Published December 20, 2002
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sen. Trent Lott isn't the only politico who has had a hard time holding his tongue when it comes to verbal snafus that could be portrayed as segregationist in nature.
Lott on Friday announced that he would step down from his position as incoming Senate majority leader after he was trounced by critics and colleagues for making comments insinuating that the country would have been better off if Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., had won his run for the presidency on a segregationist ticket in 1948.
Now, Rep. Cass Ballenger is apologizing for comments he made to a local paper about one of his more controversial colleagues.
Ballenger, R-N.C., told the Charlotte Observer on Friday that he had "segregationist feelings" after dealing with Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga.
Ballenger said that McKinney provoked him so much during a confrontation that "I must I admit I had segregationist feelings," he said.
"If I had to listen to her, I probably would have developed a little bit of segregationist feelings," he said. "I mean, she was such a bitch."
Ballenger added that he is not a segregationist at heart.
"But I think everybody can look at my life and what I've done and say that's not true."
McKinney lost her re-election bid this fall.
A source close to Ballenger said that the congressman was preparing a statement to explain that he used a poor choice of words to convey his dislike for McKinney, a dislike that has nothing to do with her race.
Ballenger told Charlotte radio station WBT that the comments were "pretty stupid on my part" and that he didn't think he had segregationist feelings.
"I talk too much," Ballenger said. "In that specific case, I was trying to say that almost anybody can develop an animosity to individuals. In this particular case, I picked on Cynthia McKinney because she was what I consider less than patriotic to the United States."
Ballenger added that he has a problem keeping his mouth shut and stressed that such off-the-cuff snaps are not always a portrayal of a person's true beliefs but of how hot they are under the collar at the time.
Ballenger's chief of staff, Dan Gurley, said Ballenger's comment was "not a general statement of his belief."
"There's no question in my mind that the comment there is not a reflection of his general view, it's only a reaction to the pushiness of somebody like McKinney," Gurley said. "In fact, I've seen him go out of his way to show himself as just the opposite of that."
Lott has apologized for his comments that ignited a political and civil rights firestorm and, despite recent vows to keep his post as GOP leader in the Senate, said he would step down from leadership but keep his post as a senator from Mississippi.
Ballenger told the Observer that Lott should "drop out of leadership but stay in the Senate."
But Ballenger also said Lott's not really far from the norm in a generation from a part of the country where those views seemed normal.
Asked if he believes Lott is a segregationist, Ballenger said, "I'd have a hard time saying he wasn't. Basically in some areas of the South, in Charlotte and everywhere else, there are people who get rubbed the wrong way (thinking) `We've got to bend over backwards; we've got to integrate' and things like that."
Ballenger, a senior member of the House Committee on Education, easily won a ninth term in November with 60 percent of the vote.
But Ballenger isn't receiving a scolding like the one Lott received for his remarks.
When told of Ballenger's remarks, Rep. Mel Watt, a black Democrat from Charlotte, said he believed race was not the main motivation for them and that it was more likely McKinney just pushed him over the edge.
"I suspect that whatever she's doing that's gnawing on him has to do more with what she's saying and how she's saying it than the fact that she's black," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.