Sunday, December 9, 2007

Senator cries, apologizes, defends e-mail

Senator cries, apologizes, defends e-mail
BY LAURA KELLAMS
Posted on Friday, November 30, 2007
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/209178/


State Sen. Denny Altes apologized Thursday for writing an e-mail saying Arkansas is overrun with illegal aliens and that “we are being out populated by blacks also.”
Altes, the Fort Smith senator who serves as Republican leader of the Arkansas Senate, tearfully apologized in an interview with The Associated Press but said he doesn’t consider what he said to be a racist remark.
The League of United Latin American Citizens called for him to resign, but the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stopped short of that.
“Calling for him to resign wouldn’t do any good,” said Dale Charles, state NAACP president. “If he was really remorseful, it would probably help. But if your own conscience still won’t convict you, it’s not going to matter.”
Among black members of the Senate, those who commented publicly gave their colleague the benefit of the doubt.
“This is certainly and totally out of character with the Denny Altes that I know,” said Sen. Tracy Steele, D-North Little Rock. “One thing I do know is that if anybody can right this wrong, it’s Denny Altes. He’ll do more than rectify this situation.”
Altes acknowledged sending the e-mail, first reported by Fort Smith-Fayetteville station KHBS / KHOG-TV, in which he wrote that he’s been fighting in the trenches against illegal immigration. In it, he said he’s for sending illegal aliens back to their home countries, but that he knows that’s impossible.
“We are where we were with the black folks after the revolutionary war,” he wrote. “We can’t send them back and the more we p *** them off the worse it will be in the future.... Sure we are being overrun but we are being out populated by the blacks also. What is the answer, only time will tell.”
Altes said he made those remarks in response to an inflammatory e-mail. The text to which he was responding is not included in the e-mail on the TV station’s Web site.
Gov. Mike Beebe and the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties criticized the e-mail.
Beebe said the remarks were divisive and insensitive.
“As leaders, we must set a good example of thoughtful discourse, especially when it comes to impassioned issues where strong opinions exist,” he said in a statement.
Republican Party Chairman Dennis Milligan called Wednesday on Altes to apologize, and Altes did so Thursday morning.
Bill Gwatney, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he was glad to see that Altes apologized for the “inappropriate, divisive and racially insensitive” comments.
“I hope his future public policy decisions reflect his atonement,” Gwatney said.
Steele, who is black, said Altes has a good record in the Senate. He said Altes was one of the first public officials to support funding for an expansion and renovation of Martin Luther King Park in Fort Smith.
“We all make mistakes, but I think his record will overshadow his mistake,” Steele said.
Sen. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff, who is also black, said Altes is “good and decent person.” He said he doesn’t think his Senate colleague meant the comments the way they were written.
Wilkins said he wouldn’t call the comments racist without knowing the full context, what the original e-mail said that Altes responded to.
Wilkins was the Senate sponsor of a 2005 bill that Altes criticized in the e-mail, one that would offer in-state college tuition to the children of illegal aliens.
In the e-mail, Altes said that former Gov. Mike Huckabee called him a racist and bigot for speaking out against that legislation. He said Republicans leave him “high and dry” on the issue and that he thinks it’s because they’re losing Hispanic votes.
“If we run a candidate today how much of the Hispanic vote will he git and can we win without that Hispanic vote. Ask GW Bush what he thinks ???” Altes wrote.
Carlos Cervantes, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, called Altes’ remarks shameful.
“He’s trying to get everybody round up who’s not the purest white,” Cervantes said. “He’s got too much anger in his heart.”
Cervantes as well as the national LULAC organization called for Altes’ resignation.
Altes said he would not resign. He has represented the Fort Smith area in the Legislature since 1999, when he was elected to the House. He served two House terms and has been a member of the Senate since 2003.
Sen. Jack Critcher, D-Batesville, the leader of the Senate, said he didn’t see any need for the body to censure or otherwise rebuke Altes. Critcher said Altes seemed sincerely sorry, breaking down during their conversation, and that the comments don’t reflect the man he knows.
“I could just tell by his voice he was heartbroken over it. He was just devastated and contrite,” Critcher said. “He said he was sorry about it, and I believe him.”
Andre Good, treasurer of Fort Smith’s Juneteenth celebration commemorating the emancipation of slaves, said Altes has been very helpful to him and others in the city’s black community.
He said an apology is enough for him and that he’ll continue to work with Altes, though he might be somewhat leery.
“In the future I’ll be more aware of why certain people are trying to help,” he said.
In the copy of the e-mail obtained by KHBS / KHOG, former Fort Smith Mayor Bill Vines is shown as responding to Altes ’ message. It shows him saying that the “vast majority of citizens with a brain” would agree with Altes on the illegal immigration issue.
Vines said in an e-mail to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he was leaving town and couldn’t comment until next week.
Altes didn’t return numerous telephone calls left at his home and on his mobile phone on Thursday.
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