An Arizona Republican quoted a rapper’s racial slur to discredit a protesting teacher — and the legislature’s only two black members were reprimanded for criticizing her.
State Rep. Maria Syms (R-Paradise Valley) published a newspaper column claiming the two prominent leaders in the #RedforEd movement are “political operatives” who are leading a socialist movement to radicalize the state’s youth, reported ABC News.
The GOP lawmaker described teacher Noah Karvelis’ classroom as “exotic” and said he prided himself for sharing music with students by Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, and her column in The Arizona Republic quoted a lyric that included the N-word.
When lawmakers convened Wednesday at the statehouse, state Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix) denounced the column and told Syms she should not have used the racial slur.
“Let me by crystal clear,” said Bolding, who is black. “It is not acceptable to use racial slurs, even if that slur is used as a quote.”
Bolding’s floor speech was interrupted at that point by state Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Tucson), who said it was improper for the Democrat to accuse another member of “using a racial slur in an op-ed.”
The GOP majority ruled Bolding had violated House rules, and Bolding asked for a voice vote on whether he should be silenced.
During that vote, the legislature’s other black lawmaker also criticized Syms’ column — and she, too, was found in violation of House rules and asked for a voice vote on whether she should be silenced.
After clerks sorted out the rules for holding those votes, both black lawmakers were told to take their seats.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard to follow the rules,” said House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler). “It doesn’t matter whether you are white or black or brown on whatever the color the color of your skin is, you follow the House rules.”
Syms defended herself and thanked fellow Republicans in her own speech as the votes were counted, saying she quoted the racial slur to demonstrate the activist teacher’s political motivations and teaching methods.
“I think the one thing that we can agree on is that these terms are terribly offensive,” Syms said. “If anyone would read the article they would know that those words were used in the article to expose the offensive nature of language used by the leader of #RedforEd in the classroom. Every person in the state of Arizona should be offended by these racially offensive words that are being used in our classrooms right now.”
Karvelis called the lawmaker’s claims “ridiculous,” and said he never used the racial slur that Syms quoted in his classroom.
“It’s just a distraction,” Karvelis said.
Tens of thousands of Arizona teachers are expected to strike starting Thursday as they seek a 20 percent teacher pay raise, competitive pay for support staff, annual salary increases, school funding boosts to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.
Gov. Doug Ducey has offered a 20 percent pay raise but has basically ignored the Arizona Educators United group’s other demands, and Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) has said GOP state senators would stand behind the governor.
It’s not clear whether House Republicans will do the same.
“If people then continue to strike, that doesn’t make sense,” Ducey said. “I don’t know how that helps our kids. I don’t know how that helps our parents.”