Most everyone apparently thinks Republican candidate for governor Walker Stapleton needs to say more about his great-grandfather and KKK leader. Denounce him. Apologize. Condemn the KKK. Express revulsion at racism. Slam white nationalists. Something.
But all we are hearing from Stapleton is various forms of the sentence, “I am focusing on the future,” even though he once trumpeted the achievements (Stapleton airport, Red Rocks Amphitheater) of his KKK great-grandfather in a campaign ad–and he brags about being a fourth-generation Coloradoan.
Political head scratchers of all political stripes are scratching their heads.
“You can’t just ignore it,” said Eric Sondermann, a political analyst, told The Denver Post’s John Aguilar and Ben Botkin over the weekend in an article titled, “Analysts: Walker Stapleton must be ready to deal with family skeletons as Colorado governor’s race, heats up: “He should make a statement about it. I would do it one time for all to see, for all to hear.”
“He needs to be ready to deal with this,” right-leaning pollster Floyd Ciruli told The Post. “He needs a stock answer if it comes up again.”
This is in line with what two Republican candidates told the Colorado Times Recorder this summer:
Republican Casper Stockham, who battling U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver, wrote on Facebook that he thinks Walker Stapleton should take further action.
“From my perspective, what Walker needs to do is make a clear statement that he’s distancing himself from his Democrat KKK relatives and their policies,” said Stockham when asked about his Facebook comment by the Colorado Times Recorder. “He didn’t do anything wrong, but if he wants to apologize for his great-grandfather’s mistakes, that’s fine. And I think it would help. He needs to address it.”
“Plain and simple, Democrats won’t let up on this, if he’s the candidate,” former Republican candidate for governor Steve Barlock, who spotlighted Stapleton’s KKK connections on the campaign trail, told the Colorado Times Recorder earlier this year. “The only thing he can do is denounce his family’s name. Change the [Stapleton] neighborhood’s name. Ask Michael Hancock to take down his great-grandfather’s pictures in city hall. And pressure the history museum to put his great-grandfather back on the KKK plaques.”
Conservative talk radio host Craig Silverman has said on air in August that Stapleton “has got to respond.”
“It’s a crisis for the Walker Stapleton campaign,” said Silverman on air. “But there are remedies, like coming on the radio. I have some ideas, if you want to hear them, when we come back from break. I like Walker. I don’t think it’s fair to him. It’s his great-grandfather, he had nothing to do with that. But he’s got to respond. He’s got to say something.”
Fellow conservative talker Steffan Tubbs said on air he agreed with Silverman, but “I just wouldn’t apologize.”
A Google search on the question of whether candidates should apologize for the racism of long-dead family members yields the full range of ideas, from full-on apology to a don’t-even-bother-me-with-this-irrelevant-question stance.
In an essay in the Washington Post, author Marianne Williamson wrote:
We do not adequately teach our children the racial history of America since the end of the Civil War, from the horrors of white supremacy and segregation and regular lynching and Jim Crow laws and voter suppression, to existing patterns of criminal injustice and the contemporary realities of mass incarceration.
It was a previous generation’s task to rid our country of slavery, and another generation’s task to pass civil rights legislation. While America ended the institution of slavery, its deeper work now is to end racism.
We must do more than heal on the level of legislation; we must heal on the level of the heart. It’s a whole lot easier to forgive someone who has had the courtesy to apologize.