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A West Jordan senator shocked his colleagues and later apologized for comparing a bill he opposed to a black baby, calling it "a dark, ugly thing."
Republican Sen. Chris Buttars' comment came during a debate on SB48, aimed at equalizing school construction funds. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, called it "the ugly baby bill," but, as Buttars stood to vote, went further. "This baby is black. It's a dark, ugly thing," he said.
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said he perceived the statement as offensive and took the issue to Senate leaders. "I felt it needed to be addressed and needed to be addressed promptly," he said.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he was surprised by the comment.
"I didn't see it coming," he said. "I didn't take it as a racist remark, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was inappropriate and a breach of decorum."
Buttars agreed and felt bad about it and asked for a chance to apologize, Valentine said. After senators returned from a 10-minute break, Valentine noted the "breach in decorum," and gave Buttars the floor.
"I made a comment that I think a lot of people could take racist. I certainly did not mean that in any way but it was wrong and certainly could easily have been taken that way," Buttars said. "I apologize to anyone who took offense. . . . I ask for your forgiveness."
Romero said there was talk off the floor of censuring Buttars, and he appreciated the apology, but "I have no idea how it would be interpreted not to be offensive."
Word of Buttars' gaffe spread quickly around the Capitol, leaving members from both parties shaking their heads in disbelief. Leaders of Utah's black community also were shocked.
"I am appalled that he would utter such words in the capacity as senator and representing the people of Utah," said Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP.
Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said he is confident that Buttars, who left the Capitol quickly after the Senate adjourned, didn't mean his comment to be offensive.
"He felt bad that he had said it," Hickman said.