The lieutenant governor of South Carolina is taking heat for comparing people on government assistance to "stray animals" and saying the government should stop "feeding" welfare recipients who do not meet certain requirements because "they breed."
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, a Republican, was arguing for fundamental changes to welfare to break the "cycle of dependency" at a town hall meeting in Fountain Inn, S.C., on Friday, when he said:
"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. ...
"They will reproduce," Bauer said, "especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."
The remarks set off a firestorm in the Palmetto State. "Everyone should be offended at the comparison of our school children to stray animals," House Democratic Leader Harry Ott said in a statement released over the weekend. "Mr. Bauer should immediately apologize to the people of South Carolina for these remarks."
Bruce Ransom, a political science professor at Clemson University's Strom Thurmond Institute, called the comments "shocking" and said they do a disservice to the thousands of welfare recipients who are in dire need of government help.
"There are many people who legitimately need that assistance," Ransom told FoxNews.com. "He's not only saying that they (welfare recipients) are dependent, but that they're undeserving."
While Bauer raised a "legitimate argument," Ransom said, "he didn't need to compare those individuals to stray animals."
"The way he framed his points was terrible," he said.
In an interview with FoxNews.com, Bauer, a second-term lieutenant governor who is running to succeed Gov. Mark Sanford in November, said he didn't intend to offend anyone. But he acknowledged he could have found better words to convey his meaning.
"The metaphor I used was well-intended," he said, "Will I use it again? No. Do I wish I had used a better one? You betcha I do."
Bauer has called for welfare recipients to receive mandatory drug tests and to attend parent-teacher conferences if they have children in school. Parents whose children benefit from subsidized school lunches should stop receiving government assistance if they fail to attend such meetings, he says.
The lieutenant governor said he intended in his remarks to stress the need to "break cycles of dependency." He said he was approached afterward by a black minister who asked him to he deliver the same speech at his church.
"He said 'you are right on the money,'" Bauer told FoxNews.com. "This was a diverse crowd and nobody there had a problem with the message.
"We've got to really look at every dollar we're spending. A hand-out is basically relief without any demand for change," he said.
Bauer also addressed public criticism of his remarks in a posting on his Facebook page Saturday.
"At a forum this week, I spoke out in favor of finding ways to break the government's cycle of handouts and dependency," Bauer wrote. "I believe government is 'breeding a culture of dependency' which has grown out of control, and frankly, amounts to little more than socialism, paid for by hard-working, tax-paying families."
"I feel strongly that we can and should help our neighbors who are truly needy," he added, "However, there's a big difference between being truly needy and truly lazy."
Bauer wrote that he will continue to push for such requirements even if they are perceived as "politically incorrect" by the media.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that roughly 15 percent of South Carolinians live below the poverty line. As of October 2009, about 20,648 South Carolina families were listed as welfare recipients -- totaling $3,979,701 in government assistance, according to the South Carolina's Department of Social Services. That figure is an increase from 2008, when 16,382 were listed as receiving cash assistance from the government.
The Associated Press reported that Bauer, who comes from working-class roots and who grew up in a single-parent household, benefited from subsidized school lunches himself.
Bauer was sworn in as South Carolina's lieutenant governor in 2003 after having served in the state Senate for four years.
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.