Legislator who questioned Black hygiene to lead health panel

National
Steve Huffman

FILE – In this Oct. 13, 2014 file photo, Republican Sen. Steve Huffman speaks during a rally at Darke County GOP headquarters in Greenville, Ohio. Huffman, who questioned whether “the colored population” was contracting coronavirus at disproportionate rates because of their hygiene, is drawing new criticism from Black lawmakers on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 after his appointment to lead the state Senate Health Committee (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Republican lawmaker and doctor who questioned whether members of “the colored population” were disproportionately contracting the coronavirus because of their hygiene is drawing new criticism from Black lawmakers after his appointment to lead the state Senate Health Committee.

“Could it just be that African Americans – or the colored population — do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear masks? Or do not socially distance themselves?” state Sen. Stephen Huffmanasked a Black health expert in June 11 testimony. “Could that just be the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?”

The comments resulted in calls from Democrats and the ACLU of Ohio for him to resign from the GOP-controlled Senate.

Huffman, of Tipp City, was appointed last week by Senate President Matt Huffman, his cousin, to chair the committee even after he wasfired from his job as a Dayton-area emergency room physicianfor his comments.

In a letter Wednesday, the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus demanded a health committee leader who understands and can respond to the inequities of healthcare in Ohio “without political influence.”

“If the Senate leadership will not replace Sen. Huffman as Chair, then we will expect Sen. Huffman to use his position to improve the health of Ohio’s African-American population by working with OLBC to pass legislation that effectively addresses health disparities in the state of Ohio,” director Tony Bishop said in a news release.

Huffman remains a licensed medical doctor in Ohio.

“Senator Huffman is a medical doctor and highly qualified to chair the Health Committee,” spokesperson John Fortney said Friday in a written statement. “He has a long record of providing healthcare to minority neighborhoods and has joined multiple mission trips at his own expense to treat those from disadvantaged countries.

Fortney added that Huffman apologized at the time “for asking a clumsy and awkwardly worded question.”

“Sincere apologies deserve sincere forgiveness, and not the perpetual politically weaponized judgement of the cancel culture,” he said.”

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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