Ehrlick: The fall of the committee of Usher

Judiciary chairman set a shameful, hypocritical example

January 28, 2021 6:13 am
Barry Usher

House Judiciary Committee Chair Barry Usher, R-Billings.

We’re not going down the rabbit hole of racism, because there are immigrants from all over the world that are every color on earth, and we’re not doing racism in this hearing,” – Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, shutting down comments during a legislative hearing on sanctuary cities when someone referenced white supremacy.

Barry Usher’s words were spoken like a white man. And for the record, so am I.

That’s about where the similarity ends.

There wasn’t racism in the hearing, unless you count the one former resident railing about all the Mexicans who allegedly destroyed his neighborhood with music and litter — his words, not mine.

Heaven help the white man whose enlightened brethren gave us such as artists as Bobby Vinton and Wayne Newton.

Somehow a man railing about Mexicans in vile generalities is OK, while a minister and a rabbi talking about — wait for the irony — white supremacy deserve to be gaveled down.

If Usher doesn’t believe in speaking about racism, it’s only because he isn’t listening. If all Usher and his colleagues want to do when they talk about the Black Lives Matter movement is carp about some of the bad actors who took the opportunity to riot and loot, then he’s missed the most basic message of why people of all colors are protesting in the first place.

Nowhere was the double-standard of institutional racism more on display than the U.S. Capitol when an angry, marauding mostly white mob was ushered into some of the blocked grounds. The National Guard was told to stand down while these people prepared to overthrow the government. Rioters smeared feces in the Capitol and also ransacked offices.

Upset people of color protesting get the federal government storming into their cities, but please, hold the doors to the Capitol for the white folk. Had the mob been black or even more mixed, barriers and fences wouldn’t have been necessary because bullets would have stopped them long before they made entry.

As much as the unevenhandedness of Usher was on display Tuesday as he allowed testimony to disparage entire groups of people while putting the muzzle on two female clergy members, I am also appalled at the hypocritical approach being used by some of the Republican leadership.

I would love to use this space to rail against the racial disparities that are all across Montana. For us not to talk often and openly about racism in this state is a tragedy when there are many who are discriminated against because of their skin, or because they live on a reservation.

I am equally concerned that Usher is trammeling on the rights of these Montana citizens. For so many Republicans who invoke their Constitutional bonafides, it seems ridiculous to stop free speech. It’s not like a minister and a rabbi were being disrespectful, provocative or even off-topic. Show me a sanctuary city and I’ll show you a bunch of folks who are significantly darker than either Usher or me.

Usher is part of the Republican Party that has introduced legislation that would eliminate “free-speech” zones on public university campuses. They want free speech on campus broadened to all corners, worried that conservative speech is relegated only to these free-speech zones.

Conservatives in the Legislature are worried that the liberal cauldrons of public universities inhabited by closet socialist professors are tamping down on conservative speech so much so that lawmakers believe changing Montana law is the only remedy to protect conservative viewpoints.

Let me get this correct: We need to make sure all viewpoints are heard on campus, but when it comes to making laws: Hear no racism, see no racism, speak no racism, and voila – there must not be racism.

Montana’s Constitution, the same document lawmakers swear to uphold, guarantees a number of great things, including the right to participate in government. In addition to shutting down speech that was respectful and as on-point as talking about Mexicans and music, Usher and the Republicans have also stopped citizens who came to Helena with good intentions from testifying and participating in the government process.

The Republicans send the message that participation and speech is a one-way street: They talk and we had better all listen.

Usher argues that talking about racism is going down a rabbit hole and he should be familiar with holes, because the way he ran the meeting suggests he has his head in the sand.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.