How outrageous is it that state Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, told an atheist activist that he was an evil force whose ideas should not be exposed to schoolchildren?
If you’re the overly religious type, you might actually agree with the “Lady from Cook” that we need more God in the classroom. If you’re the type who doesn’t like to provoke a confrontation, then Davis’ comments are out of line.
BUT IF YOU’RE like me, a political observer who pays close attention to the Statehouse scene, then the sad thing is that Davis’ diatribe against atheism warrants only a shrug of the shoulders.
There’s something about the air they breathe in Springfield. While it might be a tad cleaner than Chicago air, something about it makes our political people say daft things that they would never utter back in their home districts.
Compared to some of the comments I have heard uttered under the Statehouse dome, Davis’ attack on atheist activist Rob Sherman was not at all remarkable. That is the big reason why her spiel didn’t warrant much attention locally when she made it.
Springfield, after all, was the location where former Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip once criticized the concept of increasing benefits for social services programs because he thought that any additional money to welfare recipients would be “wasted on lottery tickets.”
THAT INCIDENT IN 1993 by the Republican from suburban Wood Dale actually got some attention, but only because Philip was so high-ranking in the General Assembly hierarchy.
Many of the lower-level legislators routinely “shoot from the lip,” then show little to no regret later (or else try to blame the forces of “political correctness” for calling them on their stupidity).
To me, the most outrageous crack I ever heard from a state legislator came on a spring day in 1997 when the Illinois House was pondering a non-binding resolution related to the Middle East situation. One state representative said for the record that he wasn’t about to defer to the desires of “camel jockeys.”
This wasn’t an isolated moment.
HE SAID IT to the hundreds of people who happened to be in the House chamber at the time, and to all the people in capitol complex offices that had speaker boxes wired up to listen to the House activity.
After the House session ended that day, I confronted that particular legislator (who has since retired) and asked him about his choice of words – to which he responded there was nothing wrong with the ethnic slur. “It doesn’t mean anyone in this country, it only means those Arabs in the Middle East.”
I wonder if by that same logic, “n----r” only means a person on the African continent – and not one who lives in the United States.
Either way, it is stupid talk.
BUT IT DIDN’T create any lasting controversy. I wrote a story for United Press International that remained exclusive because no one else wanted to pick up on it. The incident withered away within a day, and it is likely that I am one of the few people who remember it.
Anyone who hangs around the Illinois Statehouse for any length of time will pick up on similar incidents. Often, it is a matter of whether a reporter just happened to be wandering by a legislative committee room when something stupid was said that determines whether it gets covered, or forgotten.
Just from my own memory, I can recall two other incidents of outrageous statements being spoken. One involved an attorney for Illinois House Democrats who happened to be African-American. He said that political people were wasting their time when they tried to apply to Hispanic people laws meant to guarantee civil rights for all.
Such laws, the attorney said, were designed solely to protect black people. Of Latinos, the attorney said, “they really don’t figure into it.”
THERE ALSO WAS the time that a DuPage County legislator (very much a Republican) criticized the large vote majorities that Hispanic people tend to provide to political candidates of the Democratic Party.
When told that it was because Democratic party officials were more sympathetic to the concerns of Latinos, the GOP official snapped, “When they quit being so stupid, then we’ll concern ourselves with what they want.”
It ought to be surprising to hear such trash coming from the mouth of a political official. But sadly enough, it isn’t. I often wonder what incredibly outrageous story occurred on my watch, only I wasn’t present to hear it – so it died unreported.
It is with this mentality in place that the Davis/Sherman confrontation took place.
SPECIFICALLY, ROB SHERMAN (the long-time atheist activist who always is willing to help his children sue public school districts so as to ensure that God is not being forced down their throats) was telling an Illinois House committee why it should not be providing financial assistance to a South Side church.
That caused committee member Davis, who represents the Roseland and Beverly neighborhoods on the South Side, to burst out in anger. If the Chicago Tribune is to be trusted, Davis’ diatribe went as follows:
“I don’t know what you have against God. But some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy. It’s tragic, when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school.
“I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in god, where people believe in protecting their children. What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous.”
LATER, SHE SAID:
“It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists. Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to court to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up. Get out of that seat.”
Since then, Davis has said she was frustrated because of problems involving increased violence in school situations, and she took that frustration out on whoever it was that happened to be sitting before her.
That person was Sherman, who in all honesty has a history of motivating people in his presence to behave badly. His atheism wound up being the brunt of Davis’ attack, although I wonder if she could have easily spoken an anti-Latino diatribe if a Spanish-speaking person had happened to come before her committee.
FOR WHAT IT’S worth, the two have since talked, and Sherman claims Davis offered him an apology. But that is not going to stop Sherman from milking this diatribe for all it is worth to his cause.
He wants to play the role of victim and appear on as many national talk shows as possible so as to give his “side” – and throw in a plug for his activist work.
Keith Olbermann of MSNBC is among the broadcast twinkies who have bit at Sherman’s bait. He did a segment earlier this week labeling Davis as “Worst Person in the World” – and giving Davis her most prominent mention in the national news media during her 21 years in the Illinois House.
Anybody who has ever encountered Davis knows that while she can be outspoken on behalf of the majority African-American population of her legislative district, it is ridiculous to claim her mouth makes her the “worst” in the world.
THERE’S ANOTHER REASON this story didn’t get bigger play locally – a lot of reporter-types took into account the source – Rob Sherman himself can be a professional victim of sorts when he thinks he has a sympathetic ear listening.
I recall once when I worked at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago on the overnight shift, and was in the middle of writing out a schedule of news events for the upcoming day when someone from behind put his hand on my shoulder.
After whirling around in shock, I realized it was Sherman, with a tape recorder in hand, who wanted to play for me a recording of a stupid saying from then-President Ronald Reagan.
I looked at the clock. It was just after 3 a.m. Sunday – an hour when normal people are home in bed, and I was only awake because someone was paying me. Sherman was out seeking attention.
I SUSPECT MANY of the reporter-types who were initially told of Davis’ diatribe downplayed it in their minds because they didn’t want to feed Sherman’s ego any more than necessary.
I’m sure that I would have given it minimal coverage if I were still a part of the Statehouse reporting scene. I wouldn’t want to appear as though I were siding with Davis or Sherman, and professional news judgment is often more about deciding what to ignore instead of what to write.
So does this excuse the Davis diatribe against atheism? Not really. It was a brain cramp on Davis’ part. But she’s also not a force for evil – the image that Sherman would like for us to adopt to advance his own cause.
This truly is an issue that deserves to wither away.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Rob Sherman says that Monique Davis is “sorry” for her attack (http://www.robsherman.com/) and he accepts her apology, but managed to take a few final digs at her on behalf of his cause.
For those who need to hear for themselves the Davis diatribe (http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/files/DAVIS.mp3) against Rob Sherman.
Monique Davis’ legislative record (http://www.ilga.gov/house/Rep.asp?MemberID=909) from her just over two decades in the Illinois House of Representatives.