A Leavenworth County commissioner who used racially insensitive language at a public meeting last week has resigned, saying his remarks were "misinterpreted."
"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," Louis Klemp said in his resignation letter, which was submitted at a Tuesday morning commission meeting and obtained by the Leavenworth Times.
Multiple state and local leaders have called on Klemp, who is white, to step down after telling an African-American woman making a land use presentation that he belonged to “the master race.” Klemp was objecting to consultant Triveece Penelton’s analysis when he swerved to comment on the Nazi quest for ethnic purity.
Klemp's comments are at the 1:35:00 mark of the meeting.
“I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you because we’re part of the master race,” Klemp told Penelton.
He also told her she had a gap in her front teeth. Mark Loughry, the Leavenworth County administrator, said Klemp previously pointed to that dental condition as physical evidence that Klemp and others were part of a master race.
In his letter, Klemp said the negative backlash in the community for his comments caused him regret, and he was resigning to maintain and "focus and prioritize the needs of the county."
"My attempts at identifying a similarity (space between our teeth) with a presenter were well-meaning but misinterpreted by some and definitely not racially motivated," he said, adding that he had reached out to the presenter to extend his "regret and support."
Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Republican who had called on Klemp to resign, said Kansans expect leaders to do the right thing, "and that's what this is about."
"We want to look forward," Colyer said. "We're not looking backwards here. And every Kansan finds a home here, right in the heart of America."
Klemp was on the county commission from 1978 to 1982 and from 1992 to 1996. Last year, he was selected by the Leavenworth County Republican Party to complete a commission term expiring in January.
In December 2017, Klemp created controversy when he expressed admiration for Confederate General Robert E. Lee while discussing a calendar of public holidays.
“Oh God, Robert E. Lee, wonderful part of history,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you, my great-great-grandfather had a slave.
“It bothers me that if we’re going to have Martin Luther King Day, why don’t we have a George Washington?” Klemp said. “I keep waiting. I didn’t see Oprah (Winfrey) on there. She’s not on there as a federal holiday.”
Leavenworth County Commissioner Bob Holland recommended Klemp step down from the commission and apologize to Penelton and the county’s residents.
The Leavenworth City Commission issued a statement that “unequivocally denounces the use of ‘master race’ or any other language that has historic ties to racism, division and bigotry in any setting at any time.”