Virginia lawmaker uses "tar baby" slur to attack Obamacare


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


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  • The point of Mr. Frank Ruff, this "legislator" is that he and his Republican colleagues would rather hundreds of thousands Virginians go without health care coverage rather than follow a plan headed by an African American president of the United States of America.
    This same anti-human and preposterous racist stance is taken infamously in the Missouri State Legislature, again depriving hundreds of thousands of needed health care coverage for its Black and white residents.
    This will ultimately cost both states millions upon billions of dollars, in lost work, emergency room visits, not to mention death and illnesses for workers, retirees and the poor.
    Legislators like Mr. Ruff are as irrational as they are racist.
    Make no mistake, this is no slight oversight, some indiscretion, a little slip. It is a racist, callous, murderous(for labor Black and white), premeditated
    genocidal policy position, which willy-nilly causes grave and perhaps irreversible damage to working people of our country, contributing cynically to what M L K famously called "interposition and nullification" of progress and human survival.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 03/25/2014 9:47am (2 years ago)

  • This appears to be a case of "McConnelling" where lawmakers mix wordless ads with "foot-in-the-mouth" comments not meant to advance the public good they are elected to serve. The only other word for "sticky situation" is obstructionism that some politicians are very good at.

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 03/22/2014 11:58am (2 years ago)

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