As a first-term state senator, Marty Knollenberg of Troy is far from high-profile. He's not in Congress, though he is the son of a man who served eight terms in the U.S. House.
Sen. Knollenberg, a 52-year-old Allstate agent, is suddenly less obscure -- though not in a good way.
The Republican is the subject of articles at two national news sites -- Huffington Post and Raw Story. He's also the target of criticism and ridicule on social media, including comments at his legislative Facebook page.
The outcry is provoked by widespread posting of videotaped remarks at a Senate education hearing, where the Oakland County politician said: "You mentioned these school districts failing, and you mention economically disadvantaged and nonwhite population are the contributors to that. I know we can’t fix that. We can’t make an African-American white. That's just, it is what it is.”
The American Federation of Teachers' Michigan chapter posted a official recording of the comment Friday on YouTube, generating public attention and media coverage. Its president, David Hecker, condemns the statements as "racist" and "scary." The head of the union's Troy affiliate, Tony Lucchi of Athens High School, posts that Knollenberg "does not represent our community and our schools. . . . I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed."
During a WXYZ interview Friday with Kim Russell in his insurance office, Knollenberg describes himself as racially sensitive and adds: "I have an African-American employee who works for me."
Rochelle Riley, a Detroit Free Press columnist since 2000, tweets:
Lisa Brown, a Democratic former state House member who's now Oakland County clerk and register of deeds, posts: "I am absolutely speechless. I am sickened that Sen. Marty Knollenberg represents part of Oakland County and is serving in our legislature."
Chris Savage of Dexter, posting Saturday at his Eclectablog, says: "Knollenberg should immediately apologize. . . . if he is as racist as his comments seem to indicate, his voice has no place in the Michigan Senate."
In Lansing, executive director Lonnie Scott of the advocacy group Progress Michigan, says: "The problems facing our schools have nothing to do with the children who attend them and everything to do with the policies that Sen. Knollenberg and his Republican colleagues have implemented in our urban areas. This kind of racism has no place in Michigan."
The Michigan Democratic Party posts: "Someone who makes those kind of disgusting comments shouldn't be making decisions about our elections, our children's education, or the future of our state, whatsoever."
These are among at least 14 visitor posts alongside Knollenberg's newsfeed on his officeholder Facebook page, which include vulgar slams not included here:
- "Racist and shameful." -- Felisa Dell
- "People like you make me ashamed to call Michigan home." -- Eric Michaelsen
- "You must do the honorable thing and resign your position in the State Senate." -- Mitchell Robinson, MSU associate professor
- "Dude what is wrong with you, did you get hit by the stupid stick?" -- Mike Garcia
On Twitter, an outpouring of outrage generates hundreds of tweets. A sampling:
@Knollenberg your version of whiteness is embarassing. You dont even understand the problem with your remarks. You should step down.— Brent W. Smith (@theblaksmith) December 5, 2015
We elected this man into office. It's important to KNOW these elected officials https://t.co/FZJDRiBphE— Cornetta Lane (@NettaLane) December 5, 2015
This is HORRIFIC. What the HELL https://t.co/UBkGk2FVp5— Belle Herrera (@esabelleeden) December 5, 2015