State Senator Fired From ER Job After Comments About Black People, Hygiene

Republican Sen. Steve Huffman speaks during a rally at Darke County GOP headquarters in Greenville, Ohio in this October 13, 2014 file photo.
Republican Sen. Steve Huffman speaks during a rally at Darke County GOP headquarters in Greenville, Ohio in this October 13, 2014 file photo. [Al Behrman / AP]
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A Republican state senator from the Dayton area has lost his job as an emergency room doctor after asking a racially insensitive question at a hearing on a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis.

Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) issued a statement on Facebook saying his question was “unintentionally awkward” and “perceived as hurtful,” but he did not apologize for it.

Huffman can barely be heard on the video of the hearing questioning Angela Dawson, the head of the Ohio Minority Health Commission, about why COVID-19 hitting black Ohioans disproportionately hard. But Shibani Chettri heard him.

“He basically said, could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as some other groups?” Chettri said she heard Huffman ask.

Chettri, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at Ohio State who was there to testify for the resolution, said she was horrified that the term was used.

She said she was also horrified that the question was directed to Dawson, a black woman who is the executive director of the Ohio Minority Health Commission, who had just explained some of the known reasons why there are more cases of COVID-19 among blacks, and why they are hospitalized at higher rates.

“He had his question answered and then he dismissed everything that was presented to him," Chettri said. “It just exemplified everything we were talking about, I think.”

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus echoed that and has called on Huffman to resign.

The ACLU of Ohio has also said Huffman should immediately step down.

"He inflicted great harm on all people in Ohio and the integrity and reputation of Ohioans. His comments were just egregious and I think he needs to take account for them," ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Ben Guess told ideastream Thursday. "His comments willfully disregarded the great racial disparities that people of color have experienced in this country and he has exposed his racist views and should step down from office immediately... and if he doesn't, his colleagues need to step forward and see that he is removed from office."

Huffman issued a statement that reads in full:

“Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant. I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of color at a higher rate since we really do not know all the reasons."

ideastream's Jenny Hamel and Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

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