DENVER — The south-central Colorado State Representative who recently drew the ire of the Colorado Black Caucus says his remarks on the Colorado House of Representatives floor about whether a near 225-year-old—and long since superseded—constitutional provision dehumanized blacks were mischaracterized in a dishonest way to further sow division.
“Having those kinds of deliberate misquotes can fan the flame of the divisions that we are already dealing with,” said Ron Hanks, a Republican who represents Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties, about comments made since by members of the black caucus and left-leaning media outlets.
The controversy came on the House floor April 15 during the third reading of Senate Bill 21-067, which — ironically — will require school districts to teach civics. The bill passed both chambers with bipartisan support.
Hanks said he took to the podium to respond to remarks made by Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver about the three-fifths compromise of 1787 because he wanted to have an open conversation about what led to the deal over the slave-holding south’s representation in Congress.
However, when he was introduced by Alex Valdez, who was acting Speaker that day, he was misidentified as Mike Lynch, a Republican from Northern Colorado. Hanks said as a newly elected Representative, it’s not the first time he’s been misidentified, and he has always tried to make a joke about it. This time, however, his joke wasn’t funny to everyone.
“Being called Mr. Lynch might be a good thing for what I’m about to say,” Hanks said that day. “No, I’m just kidding.”
He told Complete Colorado that he doesn’t regret the remark because he did not mean it disparagingly.
“I had no ill intent,” Hanks said. “It feels like were walking on eggshells. The opposition is exploiting the race issue and the victimization for political gain.”
During her support for the bill, Bacon referred to herself sarcastically as three-fifths of a human to make a point about the importance of a civics education and put “some things in context.”
“What it does do,” Bacon said, “Is help us get to a point where we can build understandings of each other. … But I have to say as someone who is recognized as three-fifths, we do need to understand each other when we talk about these things.”
But Hanks’ desire to be understood and talk about these things with his colleagues was met with hisses and sneers during his time in the well.
“I heard the comments, and I appreciate them, and I respect them,” Hanks said that day in reference to Bacon’s remarks. “But the three-fifths compromise was an effort by non-slave states to reduce the amount of representation the slave-states had. It was not impugning anybody’s humanity.”
His remarks immediately drew frustrations and interruptions.
“Is it really racist to be talking about what the three-fifths compromise was?” said Hanks. “I don’t think so. It’s important. It’s a part of the civics lesson here. It was brought up and merits discussion.”
Hanks went on to say it was about the south having too much representation and the fear it would expand slavery.
“But it took a war to do it,” he said. “It took 600,000 American lives. That’s the kind of thing that needs to be taught.”
According to the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), Hanks assessment is accurate.
“Counting the whole number of slaves benefited the Southern states and reinforced the institution of slavery,” the CAC maintains. “Minimizing the percentage of the slave population counted for apportionment reduced the political power of slaveholding states. In 1787, the founders were attempting to form a union and preserve the nascent United States. This imperfect compromise allowed for preservation of the republic while also confronting the moral and systemic evils of slavery. Erroneous and distorted interpretations of the Constitution only intensify the societal divide in America.”
Hanks isn’t a stranger to tension from his colleagues. His participation in the Jan. 6 rally at the United States Capitol led to Rep. Donald Valdez, D- La Jara, requesting Hanks be stripped of his committee assignments and/or expelled, despite Hanks having no role in the riots. House leadership, which according to the Denver Post was taken by surprise at the request, did not act on Valdez’s request.
Hanks said he doesn’t understand why it’s OK for Bacon to discuss the history of Black America, but not OK for him.
“I took umbrage with Bacon’s remarks,” Hanks said. “It’s divisive in today’s society, inaccurate and politically motivated. And if we don’t push back against such inaccuracies it’s going to stick. I didn’t do this as any part of a grand plan, but I have seen a trend of disinformation from the opposition. It is no longer (fun) to sit here on the ropes and take body blows from a crafty and very strategic opposition.”
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