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Utah political leaders were steering clear Wednesday of comments by a Republican state legislator who suggested the NAACP is racist because it caters to minority groups.

Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, who last year described himself as a "hero of the civil rights movement," Tuesday afternoon tweeted — in reference to Don Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was ousted from the NBA for racial comments — that: "We should have known Don Sterling was a racist when he gave money to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People."

Later, Lifferth expounded on his sentiment, saying that "Yes, any group that tries to advance specific people based of their race is by definition racist."

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of the NAACP, said Lifferth's comment "shows his ignorance of the history of the NAACP."

On Wednesday, Lifferth did not respond to requests for comment from The Salt Lake Tribune. And Utah politicos kept their distance. Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans and Gov. Gary Herbert's office declined to comment.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, couldn't be reached.

Dave Hansen, campaign manager for congressional candidate Mia Love, the state's most prominent black politician, said that while Lifferth supports Love's candidacy for Congress, the campaign doesn't share his views.

"David Lifferth has been a good supporter and I've never, ever heard anything from him that would indicate that he is racist. I don't believe he is. But the comments he made, no the campaign doesn't agree with them," Hansen said. Love was flying from Washington to Utah on Wednesday and wasn't available.

"This whole Don Sterling fiasco, his comments, it's not been good, obviously. It's inappropriate and [the remarks] don't reflect what the vast majority of Americans believe," Hansen said. "The important thing is just to tone down all the rhetoric and just get through this."

Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said Lifferth is "doubling down on dumb" and "just misunderstands the concept of racism."

"I think at the core of it, he doesn't understand what racism is," Lyon said. "He doesn't understand the experiences of people, he doesn't seem to have any willingness to reach out and understand different people's lives."

Instead, Lyon said, he parrots the views of the tea party and Fox News, on the issue of race, as well as climate change and other topics.

Lifferth, a Utah House freshman, does not have a Democratic challenger this year. His only opponent is Charles Christensen, an Independent American candidate from Saratoga Springs.

Lifferth sees his racial views differently than Lyon and others.

In a 2013 email exchange with Williams, which Lifferth posted on his blog, the representative said that: "As a hero of the civil rights era, I take race issues very seriously."

In the email, Williams asked Lifferth to vote against keeping the name "Dixie" when Dixie State College became a university, since the name has ties to the Confederacy and the Civil War.

Lifferth disagreed with Williams that the name was offensive and told her, she was "seeing racial issues where none exist" and that his constituents supported the traditional name.

He went on to recount how, as a "skinny little 6-year-old Mormon boy" in Nashville, Tenn., he was in first grade when the county's segregated schools became integrated in 1971.

Lifferth wrote he was one of the few white students who went to school that day, and he and his mother had to endure hazing and threats to get to the school. He went on to say that he was raised in a home in which people weren't judged by the color of their skin and he gets "irritated when people of any race see skin color before anything else."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke