Backlash from Doug Bruce “Illiterate Peasant” Comment Needs Closer Look

When I read this Grand Junction Sentinel story this morning – via the Dead Governors – I was disturbed:

Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said after she gaveled down Rep. Doug Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, for calling Mexican immigrants “illiterate peasants” during a Monday debate, she was bombarded with threatening messages via e-mail and telephone.

“The hate mail is off the charts, and there’s issues with people in terms of this response,” Curry said. “It has really bothered me.”

She said hundreds of threatening, acerbic messages have clogged her cell phone’s voicemail and her e-mail inbox.

Since the news report leaves little sense of the exact nature of the phone calls and emails, it is difficult to comment intelligently. How much of it is from constituents legitimately angry from a free speech viewpoint (though they’re misguided to think that speech on the legislative floors isn’t bound by some standards of decorum, they’re right to make the point that this does not rise to the level of an ethics investigation), and how much of it constitutes actual threats or obscene language?

An investigation is a fair approach to figure out these sorts of questions. On the one hand, there is every right and reason for citizens to petition their elected representatives and express their opinions. And immigration is undoubtedly a hot-button issue. On the other hand, people who think public officials are fair game for obscene slander and violent threats – whether they be on the Right or on the Left – are terribly mistaken.

This isn’t a political issue, it’s a civic and legal issue.

But while I’m on the subject, let me take the opportunity to echo the comments of Colorado blogger Night Twister about the Rep. Douglas Bruce comments that set this whole story in motion:

The Republican brand in Colorado is suffering enough these days, and comments like these from our leaders are not helpful. It only gives the opposition more ammunition to use against us. There are other ways to oppose a bill without resorting to these types of tactics. The House Speaker was right to cut him off, and there will apparently be an ethics investigation going forward. To that, I disagree. Rep. Bruce’s comments, while offensive, were well within the bounds of free speech. Let the people in Colorado Springs whom he represents deal with him at the voting booth.

Of course, it now looks highly unlikely that any sort of formal censure will proceed against Rep. Bruce. And that is a good thing. Republican voters in his district indeed should be the ones to decide whether they want to continue with a representative who tends to distract from, and even work against, the causes they all purport to share.

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