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State Sen. Chris Buttars says his criticism of a landmark court case that ended state-sanctioned segregation is not motivated by racism.
Instead, Buttars argues Brown v. Board of Education - the seminal Supreme Court case that forced desegregation of the nation's schools - had mixed results.
"I don't think there's a racial [sic] bone in my body," Buttars said in an interview on radio station KCPW Tuesday. "I don't see black and white. I see people. I always have."
That's a more nuanced answer than Buttars provided Monday during an interview with a reporter for Logan radio station KVNU.
In that exchange, the West Jordan Republican and host Tom Grover discussed the merits of Buttars' proposed legislation that could allow lawmakers to call in some judges at the end of their first terms for a second confirmation hearing. Grover noted that America's courts historically have been used by minority groups "to ensure [their] rights are protected."
Buttars, who co-sponsored Utah's gay marriage ban, demanded an example. "I don't understand that at all. I don't know of an example where the minority is being jeopardized by legislative action," he said.
Grover mentioned the Kansas desegregation case that resulted in the busing of black students to white schools and vice versa.
Then Buttars retorted: "I think Brown v. Board of Education is wrong to begin with." And he refused to elaborate, telling Grover to "one day call me again and we'll take a half hour on that one."
KVNU offered a recording of the exchange to Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers.
Buttars did not return repeated calls for comment Tuesday. But in a scheduled interview with KCPW, he attempted to explain his statement from the night before. Buttars said the court case should not be held up as an "absolute, wonderful ruling. There were downsides."
For example, Buttars said, the ruling dismantled "the educational system expressly designed to maximize the number of minority kids in a school in the South."
"It wasn't a slam dunk in every way," he added. "It was a great step for integration in many ways. But in other areas, I think it hurt a lot of minority kids."
Buttars is not the first, or the most prominent, Republican politician to question de-segregation. Former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond ran a Democratic presidential campaign opposed to it before switching parties. And former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was forced out of his leadership post after lamenting that the country would be a different place if Thurmond had been elected president. And this year, Virginia Sen. George Allen has been criticized for flinging a name recognized in many parts of the world as a racial slur at one of his opponent's campaign workers.
Utah Democratic Party communications director Jeff Bell posted a blog Tuesday with side-by-side pictures of Buttars and Thurmond. Bell says Buttars' post in the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature has gone to his head. And, Bell adds, Buttars is unlikely to face the consequences.
"After he says these crazy things, he pretends that the media has taken him out of context. But it's paragraph after paragraph in which he says things like this," Bell said. "There's nothing that voters can do. There's nothing the Republican Senate leadership will do. Nothing will happen."
Some civil rights veterans have questioned whether removing black students from the community support shoring up their neighborhood schools was the best solution to segregation.
Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman James Evans said he shares Buttars' concerns about the ruling. Evans, who was only the state's second black senator, said minority communities split by desegregation are debating the merits of Brown.
"They did the best they could at the time," he said. "But we didn't have the benefit of hindsight."
But Rhonda Brownstein, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Buttars' argument that minority students were actually hurt by the ruling was new to her.