Leavenworth County commissioner resigns after uproar over ‘master race’ comment
photo by: Leavenworth County video screenshot
A Leavenworth County commissioner whose comments about being part of a “master race” drew national attention has resigned.
Commissioner Louis Klemp was absent from Tuesday morning’s regular meeting, but fellow commissioners Doug Smith and Robert Holland announced that they approved his resignation at the beginning of the meeting.
Klemp made the controversial remarks during Nov. 13’s regular commission meeting to Triveece Penelton, a black woman representing a firm conducting a study on the County Road 1 corridor south of Tonganoxie.
“I don’t want you to feel like I’m picking on you,” Klemp said at the meeting. “Because we are part of the master race. You know you’ve got a gap in your teeth. You’re the master race, don’t ever forget that.”
Klemp, who is white, also has a gap in his teeth.
In his resignation letter to County Clerk Janet Klasinski, Klemp apologized for his comments.
“It is with great sorrow that I am submitting this letter to the community that I love and have been a part of for more than 80 years,” the letter read. “In order to maintain a focus and prioritize the needs of the county I have made a decision to resign. I regret my recent comment made during a Leavenworth County Commission Meeting and for the negative backlash to the community.”
As criticism of the comments spread through social media last week, Holland told media outlets that Klemp should apologize and resign.
“What’s this master race?” Holland said during a KCTV5 interview. “None of us are a master race. We’re all Americans, we’re all human beings.”
Holland continued, “I think he is a racist myself. I do … I think he owes an apology to that woman. I think he owes an apology to the whole commission. And the county.”
Klemp went on to say in his resignation letter that his efforts to identify a similarity with Penelton were well-intentioned and “definitely not racially motivated.”
“I have reached out to the presenter and extended my regret and support,” Klemp said in the letter. “I have appreciated the opportunity to be your Commissioner and look forward to progress in Leavenworth County. My best wishes to all for a thoughtful and loving Thanksgiving.”
Fellow Commissioner Smith said later last week that he would urge Klemp to resign.
Others followed suit, including Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, who released a statement calling for the resignation.
“Racial and discriminative language have no place in our society, and most especially when spoken by someone holding a public office,” Colyer said in the statement. “The inappropriate remarks made by Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of the county which he represents. As such, I call on him to step down as County Commissioner.”
The Leavenworth City Commission and Lansing City Council both approved measures denouncing Klemp’s comments and demanding his resignation.
The Leavenworth City Commission, as its statement acknowledged, has no authority to remove Klemp from office, but “believes it is in the best interest of the Leavenworth community for Mr. Klemp to apologize and resign immediately.”
Klemp previously was scheduled to leave office Jan. 15.
Leavenworth County Administrator Mark Loughry sent out a news release Friday saying he would not attempt to defend Klemp but he urged the public to “watch the actual video” of Klemp’s comment, which he said was misrepresented.
“I will say … what is being reported in the media is not an accurate representation of what was said during our meeting,” Loughry said in the statement. “Commissioner Klemp has a gap in his front teeth and so did the person presenting to the Commission on Tuesday. On several occasions over the past year Mr. Klemp has made reference that those with a gap in their front teeth are members of the master race. At Tuesday’s meeting he stated that he and the lady presenting to the Board were both members of the master race due to the gap in their teeth.”
Loughry said the use of the term “master race” was perhaps “ill-advised” but that it “was not a reference to Nazis or used in a racist manner in this instance. Leavenworth County has a zero tolerance for racism or discrimination in any form from any staff members.”
A committee of Leavenworth County Republicans appointed Klemp to Clyde Graeber’s seat when the longtime commissioner stepped down because of health issues in late September 2017.
Others nominated for the appointment were Vicky Kaaz and Terry Rogers.
Kaaz won the general election earlier this month to replace Klemp. Rogers most recently served as campaign manager for Tony Barton, who lost to Democratic incumbent Jeff Pittman in the Kansas House 41st District race on Nov. 6.
Klemp also made comments that some viewed as controversial last November. During approval of county holidays, Klemp shared some opinions.
“Not everybody does them all because we have Robert E. Lee. Oh God, Robert E. Lee. Wonderful part of history,” Klemp said at the time.
He continued: “It bothers me that if we’re going to have Martin Luther King Day, why don’t we have a George Washington (Day)? I think George was a pretty important guy.” He said, “We don’t have Washington anymore. He may be removed anyway because he had slaves.”
He later apologized for the comments.
Klemp told a KSHB reporter off camera that his statement last Tuesday was intended to be a joke.
A family member of Klemp’s condemned the comment but defended Klemp in a statement to KSHB.
“The comment should not have been made. Mr. Klemp now (80) loves his community. He has spent years coaching, volunteering time within the community, working with local taxpayers on their taxes, providing a helping hand to those in need, listening and participating in all things Leavenworth and color has never been a factor.”