A group of local legislators are among those criticizing Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter who earlier this week compared a health measure for lawmakers re-entering the Capitol to Nazi Germany, likening stickers legislators are to wear confirming they passed a health screening to Jews required to wear yellow Stars of David during the Holocaust.
Carpenter made the initial comments in a group of emails among lawmakers.
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins, whose family is Jewish, sent an email response to Carpenter telling him the comments were “disgusting.”
When pressed about his comments by other news outlets, Carpenter defended his stance that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was “not a white supremacist” but just scared of “the Jewish Nation” and his fear led to the Holocaust.
“We have a way of life that is being threatened right now because we have shut down our economy,” Carpenter told the Anchorage Daily News earlier this week. “Yes, somebody might get sick and somebody might die, but our way of life will continue. And right now, our way of life is in jeopardy.”
More than 81,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.
When reached Sunday, Hopkins said he did not wish to comment further, noting he felt it prudent to move on and pay attention to legislative work that needed to be done.
Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki also called the comments “absolutely disgusting.”
“It’s a huge distraction to the things going on in everybody’s communities. There are individuals and families who are maybe losing homes and small businesses that are closing and this really distracts from that. I wish he hadn’t said anything,” Kawasaki said, adding that he understands the need for the Capitol’s health measures.
For another Fairbanks lawmaker, Carpenter’s comments hit close to home. Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool said he had relatives in Eastern Europe who were victims of the “kind of atrocities” Carpenter alluded to.
“He was way out of line,” Wool said Sunday. “I almost don’t want to dignify his comments with a response. Any time you invoke Hitler or the Holocaust, you better have a really, really good reason for it and this is not one of those reasons. I think it’s so inappropriate.”
When speaking to the Daily News, Carpenter questioned whether it was “out of the realm of possibility” that COVID-19 patients will be “rounded up and taken somewhere,” adding that he felt the health mandate restrictions represented a slippery slope when it came to limited rights.
That’s not an accurate summation, said Fairbanks Republican Rep. Bart LeBon.
“We’re dealing with a health crisis, I don’t think there’s any intention in limiting personal freedoms or rights,” he said.
“He got the history just a little bit wrong,” LeBon said. “The situation that occurred in Nazi Germany is nowhere similar to what we’re going to be dealing with when we return to Juneau. The two situations don’t overlap at all.”
LeBon went on to condemn Hitler’s orchestrated massacre of more than 6 million Jews and other minorities during the 1930s and 1940s as “pure evil.”
North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill said he could understand Carpenter’s “bristling” over some of the more-restrictive health mandates, but he called Carpenter’s comments “unfortunate” and “over the top.”
“The restrictions don’t stop him from doing anything within his official capacity. It’s just a precaution. We’ve got legislators coming from all over the state with no quarantine time, so I think every precaution we can take is good,” Coghill said.
North Pole Republican Rep. Mike Prax categorized Carpenter’s comments as “unfortunate” but noted he felt the Nikiski representative was expressing the concerns of many regarding restrictive health mandates.
“He expressed the frustrations of a lot of people. He probably could have chosen his words more carefully,” Prax said, noting he felt the Capitol’s health measures were reasonable. “There are a substantial number of legislators that are honestly concerned about catching the virus. So out of a courtesy to other people, I think these measures are OK.”
After his comments gained national attention from news outlets like CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, Carpenter issued an apology via conservative blog Must Read Alaska, claiming it was “not (his) intent to be offensive.”
“I take my responsibility as the voice of the people who elected me very seriously. I also hold the Jewish people in the highest regard. I do not take myself so seriously that I cannot recognize that the words I wrote, and those attributed to me, do not adequately reflect the esteem I hold for either group of people,” Carpenter wrote.
National civil liberties and advocacy organization Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has since called for Carpenter’s resignation.
Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy; Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, could not be reached for comment.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.