An Oklahoma lawmaker apologized Wednesday for using an ethnic slur while debating on the House floor for a bill that would allow merchants to legally offer deep discounts on goods.
“I made an offhand reference that was inappropriate and I know that it hurt some folks,” said Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, after lawmakers adjourned for the day. “I acknowledge that. I regret that. I apologize for it. It was unintentional.”
Johnson, a businessman, was debating on the floor of the House of Representatives for Senate Bill 550, which would legalize low-price retail sales in Oklahoma for the first time since 1941.
He 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 he grew up hearing that term, but doesn't know why he repeated that phrase.
“It just came out of one of the wrinkles of my brain and it was not something that was intentional,” said Johnson, who is serving his fourth two-year term. “I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone and I apologize for the folks I did offend. It is a comment that should never be made. I will never do it again.”
Johnson said a much better word would have been negotiate.
“Unfortunately I didn't use that word,” he said.
Joe Griffin, spokesman for House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said Johnson is a close friend of the speaker's and that he is not the first person to make a comment they regret.
The House has accepted his apology and has moved on, Griffin said.
The House voted 69-23 to pass SB 550. It goes back to the Senate.
Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, the House sponsor of the measure, said current law enacted in 1941 requires merchants to sell products for at least 6 percent more than they paid for them.
A December 2011 attorney general's opinion confirmed that state law banned “Black Friday” and other low-price sales, even if they were just temporary. As a result, Oklahoma shoppers are paying more compared with other states when merchants offer sales such as “Black Friday” and other events, Newell said.
Other backers of the bill said that when residents leave the state to shop, Oklahoma loses sales taxes. Opponents questioned who would regulate the bill and whether its passage would prove to be a disadvantage for small businesses.
Newell said SB 550 would allow merchants to sell items at below cost for less than 15 sequential days, provided the sale does not occur more than 10 times each year.
Called the Oklahoma Unfair Sales Act, the current law was intended to protect small businesses from pricing advantages held by large chains and prevent a retail giant from selling low-cost goods that put a smaller competitor out of business.