Recently, the Kansas legislature began debating a bill that would deny undocumented immigrants in-state college tuition. The bill was slammed on the left. At the head of the opposition was Rep. Valdenia Winn of Kansas City.
"I have dreaded this day because this is a racist, sexist, fear-mongering bill," Winn reportedly said in a March 19 hearing according to the Lawrence World Journal.
"I would like first to apologize to the progressively minded people of Kansas who are appalled that we are turning back the hands of time…um…regarding to, and I am going to use strong language, Jim Crow tactics, and once again making Kansas a laughingstock."
Supporters of the bill did not take kindly to the criticism.
"She just referred to this committee as racist," Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene said.
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The backlash didn’t end there. Nine Republican members of Kansas’ House Education Committee have successfully convoked a special legislative committee to investigate Winn’s comments. According to The Kansas City Star, it’s only the fourth time such a committee has ever been convened.
“I’m extremely disappointed that First Amendment rights have been targeted in this meeting,” House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs told the Star in April. “This is the people’s house. Where (else) in America should you be limited on free speech let alone the state capitol.”
Winn won’t be able to have an attorney represent her at the hearing, which is scheduled for next week, according to Women for Kansas (WFK), a Wichita-based advocacy group, because of the rules governing such hearings. Winn’s punishments could include “reprimand, censure or expulsion.” The panel will be composed of three Democrats and three Republicans.
“Women for Kansas believes this situation with Rep. Winn is not a partisan issue; it's an issue about equal rights, fairness, and the right to an attorney,” WFK rep Cindy Kelly told Fusion in an email. “Censure and expulsion are serious penalties. Rep. Winn deserves to be given equal opportunity to have legal counsel during this investigative hearing.”
Winn denied she was accusing individual House members of being racist, but instead was targeting its supporters and the bill itself, the Journal said. She stood by her remarks in an interview with a local Fox affiliate.
“I felt that it was an example of institutional racism because it targeted a select group, it in essence just shut them off for any future chances of higher education,” she said.
The bill has since been tabled. Neither Winn nor her attorney could immediately be reached for for comment.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.