Lexington County Republicans voted to rebuke state Sen. Jake Knotts and ask him to resign his office after he used a racial slur last week against state Rep. Nikki Haley.
Both lawmakers are from Lexington County and the dispute was a feud between old guard Knotts and Haley, who represents the rising conservative wing of the party. Knotts referred to Haley, whose parents are Indian immigrants, as a “raghead” on an Internet political talk show.
Knotts said Thursday night he would not resign, and said the resolution was pushed by supporters of Haley and Gov. Mark Sanford, Knotts’ longtime adversary.
“This is not a Republican Party, this is a libertarian party,” Knotts said, noting the group did not censure Sanford last year after he admitted an extramarital affair. “This is nothing but politics. I’m not resigning. I could care less.”
Joshua Gross, who authored the resolution and was campaign consultant for Katrina Shealy’s 2008 Senate contest against Knotts, said he felt an obligation after rebuking a candidate in a national young Republican campaign last year for a racial remark about President Barack Obama. Shealy has announced she will challenge Knotts in 2012.
“We had to be the ones to do this,” Gross said. “We had to be responsible for our own. We love to point fingers at Democrats. We love to point out their flaws. But we can’t do that and not be hypocrites if we can’t take care of our own.”
In a letter, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a longtime Knotts ally, said Knotts’ comments do “not reflect the values of our citizens in his language or in the tone of his remarks.” Wilson said “Knotts still owes an apology to the people at which the slurs were directed.”
Knotts said he has apologized for the comment, which he said was intended as a joke, and did not plan to do so again.
“I’m not going to be a Mark Sanford and get on TV over and over,” he said.
The meeting drew about three-dozen members of the county’s party leadership. The group voted to remove language that would have rescinded Knotts lifetime membership in the county party.
“It does not behoove us to eat our own,” argued Mickey Lindler. “I think it’s totally inappropriate to censure anyone who helped build our party.”
But others said Knotts sets the wrong example. Ed Boyle said he has voted for Knotts.
“I have on several occasions regretted that vote,” Boyle said. “I don’t believe we as a party can ignore this.”
The issue likely will head for a state party vote at a meeting on the 26th. Greenville County Republican Party chairman Patrick Haddon asked Knotts to resign earlier in the day.
“Based on conversations I’ve had around the state,” Gross said, “it will” pass.
Reach O’Connor at (803) 771-8358.