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Ohio lawmaker who asked racist hygiene question tapped to head Senate health panel

State Sen. Stephen Huffman caused an uproar last June when he asked whether the “colored population” is more susceptible to the coronavirus because they “do not wash their hands as well as other groups.” He later apologized.
Image: Steve Huffman
Ohio Republican State Sen. Steve Huffman speaks during a rally at Darke County GOP headquarters in Greenville on Oct. 13, 2014.Al Behrman / AP file

An Ohio lawmaker who caused an uproar last year when he asked whether the “colored population” was more susceptible to the coronavirus because they “do not wash their hands as well as other groups” has been chosen to lead the state Senate’s health panel.

State Sen. Stephen Huffman, a Republican who was fired from his job as an emergency room doctor amid the uproar over his remarks last June, was picked for the post by his cousin, Senate President Matt Huffman.

Stephen Huffman has "a long record of providing health care to minority neighborhoods and has joined multiple mission trips at his own expense to treat those from disadvantaged countries," John Fortney, spokesman for the Senate president, said after the appointment was announced last week.

"He apologized months ago for asking a clumsy and awkwardly worded question. Sincere apologies deserve sincere forgiveness, and not the perpetual politically weaponized judgment of the cancel culture," Fortney said.

Tony Bishop, director of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said the caucus wasn't happy with the appointment but were willing to give Huffman a chance.

"Although the senator’s comments were deeply offensive, we hope that he has learned from his mistake and moves to right the systemic wrongs that are being perpetrated in the state of Ohio," Bishop said in a statement.

Huffman, who is from Tipp City, asked the question during a hearing on whether to declare racism a public health crisis in Ohio — and as hundreds of people were outside the Statehouse in Columbus protesting the police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd.

Angela Dawson, who is Black and heads the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, was on the receiving end of Huffman’s question.

"I understand African Americans have a higher incident of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from Covid," Huffman said. "But why does it not make them more susceptible to just get Covid? Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for the higher incidence?"

Dawson dismissed Huffman's question.

"That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country," Dawson said, adding later: "Do all populations need to wash their hands? Absolutely, sir. But that is not where you are going to find the variance and the rationale for why these populations are more vulnerable."