Sen. Chris Buttars said Monday he's running for re-election in November and hopes to persuade the NAACP to withdraw its call for his resignation once he explains why his references to a bill as black, dark and ugly weren't racist.
"I'm not resigning. I never intended to and I'm not going to. I plan to re-run," the West Jordan Republican told the Deseret Morning News in an interview late Monday afternoon, ending a week of near-silence since his controversial statement Feb. 12 on the Senate floor.
Buttars said he had planned to respond to critics by running a full-page ad in the Morning News and the Salt Lake Tribune today as well as holding a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday with supporters from the Utah Eagle Forum.
But now he's put those plans on hold and has agreed to meet with Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
It was Williams who called for Buttars' resignation last week, after he used the word black to negatively describe the "baby" being divided in a school equalization bill saying, "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark and ugly thing."
Buttars said Monday his statement was misinterpreted and never intended to be racist.
"We live in a very, very sensitive world. Although what I said had literally nothing in my mind to do with a human being at all we were talking about an ugly bill I made a statement that could be easily misinterpreted, and it was."
Buttars said he'll tell Williams and the NAACP board today that he is sorry for what he said and ask them to take back the call for his resignation. He said he understood how his statement, as well as one made in 2006, could be seen as racist without knowing the context.
Williams, though, said Buttars won't be able to convince her to back down in her call for his resignation. In August 2006, Buttars called the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools "wrong to begin with" in a radio interview.
"We at the NAACP are here to say enough is enough," Williams said. "It's not the first time he's made derogatory remarks. ... If he feels comfortable enough to sit up in the Senate and say those things that are harmful, he doesn't belong in the Senate."
Williams said she and the board "want to sit down and tell him his actions will not be tolerated in the state of Utah. It would make it easier, I'm sure, for his constituents if he would go ahead and resign, or at least not seek re-election."
Buttars said the Feb. 12 debate was intense because of the financial effect it would have on his district. He said before he spoke, he had been listening to other senators speak of splitting the "baby" among school districts and labeling it an "ugly baby."
"I'm pretty upset about this because this is a big deal for our side of the valley. So I stood up and made the blunder statement. It was horrible. I knew the minute, the second, I did it, I'd made a major mistake."
Asked why he then didn't apologize immediately, Buttars said, "because I was talking about the equalization, and I stayed on it." Shortly after the debate ended, Buttars said he told Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, during a break that he wanted to apologize.
When the senators returned to the floor, Valentine announced there had been a breach of decorum and that the senator involved wanted to apologize. Buttars said he was sorry and apologized a second time in writing on the Senate GOP majority's blog.
The two-term senator did not address the issue publicly further until Monday, except in a brief interview with the Morning News last Thursday when he said the "issue is done as far as I'm concerned" and that he stood by his apology.
"There were some mad people, and I could understand that," Buttars said Monday. "I didn't say anything because I thought, 'Well, you probably deserve this, you made a blunder and you hurt some people's feelings.' But all last week, each day it got meaner."
Buttars said many of the e-mails he's received have accused him of having "a history of being mean, then list the gay issues," including his recent legislation to stop Salt Lake City's domestic registry.
"I carry a lot of morality issues, and several of those have put me at odds with the gay community," Buttars said. "Those people are very angry at me." But asked if he believed the gay community was responsible for his situation, he said he didn't know.
"I think the news ought to try to find out about that," Buttars said. "Why did this go from, 'You made a mistake and we're mad about it,' which is fair, to calling me every name in the book?"
Mike Thompson, the executive director of Equality Utah, said it's the NAACP that has been the most critical of Buttars. That criticism, and Buttars' statement, were independent of any gay rights issue.
"Obviously, they have concerns about what Sen. Buttars said," Thompson said. "Once again, Sen. Buttars gets to point at the gay community, ... it's something else to blame on the gay community."
Buttars spoke to reporters just hours after the Senate GOP caucus met behind closed doors to talk about a statement issued by majority leaders that called him "a good man. He made a poor choice of words in the heat of debate. He did so carelessly but not maliciously."
The statement said that "the Senate response was exactly appropriate to the offense. The Senate does not think Sen. Buttars should resign. We have not asked him to resign. Neither have we pressured him not to run in November."
Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, met privately for 45 minutes with Buttars on Friday, and the political benefit of his announcing he would not run for re-election reportedly was discussed.
On Monday, Buttars said he was not pressured to announced he wouldn't seek another term. "That offended me because it's not true," he said. Buttars said he has "tremendous support" in his West Jordan district."I would like to be thought of as someone who is intensely committed to maintaining the fundamental moral values of the country," he said. "My slogan in all my campaigns has been, 'Defending traditional values."'
Contributing: Deborah Bulkeley E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]