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Ash’s quip stokes criticism; Dem says it’s ‘unjust’

Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, filed seven bills this session dealing with sentencing reform. Ash, who spent five years practicing law in the Marciopa County Office of the Public Defender, says his time spent on the House Judiciary Committee sparked his memories about people who had received disproportionately long sentences for their crimes. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

A tongue-in-cheek comment has landed one Arizona lawmaker some bad press – and some misdirected support.

Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, thought he was making a joke to lighten the tense mood when he spoke up during Monday’s floor session.

Rep. Richard Miranda had called for legislators to support his proposal for a day celebrating Latino Americans at the Legislature, but inflammatory remarks from Rep. Jack Harper had soured some Democrats.

Ash took the opportunity to offer his support for the proposal, calling it “well-deserved,” and tossed out a joke at the end of his remarks: “I just want them to assure me that when we do become in the minority you’ll have a day for us.”

At the time, his comments drew laughter and applause from members of both parties. Speaking to the Arizona Capitol Times today, Ash emphasized that he didn’t expect to be taken seriously.

“I wasn’t really saying we need a day for white people,” he said. “That would be ridiculous.”

But KPHO reported his comments on Wednesday as if it was a sincere suggestion, and got reaction from people on the street.

From there, left-leaning websites like the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos picked up the story.

“Let me help out Mr. Ash here with a suggested date: July 13, the birthday of Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, slave trader and founder of the Klux Klan,” reads a Daily Kos commentary.

Ash’s remark came after Harper used the mention of a Latino American day to opine about César Chávez. The Republican from Surprise suggested the creation of a César Chávez American Worker Day, so that students could “learn the truth” that Chavez was not pro-immigrant.

“Cesar Chavez was not about letting illegals come in and take jobs from American citizens,” he said. “He was about American workers and trying to keep businesses from hiring illegal aliens to undercut American workers. But that doesn’t seem to be the goal of the Democratic Party in Arizona, who continue to lie to the young people and make it sound like César Chávez was pro-illegal alien.”

His comments made other lawmakers angry, including Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, who pointed to the remarks as a reason why the state needed a Latino American day, “so we could learn more about the Latino community rather than just demonize them.”

But Gallego said that he understood what Ash was trying to do with his comment, and said that the backlash against him was “unjust.”

In a strange twist, Ash said that in addition to the bad press, he had also been getting a number of e-mails from people who cheered his suggestion, not realizing it was meant in jest.

“I suppose if I really wanted to, I could use this to drum up some support,” he said with a smirk.

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