Sparks fly after Sen. Marble’s ‘chicken’ comment in poverty hearing

DENVER — Democratic lawmakers couldn’t believe their ears as they listened to Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, deliver a long soliloquy explaining that more blacks and Hispanics live in poverty, in part, because of fried chicken.

The comments came during a meeting of the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force Wednesday at the Capitol as lawmakers on the committee were presented with a number of statistics highlighting racial disparities in the poverty rate.

“When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race: sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up, diabetes is something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup and you just can’t help it,” Marble said. “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down south and you — I love it.”

Listen to the hearing:

Marble went on to mention how Mexicans eat vegetables in Mexico but stop eating healthily when they immigrate to the United States.

“These things aren’t good for you,” she continued. “There’s so many attributing factors as to why these graphs look the way they do.”

According to Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, “there was an audible gasp in the room.”

Moments later, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, responded to Marble on the record — and she didn’t pull any punches.

“The title for this committee is the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force; and one of the things I will not tolerate is racist and insensitive comments about African Americans, the color of their skin. You mentioned what we eat — I was highly offended by your remarks,” Fields said, addressing Marble directly.

“I will not engage in a dialogue where I’m in the company where you are using the stereotype references about African Americans and chicken and food and all kinds of things. I will just not tolerate that,” Fields continued.

“This is not what this committee is all about. So I will ask that you suspend your perceptions and judgments about African Americans, about poverty — what we’re trying to do is come up with solutions and it’s not about chicken.

“It’s not about eating chicken.”

At that point, the chairman hastily put the task force into recess.

Earlier Wednesday, Fields slammed another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, after he tweeted that Obama supporters should just “get over” the rodeo clown who mocked the president earlier this week in Missouri.

Marble released a statement Wednesday night.

“My comments were not meant to be disparaging to any community,” she said. “I am saddened they were taken in that regard. I take my responsibility seriously and I hope our work on this committee will offer real solutions to the health and financial challenges of our vulnerable populations.”

On Thursday, the Denver Post editorial board weighed in, calling Marble’s comments “finger-lickin’ stupid.”

“We are saddened a state lawmaker can be this ignorant in 2013,” the ed board wrote.

Even the conservative blog, Colorado Peak Politics, lambasted Marble on Wednesday, writing: “Stupidity is not the sole purview of either party, it seems.

“While what she said wasn’t meant to be malicious, it did expose a stunning ignorance and small mindedness,” the blog wrote.

And Thursday afternoon, Colorado GOP Chairman issued the strongest rebuke yet from a prominent Republicans, responding to FOX31 Denver’s request for a statement.

“Sen. Marble’s careless comments do not reflect the views of Republicans,” Call said.  “Since the time of Abraham Lincoln, the GOP has a proud history of standing up for minorities, and we are committed to fighting for policies that ensure every American has the opportunity to succeed.”

According to political analyst Eric Sondermann, Marble’s comments do more damage to her party than to herself.

“Politicians put their foot in their mouths all the time. The reason this is so damaging is that it plays to a narrative, it plays to an existing theme that’s out there — fairly or unfairly — that somehow Republicans are not in tune to minority populations,” Sondermann said.

“Some Republican consultant could make a whole bunch of money some day if they could invent a v-chip of some kind that they could implant in the brains of Republican candidates and office-holders that just lets them know when they start wandering up to a certain set of issues: ‘pull back, pull out, don’t go there!'”

More and more Republicans have taken to Twitter to criticize Marble and draw a distinction between what she said and the values of their party.