DANVILLE, Va. - Southside Virginia has been in the news because of a catastrophic coal ash spill into the Dan River, and now, racist comments by a legislator comparing Obamacare to tar babies.
Virginia state Sen. Frank Ruff compared "reliance on promised funds to provide health insurance for thousands of low-income Virginians to a 'tar baby'," as reported by news media. The statement was made during a Danville-Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast on Tuesday. Adding tens of thousands of Virginians to Medicaid would be a disaster for the state, he said.
Republican Ruff's comments appeared in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, on the other side of the state, not in the right-wing Danville Register & Bee, which covered the event.
Danville's African-American mayor, Sherman Saunders, left the breakfast after Ruff's remark. Later, Ruff called Saunders to apologize for what he said. Ruff said his term "tar baby" had no racial connotation, but instead referred to "a sticky situation."
Saunders said today he accepted Ruff's apology, but did not want to talk about the comments. Ruff said the statement was off the cuff and he didn't use prepared remarks at the breakfast.
The term "tar baby" comes from the "Uncle Remus" stories written, in the post-Reconstruction South, in an African American dialect by a white author. The term is considered racist by many African Americans.
Danville Councilman John Gilstrap was upset with the comment and said it was offensive to African Americans attending the breakfast. None of Ruff's Republican legislative colleagues rebuked his statement.
Ruff has been vehement in his opposition to expanding Medicare eligibility to about 400,000 people in the state.
Photo: Virginia Republican state Sen. Frank Ruff. Virginia Guard Public Affairs