This past Wednesday during a Senate Education Committee hearing, Committee Vice Chair Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) was discussing why some schools “fail”. During the course his comments, he made a statement that has dropped jaws across the country.
“You mentioned why these schools fail,” he said. “You mention the economically disadvantaged and non-white population are contributors to that. And, you know, we can’t fix THAT! We can’t make an African American white. [grins] It is what it is. So we can’t fix that.”
Don’t believe it? Watch for yourself:
AFT Michigan President David Hecker set the record straight on the causes of poor academic performance in cities:
What Sen. Knollenberg said about kids in struggling schools is racist and is a major step backwards in improving education for our children. If a child is struggling academically, it is not because of a problem inherent to their race or ethnicity.
Further, the problem of poor academic achievement in Michigan disproportionally hurts students of color and students living in poverty, however, the 2015 Michigan Achieves Report clearly shows that this crisis of downward trending achievement transcends race, income and zip code.
Research tells us what needs to be done to improve our education system and the absurd thought of changing a child’s race has nothing to do with any of it. Let’s stick to using research to improve education policy. Racist remarks only set us back.
Lonnie Scott, Executive Director of Progress Michigan, excoriated Knollenberg for his outrageous comment:
It was shocking and sickening to hear Sen. Knollenberg’s racist suggestion that the color of an African American child’s skin is a problem that needs a ‘fix.’ The problems facing our schools have nothing to do with the children who attend them and everything to do with the policies that Sen. Knollenberg and his Republican colleagues have implemented in our urban areas. This kind of racism has no place in Michigan.
The next day, Knollenberg made news again, this time related to his legislation to eliminate straight-ticket ballots in Michigan. That legislation, S.B. 13, has been blasted by county clerks across the state who say eliminating the ability to vote for all candidates in a single political party with one punched chad, filled in box, or pulled lever will lead to long lines at the polls and an increased number of spoiled ballots. The legislation has a $1 million appropriation in it that will prevent voters from overturning it if it becomes law like they did in in 2002 after Republicans tried the same thing. During Committee hearings, Knollenberg made the ludicrous claim that the money would “be used by clerks to educate their people that are running these elections, and perhaps voting machines.”
Yesterday Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum’s office was contacted by a constituent who called Knollenberg’s office about the appropriation. The woman was told that county clerks had requested it so she called Byrum to confirm, suspecting that it was not at all true.
“This is absolutely untrue,” Byrum said in a statement. “I absolutely did not ask for the appropriation, nor did I ever support this legislation.”
Byrum was at the House Committee meeting yesterday to testify with other County Clerks against Senate Bill 13, which would eliminate straight-ticket voting.
“Senate Bill 13 is nothing more than partisan legislation that is bad for Michigan and bad for voters,” Byrum continued. “This misinformation is beyond irresponsible for the Senator’s Office. When constituents call an elected official’s office to express their concern, they should not be steered toward political deception.
“Keep in mind that Michigan ballots are some of the longest ballots in the nation as we vote for many offices that voters in other states do not. Also, Michigan is already the 6th worst in the nation for lines at the polls. The ultimate effect of Sen. Knollenberg’s legislation is voter suppression, yet again. I strongly recommend that the Legislature decline to adopt S.B. 13. This bill is bad legislation that will disenfranchise voters.”
The bill is also seen as having a larger impact in urban areas with high populations of people of color. Given Knollenberg’s apparent racism, Scott said that all of his legislation should be checked for underlying racial motives:
[Knollenberg’s] comments should call into question the impetus of his attempt to eliminate straight ticket voting, which would disproportionately affect communities of color. There’s no other way to view his comments than as blatant racism and the bills he has sponsored should be reviewed for undertones of similar racist thought.
Gov. Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof need to immediately call out Knollenberg for this racism and Snyder should promise to veto any of the Senator’s bills that disproportionately attack communities of color, anything else will show that Snyder condones this type of behavior. If the Senator feels like the color of child’s skin is directly linked to their ability to succeed in the classroom, then he and his legislation has no place in the halls of the Michigan Legislature, which is supposed to represent and work for all Michiganders.
Knollenberg should immediately apologize both for his blatant racism and for the misstatements being put out by his office. The appropriation in S.B. 13 is in there for one thing and one thing only: to subvert democracy and prevent voters’ voice from being heard. To lie about it does not change that fact. And, if he is as racist as his comments seem to indicate, his voice has no place in the Michigan Senate.
UPDATE: Knollenberg doesn’t understand how people could misunderstand his words and think he’s racist:
When asked if he could see how some people would feel he missed what is contributing to the problem of failing schools when he made his comment, “We can’t make an African American white. We can’t fix that,” he said no. He said the bottom line is he doesn’t believe race is a problem.
“I have an African-American employee who works for me,” said Knollenberg.
So, there you have it. He’s not a racist because he hired a black person.