N.C. GOP officials scrambled Thursday to disavow a Buncombe County Republican whose racially tinged comments on “The Daily Show” rekindled a firestorm over the state’s new voting law.
On Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the broadcast, Don Yelton resigned as a member of the Buncombe County GOP executive committee.
By then, however, videos of his appearance had gone viral. New York Magazine called it the “Most Baldly Racist ‘Daily Show’ Interview of All Time.”
The Comedy Central show is known for outrageous interviews. Many politicians choose not to appear on it. It’s not clear whether more senior party officials were approached when the show filmed in Asheville earlier this month. Around town, Yelton is known as a gadfly.
But critics of North Carolina’s voting law said he reinforced their argument that the measure is racially discriminatory.
In the segment, “Daily Show” reporter Aasif Mandvi asked U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights pioneer, about laws such as North Carolina’s. “These laws are just as racist as they can be,” Lewis said.
Then, interviewing Yelton, Mandvi said, “The law is not racist, and you’re not racist.”
Yelton, 66, paused, and said, “Well, I’ve been called a bigot before.”
He went on to say that a picture he shared on Facebook of President Barack Obama dressed as a witch doctor was intended to make fun of Obama’s “white half.”
He said the voting law is “going to kick the Democrats in the butt.”
“If it hurts a bunch of college kids that are too lazy to get up off their bohunkus and go get a photo ID, then so be it,” he said. “If it hurts a bunch of whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, then so be it.”
Republicans have said the new voting law, which among other things will require IDs by 2016, is designed to ensure against fraud.
“The North Carolina Republican Party finds the comments made by Mr. Yelton to be completely inappropriate and highly offensive,” state GOP Chairman Claude Pope said in a statement. “I would like to make it very clear that Mr. Yelton does not speak for either the Buncombe County Republican Party or the North Carolina Republican Party.”
A spokesman for Buncombe County Republicans called Yelton’s comments “offensive, uninformed and unacceptable. … In no way are his comments representative of the local or state Republican Party.”
The spokesman, Nathan West, said Yelton had been reprimanded by the party and removed as a precinct chairman in 2012. He was re-elected this year, placing him on the party’s executive committee.
Meanwhile, critics of the new law said Yelton’s comments bolster their case.
“(He) affirmed our argument that this legislation is discriminatory and unconstitutional,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that filed a federal suit over the law on behalf of the NAACP.
The Rev. William Barber, who heads the state NAACP, said he was “disgusted, but not surprised, by (the) arrogant remarks.”
Yelton, he said, “laid bare everything that we know politicians are trying to do through this legislation – which is to manipulate our voting laws, making it harder for certain communities to participate, in order to unfairly win elections.”
Yelton announced his resignation from his party post Thursday during a radio interview with local host Pete Kaliner, who used to work for Charlotte’s WBT.
Yelton told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he doesn’t regret his “Daily Show” appearance.
“There’s nothing I said that I would take back,” he told the paper. “The activity going on across the state today proves what I said is true – the Democrats are jumping on it like flies after honey.”
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