Kansas GOP Seeks to Expel Black Legislator Who Called Them Racist for Targeting Children of Immigrants

As the nation reels over the massacre of nine Blacks in South Carolina’s oldest African-American church by a man who posted white supremacist views online, Republican legislators in Kansas are poised to censure or expel an 14-year veteran African-American legislator who told a committee it was racist for trying to raise state tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants.

The Kansas House Select Committee on Investigations will meet next Friday—in a special session after the Legislature adjournes—to hear an audio tape of the exchange that prompted nine Republicans on the House Education Committee, including two Blacks, to launch the formal complaint against Kansas City Democrat Valdenia Winn, who taught college history for 36 years.

Winn’s truth-telling came earlier this spring when a bill—with no sponsors listed—was brought before the Education Committee to ended lower in-state tuition rates for children of undocumented parents. In previous years, that proposal has been defeated. The Lawrence Journal World, a newspaper based in Kansas’ largest university city, described what happened next:  

“I have dreaded this day because this is a racist, sexist, fear-mongering bill,” Winn reportedly said, according to a transcript of an audio recording of the hearing. “I would like first to apologize to the progressively minded people of Kansas who are appalled that we are turning back the hands of time...um...regarding to, and I am going to use strong language, Jim Crow tactics, and once again making Kansas a laughingstock.”

Winn, who is Black, also said that she wanted to apologize, “to the students and their parents whose lives are being hijacked by the racist bigots who support this bill.”

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, a member of the education panel who also chairs the House Judiciary Committee, objected to Winn's remarks, saying, “She just referred to this committee as racist.”

Winn replied, “I am going to say what I have to say because if the shoe fits, if the shoe fits, it fits. But this is an example of institutional racism, not individual racist, institutional racism because it deals with societal structural changes.”

According to Kansas Equality Coalition Executive Director Tom Witt, the Republicans orchestrating this investigation—only the fourth of its kind in state history—are operating a kangaroo court. They will not allow Winn to be accompanied by her attorney during the next stage of their inquest. That disregard for her constitutional rights is indicative of the nasty undercurrent of bigotry that produced the anonymous legislation that provoked Winn’s remarks.

Witt said the Republicans complaint was “supposed to go away a month ago,” meaning that it was to be dismissed and forgotten. However, something changed in the Statehouse chamber in one of the most right-wing states.

One does not have to look toward the massacre of Black church-goers in Charleston to find ongoing examples of racism in America. One can point to Kansas, where the GOP’s resentment toward the black and brown children of undocumented immigrants is matched by its persistent attempts to deny equal rights to LGBT individuals and households. And where the price that the GOP's legislative leaders want to exact for Valdenia Winn’s speaking out is to remove her from office.

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