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Another Republican steps into racism minefield

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference March 7, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

South Dakota Republican State Senator Phil Jensen is the latest GOP lawmaker to endorse discrimination. The Rapid City Journal reported today that Jensen believes businesses should be able to deny service based on race or religion. According to Jensen, "no one is going to patronize" such a discriminatory business anyway. Jensen had previously sponsored a bill, SB 128, which provides that “No person or entity may bring suit against a business for refusing to serve a person or couple based on sexual orientation.”

Jensen Joins other Republicans Pushing Discrimination

SB 128 follows a much broader bill, SB1062, passed by both Republican-led houses of the Arizona legislature, which appeared to permit all kinds of discrimination, not just based on sexual orientation but also based on race, by business owners serving the public. However, after widespread protests, Arizona’s Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed SB 1062, stating that:

I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want…. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination.

In 2010, then-U.S. Senate-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky got into hot water for making a similar suggestion to that of Phil Jensen, i.e., that businesses should have the right to discriminate based on race. The 1964 Civil Rights Act generally provides that places of “public accommodation” (hotels, restaurants, gas stations, movie theaters, etc.) may not discriminate against would-be customers based on race, color, religion or national origin. Paul is widely considered to be a front-runner for the Republican nomination for President in 2016, and won the presidential straw poll at the recent Conservative Political Action (“CPAC”) Conference.

Mixed GOP Message?

One year ago, after Republican 2012 election losses to Democrats for the White House and in the U.S. House and Senate, which were due in part to woeful performance with minorities such as Latinos, Blacks, Asians and gays, as well as women, the Republican Party published a so-called “Autopsy Report” which called for increased outreach to these minorities and women. The latest statements by Phil Jensen and other Republicans supporting legalized discrimination would appear, at best, to send a mixed message regarding any such GOP outreach efforts.

© 2014 Matthew Emmer -- All Rights Reserved

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