TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A marathon legislative session in Kansas ended early Friday with two Republican senators denouncing a Democratic leader who had accused them of racism over their treatment of the state's Hispanic labor secretary.
The dispute stems from an email Anthony Hensley sent on Wednesday accusing Sens. Gene Suellentrop and Rob Olson of berating Secretary of Labor Delia Garcia and her staff during a May 14 meeting about the unemployment system. The system had been under fire because of delays in processing claims related to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Senate President Susan Wagle also participated in this public partisan beat down," Hensley wrote. "I find it deeply disturbing that Wagle and her fellow white Republican male colleagues, particularly Senators Olson and Suellentrop, would engage in these vitriolic, unwarranted and implicit racist attacks against a distinguished Latina leader like Secretary Garcia.”
Suellentrop, of Wichita, asked to address the Senate after passage of the final bill, some 22 hours into the last day of the 2020 session, then began slamming Hensley, who is also white, The Wichita Eagle reported.
“I don’t know what it’s like to be called the N-word, I can’t even fathom that,” Suellentrop said. “You know what? I feel it’s pretty close to that, the vile, vulgar accusation of being a racist.”
He said both his sons are married to Latinas and he has two Hispanic grandchildren.
“In the businesses that I’ve owned, I would venture to say I’ve employed more minorities, people of color in the restaurant and hospitality industry, than he has taught in his class in the last 30 years," Suellentrop said referring to Hensley, who is a teacher. "He calls me a racist — a foul, vulgar, repugnant statement.”
Olson, of Olathe, followed with his own fiery speech in which he said he too has minority family and friends. He said Hensley should be disciplined by the Senate for the email.
“I can’t believe that someone could put something like this in writing and slander other members,” Olson said.
Hensley, of Topeka, sat silently through the criticism and left shortly after the session ended.