R-Perryville, said it was a "poor choice of words."

House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said members should object to all sufficiently offensive remarks. LeVota, D-Independence, said the public airing of the objection achieved part of the Democrats' goal.


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