Rep. Steve Alford put himself squarely in a firestorm of controversy.
During a legislative coffee Saturday in Garden City, the Ulysses Republican cited a Jim Crow-era belief in explaining his opposition to legalizing marijuana in Kansas.
Alford said the drug was criminalized nationwide in the 1930s in part because black people couldn’t handle pot use.
“One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that. And so basically what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to do a complete reverse with people not remembering what has happened in the past,” he said.
Some would say Alford simply provided historical context on why marijuana was outlawed.
Hardly. His statement clearly supported the absurd claim that blacks somehow are biologically and culturally predisposed to react worse to marijuana than white people.
No thoughtful, conscientious lawmaker would ever rely on an easily debunked — not to mention racist — idea from many decades ago to make a case today. Yet Alford was surprisingly cavalier in standing up and publicly presenting the hypothesis.
And he offered nothing regarding the reality of marijuana legalization now being discussed in many statehouses and the nation’s capital.
Kansas, unfortunately, has had its fill of good-old-boy lawmakers who seem pleasant enough, but don’t do what it takes to understand issues.
Alford’s not the only one in our Statehouse. But in representing a region with a significant minority population, he should be much more sensitive to race-related prejudices.
And every reasonable officeholder should sense the harm of racially-charged comments amid an upsurge in white nationalism — a sad crusade endorsed by the likes of Kansas’ dreadful GOP gubernatorial candidate, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
We know Alford doesn’t spew racist rhetoric at every turn. What he did say publicly, however, was bigoted and hurtful. His lackluster apology cannot undo the damage.
Relinquishing his House committee chairmanships after the controversy erupted wasn’t enough, either. Alford’s departure from the Legislature is needed to create an opportunity for more responsible representation of the southwest Kansas district.