State Rep. Connie O'Brien testifies in support of a bill to repeal in-state tuition
Topeka The Kansas Democratic Party on Monday demanded a Republican legislator apologize for saying she could tell a woman wasn’t from the United States because of her “olive complexion.”
“This kind of blatant racism is unacceptable,” said Kenny Johnston, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, said the Democrats had mischaracterized what she had said. She said she would have a statement about the issue in the next day or so.
The dispute was over testimony O’Brien gave last week to a House committee in support of a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for certain undocumented students.
O’Brien told the House Federal and State Affairs Committee about a time last year when she accompanied her son to enroll at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
A woman near them in line was requesting her scholarship money, but when the clerk asked for her photo identification, the woman said she had none, O’Brien said.
The woman then asked for someone else to help her, O’Brien said. O’Brien told the committee that the woman was going to get financial assistance, and her son, who was born and raised in Kansas, wasn’t.
“We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was. We didn’t think that was proper but we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country,” O’Brien said.
Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, asked O’Brien how she could tell, and O’Brien replied, “She wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.” O’Brien said she had a son-in-law from Afghanistan, who had olive complexion, so the woman could have been from Afghanistan.
Another committee member, Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, told O’Brien during the committee hearing that the woman O’Brien had been speaking about, if she was an undocumented student, could not have received any federal or state scholarship funds.
Johnston, with the Kansas Democratic Party, said O’Brien should apologize to the state’s minority student population for her “extremely inappropriate comments.” He added, “Apparently in Rep. O’Brien’s world, all students with ‘olive complexion’ should be banned from receiving financial aid.”
O’Brien said the Democrats were making a big deal out of nothing “like they did with Bill Otto.” Otto, a Republican state legislator from LeRoy, was criticized for making a video in 2009 in which he criticized President Obama in a “RedNeck Rap,” while wearing a hat that said “OPOSSUM the other Dark Meat.” Otto said he didn’t mean for his video to have any racial overtones.
The proposal to repeal the 2004 law that allows in-state tuition for undocumented students was approved by the committee and will be debated by the full House this week.