December 14, 2002
DeWine, Voinovich get behind Senator Lott
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Trent Lott is not a racist and he should not step down as majority leader, Ohio Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich
DeWine and Voinovich are critical of Lott for saying last week that if Sen. Strom Thurmond’s segregationist bid for the presidency in 1948 had succeeded,
“we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”
“I was there when he made the statement,” DeWine said Friday, recalling the 100th birthday party for Thurmond where Lott spoke. “It was a terrible
mistake. I’ve known this man (Lott) for over 20 years and he’s a good person. He’s not a racist. It was obvious as soon as he said it, he simply could not
have meant what he said.”
Voinovich, unavailable to discuss the tempest swirling around Lott, sent word through his spokesman Scott Milburn that Lott’s remarks were “stupid and
insensitive.” Lott “should have paid more attention to his words,” Milburn said.
Like Dewine, Voinovich said he is convinced that Lott is opposed to segregation.
“Part of the senator’s anger about this is that it doesn’t reflect what the Republican Party is about and it doesn’t reflect the Trent Lott that he knows. And
he thinks Lott should have done a better job of portraying who he is,” Milburn said.
Both senators, who are Republicans, spoke with Lott Thursday night after President Bush sharply criticized Lott but did not ask him to step down.
During a press conference in his home state of Mississippi Friday, Lott insisted he was winging it when he said Thurmond rather than former president Harry
Truman should have won in 1948. Lott said he never meant to suggest he supports segregation, which he considers immoral.
According to published reports, when Lott was a student at the University of Mississippi in the early 1960s, he led a successful effort to prevent the
integration of his fraternity.
In 1980, during a campaign rally for Ronald Reagan in Mississippi, Lott made a remark eerily similar to the one he delivered at Thurmond’s birthday party. “If
we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today,” Lott was quoted as saying.
Asked about those remarks Friday, Lott said, “I don’t deny the fact that almost the same words were used. For many years I’d go up to Sen. Thurmond ...
kid with him and say, ‘Strom, you would make a great president,’ and he always looked up and smiled.”
DeWine said that the earlier statement of Lott’s was “wrong” too. He added that he can’t explain how Lott managed to make the same statement twice.
DeWine said he’s known Lott for 20 years and lived on the same street as Lott in a Washington suburb for eight years.
“He’s never said anything to me that would indicate that he was a racist,” DeWine said.
Both DeWine and Voinovich said Lott should give a full explanation for his remarks. They also believe the controversy could spur the Republican Party to
put more effort into reaching out to minorities.
Republicans recaptured control of the Senate Nov. 5, and as of Friday, no Republican senators were publicly urging Lott to resign.
There aren’t any Republican senators who privately want Lott to step down either, DeWine said. “I think he has strong support,” he added.