County Supervisor Adam Hill on Wednesday formally apologized for statements he made last week calling a local organization and some of its members “hostile, secretive and racist.”
“I want to apologize to the COLAB members who took offense to my recent, admittedly strident generalizations about racism,” Hill wrote in an email. COLAB is the Coalition for Labor, Agriculture, and Business.
In his email, Hill did not back away from his strong denunciations of racism. But he said he should have conveyed those feelings in a more tactful way.
“I feel strongly about the subject, I denounce it in all cases, and I’m not sorry about calling it out when I see it,” he wrote.
“However, I don’t believe broad-brush strokes are helpful in making the case. I can and will do better, because it’s an important subject that needs to be talked about openly and honestly,” he wrote.
Andy Caldwell, executive director of COLAB of Santa Barbara County and COLAB of San Luis Obispo County, said he is “not impressed” with the apology.
Mike Brown, director of government affairs for the two COLABs, who also was criticized by Hill, said he could not issue a statement about the apology until he had talked with his board of directors.
Hill created a mini-furor last week when he sent an email to state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, asking Blakeslee to cancel a fundraiser because Caldwell was to be the master of ceremonies. Hill called COLAB “hostile, secretive and racist.”
He criticized COLAB in particular for having Steve Bridges as an entertainer at an event. Bridges impersonates political figures, including President Barack Obama.
Hill likened the Obama impersonation to the days when white minstrel show performers caricatured black Americans, playing on racist stereotypes and using exaggerated and insulting facial makeup that became known as “blackface.”
He said Blakeslee would be “pandering to hate-mongers” if he went ahead with the fundraiser.
Blakeslee postponed the fundraiser, saying he did not want to get in the middle of a brawl between Hill and Caldwell.
But Hill’s remarks triggered a backlash from COLAB and its supporters. Caldwell demanded that Hill retract or defend statements that he called malicious, libelous, slanderous and uncalled for.
Caldwell said he and his allies were initiating a Public Records Act request to look at Hill’s emails, adding, “You don’t know what we already have.”
Caldwell and several other speakers at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting defended the Bridges impersonations as routine political humor. Bridges impersonates former President George W. Bush and many others as well as Obama, they said.
At the Tuesday meeting, Hill criticized racist postings that he says proliferate on the Internet, including postings that describe the first family as monkeys and question whether the president is actually a United States citizen.
He elaborated on that in his news release Wednesday, saying he had hoped the “disturbing and demeaning imagery about the president’s race” were merely an aberration and “not part of a larger trend. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
“To me,” he wrote, “criticizing the president and his policies is one thing; but attacking our country’s first president of African heritage by suggesting he is not a native-born American, or by resorting to very familiar racist imagery, should not be tolerated by any American.”
“These attempts at humor or forms of political disagreement are dehumanizing and damaging to our nation,” Hill continued.
Hill also referenced Ken Barnes, an African-American who left the Republican Party two weeks ago after writing a commentary in the Sacramento Bee criticizing the party’s “racist imagery in portrayals of Obama.”
Hill said that Barnes, in leaving the party and expressing his discontent with racist stereotyping, had been “eloquent and tactful.” Hill said he wished he had been as tactful.
Late Wednesday, Blake-slee rescheduled his fundraiser, after admonishing Hill.
“I postponed my fundraiser to ensure that it could not be used as a venue to further attack COLAB,” he wrote in a news release. “With the ugly accusations fully rebutted, it’s now time to move forward with the event.
“I hope this situation will serve as a reminder that elected officials should never unfairly target or mischaracterize community groups for simply stating their differing views,” he wrote.