Brasch pushes back against Chambers calling U.S. flag a "rag;" funding for private tutors heard

Sen. Ernie Chambers, left, listens as Sen. Lydia Brasch, right, speaks (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 30, 2018 - 5:11pm

A debate over water project taxes veered into discussion of the flag, slavery and the holocaust in the Legislature Tuesday. And a public hearing was held on setting aside money that parents in underperforming public schools could use to pay for private tutors.

Officially, the subject of Tuesday’s debate was a proposal to let so-called water augmentation projects make payments in lieu of property taxes to keep county governments and schools financially stable. But the bill was targeted by Sen. Ernie Chambers because its sponsor, Sen. Dan Hughes, derailed one of Chambers’ bills last week.

Chambers retaliated by delaying Hughes’ bill, speaking repeatedly on subjects including the mistreatment of black people in the United States. During one of his speeches, Chambers, who is black, referred to the American flag in the front of the legislative chamber. “And I’m supposed to pledge allegiance to that rag? When they had that song written by Francis Scott Key, flying over “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” black people were not free. It was a slave country,” he said.

Sen. Lydia Brasch said she wouldn’t object to Chambers insulting her. “But when you degrade and demean a flag of a country – our country – I do find it insulting. I do find it hurtful. I do take offense to that. Because that flag represents does not represent just me, but generations of individuals who fought for a better country,” she said.

Chambers said white people couldn’t understand his attitude. “Your ancestors were not dragged over here in chains, drowned in what they call the “middle passage” in the ocean.  That didn’t happen to your people. That’s why I say you and no white person is in a position to speak for me and mine. You love America because of what it did for you. I hate that flag for what it did to us,” Chambers said.

Brasch, a first-generation immigrant from the Ukraine, said her family had suffered as well. And she said despite parts of its history, the United States also represents opportunity. “At one point my father was being loaded into a boxcar because of his complexion, being more olive than others, to go to a gas chamber. It was an act of miracle that he did not go. We have a horrible history globally, I believe. And an American history that I believe is worth preserving,” she said.

Late Tuesday morning, senators reached the time limit after which they can vote to end debate and vote on the bill itself. At that point, Hughes’ water projects tax bill advanced on a vote of 47-0, with Chambers not voting. But he had eaten up two valuable days of debate time, decreasing the chances of bills he doesn’t like passing this year. “I don’t know what will happen next session. But I know what can be prevented from happening this session. I can prevent time being used the way you all want to use it. I shall take my time, and borrow some of yours,” Chambers said.

Also Tuesday, the Legislature’s Education Committee held a public hearing on a proposal by Sen. John Lowe to have low-performing schools set aside money parents could use to pay for things like private tutoring.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said the proposal plays into fears by defenders of public education. “It’s the fear that there’s a national attack on the public schools nationally. There’s an attack on public postsecondary institutions nationally. And so it’s very hard not to feel that every single thing that comes in like this is another, further attack. And that’s the problem, is that everything is seen as ‘Everything’s going wrong with the public  schools. We have to take money away from them because they can’t do it,’” Pansing Brooks said.

Lowe said even though the funds could be used for private tutors, public schools could also offer services to qualify for the money that would be set aside by his proposal. “We’re not limiting this outside the school district – outside the school. The school can develop a program and use this money specifically. Because the teachers are used to teaching these students. The students are used to being with these teachers. This would allow those teachers in the public school system to continue on to help that student,” Lowe said.

Lowe said the ultimate decision on whether to spend the money for public or private programs would be up to the parents. The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.







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