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Colorado GOP lawmaker reprimanded after calling colleague 'Buckwheat'

Republican state Rep. Richard Holtorf's racist remark touched off a shouting match in the chamber. He has since apologized.
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A Republican state lawmaker from Colorado who referred to a colleague as "Buckwheat" during a House session was reprimanded Thursday.

State Rep. Richard Holtorf made the remark Wednesday during debate on economic stimulus legislation that would infuse $10 million into Colorado's arts and film industries and cultural organizations, and caused immediate uproar in the chamber.

Buckwheat was the name of a stereotypical Black child character in the 1930s "Our Gang" and "Little Rascals" short films. The character was later repeatedly satirized by comedian Eddie Murphy on "Saturday Night Live."

“I’m getting there. Don’t worry, Buckwheat. I’m getting there,” Holtorf told an unidentified legislator in the chamber while speaking from the podium Wednesday.

"I'm sorry?" Democratic House Speaker pro tempore Adrienne Benavidez interrupted.

“That’s an endearing term, by the way,” Holtorf continued before Benavidez hammered her gavel and called for order as some members began yelling at Holtorf. "Why are you yelling at me?" Holtorf asked before Benavidez called for a recess.

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod, who is Black, confronted Holtorf, who is white, at the podium immediately after the remarks.

“This is what I have to deal with Every. Damn. Day,” she tweeted afterwards.

Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan, one of the lawmakers yelling at Holtorf from the back of the chamber immediately after the Buckwheat comment, tweeted: "Words matter. (FULL STOP) We MUST NOT accept the use of racist language."

Holtorf later returned to the podium and said, "I apologize if I’ve offended anybody in any way. It is not my intent, ladies and gentlemen.”

On Thursday, he went back to the podium to offer "my sincerest apologies." "I see all of you as my brother and sisters, all created by God and equal. I cherish working with you each and every day," he said.

State House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Democrat, spoke immediately after Holtorf Thursday to say that the lawmaker had been reprimanded and those he offended had been heard.

He said that “discriminatory remarks, whether intentionally launched or carelessly said, have absolutely no place in this House.”

He told lawmakers that he and Holtorf had spoken about what happened for an hour, and that “I’m thankful you agree to do your part to reset the decorum of this session.”

That decorum was "grossly breached" by the use of a racial slur, Garnett said.

“I’m sorry to say this is not the first time this session, but I’m speaking today to make sure it is the last."

In an email sent to NBC News on Friday, Holtorf wrote: "I have already made all the comments that are needed in this matter. There is nothing more to comment about this issue."

In an interview Thursday with Colorado's FOX-31, Holtorf said he was not addressing a Black colleague when he made the remark while speaking on the House floor Wednesday, and added that he wished he'd chosen a difference word.

“Where I’m from, that particular term is used for a younger person, a tyke, a kid, a youngster. You don’t use it in a way that is racial or discriminatory or insulting,” he said.

Holtorf said the comment had been directed "at a representative who’s Hispanic, like me, that’s a veteran and a good friend of mine. And I absolutely had in no way, no desire to insult anybody in the Black Caucus. Absolutely not. I wish I would’ve chosen a different word.”

Holtorf made headlines earlier this year for insensitive remarks about Sullivan's son Alex, who was killed in a mass shooting in an Aurora movie theater in 2012.

Sullivan had cited his son's death in remarks about the importance of the state's "red flag" gun laws, marking "the 448th Friday since my son Alex was murdered in the Aurora theater massacre.”

Holtorf spoke after Sullivan, and said, "I have suffered loss in my life" before pointing to his years of military service.

“The most important lesson I learned — and I offer this to my fellow colleagues, particularly the one that just spoke — is that you have to let go,” he said.

(CORRECTION, May 8, 2021 1:32 p.m. EDT) A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of the Colorado House Speaker pro tempore. She is Adrienne Benavidez, not Benevidez.