Updated at 2:41 p.m. with a response from Sinquefield.
Retired investor and major political donor Rex Sinquefield has once again drawn the ire of the state's teachers union, this time for comments he made Thursday while speaking at an event in St. Charles.
Sinquefield was asked about his support of an effort to amend the state's constitution to eliminate teacher tenure, and after he explained his reasoning he pointed to a column by Ralph Voss in the a weekly newspaper in Osage County called the Unterrified Democrat.
His comments were first reported by Jason Rosenbaum of the St. Louis Beacon:
You know what. There was a column written, and I hope I don’t offend anyone. There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss, who was a former judge in Missouri. He now owns and writes for a newspaper in Central Missouri called the Unterrified Democrat. What a name. And it's in Osage County, Mo. And he starts off something like this: He said a long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said, “How can we really hurt the African American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives?” And what they designed was the public school system.
The remarks drew an immediate response from Chris Guinther, president of the Missouri NEA:
To call the work of educators in public schools a KKK conspiracy shows how out of touch billionaire Rex Sinquefield truly is. This is a slap in the face of every educator who has worked tirelessly in a public school to improve the lives of Missouri’s children. Rex Sinquefield needs to explain himself and apologize to all students, parents and Missourians. ... Every politician that has accepted contributions from Rex Sinquefield has a choice to make today – stand with an out-of-touch billionaire or stand with your public school kids, parents, educators and your communities.“
Rep. Steve Webb, a Democrat from Florissant who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, also condemned Sinquefield's statement:
Not only is this an irresponsible misrepresentation, but it undermines the continuing hard work of parents, children, and educators across the state who strive to make our public schools strong for all Missourians. Like others I'm offended that Mr. Sinquefield would attack institutions that have lifted so many up. He owes an apology to every parent who volunteers at school, every child who goes to school eager to learn, and every educator who creates an environment where our children can realize their potential.
Sinquefield's communications director, Laura Slay, said the reference was to a fictional story published three years ago and "was in no way meant to show disrespect for the teams of great teachers that are doing a great job. It was a highly exaggerated illustration of the damage that a failing school can do to our children."
She also released this statement from Sinquefield:
I apologize for my reference to a quote from Ralph Voss of the Unterrified Democrat. The public discourse on these issues is too critical for an ill-timed, inappropriate reference. It is my sincere hope that this does not distract us from the important mission of helping all children access a high-quality education.
In addition to the teacher tenure amendment, Sinquefield is also helping bankroll ballot initiatives that would grant St. Louis local control of its police department and replace the state’s personal income tax with a sales tax. He has also donated millions of dollars over the years to various campaigns and elected officials.
Below is video of Sinquefield's remarks, captured by the liberal group Progress Missouri. The Ku Klux Klan remarks begin around 2:40: