Rep. Dennis Johnson, who made an ethnic slur about Jews during floor debate earlier this week, went Thursday to the front of the House of Representatives chamber to apologize.
“What I said was wrong,” said Johnson, R-Duncan. “What I said was hurtful to many good and decent people. My words were careless. They were unintentional and do not indicate what was in my heart.”
Johnson made his apology shortly after the House Democratic caucus issued a statement apologizing to the Oklahoma Jewish community and the National Jewish Democratic Council sent out a release.
Johnson made the ethnic slur while speaking in support of a bill that would allow merchants to legally offer deep discounts on goods.
Johnson, a businessman, said small businesses can compete with larger stores and chains because they offer customer service, even though customers might try to “Jew me down on a price.”
Johnson continued with his debate, until a nearby lawmaker told him what he said.
“Did I?” Johnson asked. “I apologize to the Jews. They're good small businessmen as well.”
Johnson, 59, said after Wednesday's session that he grew up hearing that term, but doesn't know why he repeated the phrase.
“Derogatory remarks like ‘Jew me down' are always unacceptable,” David Streeter with the National Jewish Democratic Council said in an email, “and the true test of Johnson's apology is to make sure that comments like this never happen again.”
Johnson said: “This was a serious offense and I have no excuse for using such a thoughtless phrase. It will not happen again. I am sorry and I ask forgiveness of the House, this chamber. It does reflect on us negatively. I accept that.”
Democratic and Republican House members applauded after Johnson finished his apology.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said House Democrats are grateful that Johnson took the time to stand before the House and apologize.
“His comments were clearly offensive and beneath the dignity of the House of Representatives,” Inman said. “His actions we believe are the restitution that's necessary to move us forward.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, called the incident unfortunate.
“I was personally offended by what was said,” he said. “We are all Oklahomans and we have to be sensitive especially in the Legislature about comments that are made.”