Texas Democratic Official Apologizes After Calling Republican Sen. Tim Scott an 'Oreo'

"I profoundly apologize for the racially insensitive remark I made towards Sen. Scott last week," Gary O'Connor wrote

Tim Scott and Lamar County, Texas Democratic Party chair Gary O'Connor
Sen. Tim Scott (left) and Gary O'Connor. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Facebook

The chair of the Lamar County, Texas, Democratic Party is apologizing after calling Republican Sen. Tim Scott an "Oreo" — a term meant to denigrate a Black person for appearing to adopt the characteristics of white people.

The controversy ensued after the South Carolina lawmaker, 55, appeared on TV last Wednesday to deliver his party's rebuttal to President Joe Biden's inaugural address to a joint session of Congress.

In a post on Facebook following Scott's speech, Gary O'Connor, the party chair in Lamar County, wrote: "I had hoped that Scott might show some common sense, but it seems clear he is little more than an oreo with no real principles."

Criticism came swiftly against O'Connor, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urging the Democratic Party to censure him and tweeting that the comment was "disgusting, hateful, and completely unacceptable."

Texas GOP Chair Allen West (no stranger to controversy himself) also criticized Scott, saying in a video posted to Twitter that he intended to mail the Democrats a package of Oreos.

In a letter sent to Scott and later posted on the party's Facebook page, O'Connor said he was "profoundly" sorry for the remark.

"I profoundly apologize for the racially insensitive remark I made towards Sen. Scott last week," he wrote. "I was wrong and I apologize."

In a comment on the post, the Lamar County Democratic Party added that O'Connor had offered his resignation but it was not accepted "after much discussion."

O'Connor confirmed to PEOPLE that his resignation was tendered but ultimately rejected by the Lamar County Democratic Party.

"On May 4, 2021, representatives of the Lamar County, Texas Democratic Party met to consider the resignation tendered by Party Chair, Gary O'Connor. Our local Democrats have taken the last few days to reflect upon this incident. After much discussion—especially among our local Black Democrats—we chose not to accept Mr. O'Connor's resignation," the party wrote.

They added that O'Connor "has led Lamar County Democrats for seven years and his life of service, collaboration, and activism for racial justice is well known throughout this community. His recent remark is incompatible with his core values."

The Lamar County Democrats said they would "recommit ourselves to conduct our private conversations and our public social media discussions with anti-racist, pro-reconciling attitudes and language. We strongly condemn bigotry of any kind and will continue our historic efforts to work for justice and equality for all our fellow citizens."

In his statement to PEOPLE, O'Connor said: "I am grateful that those who actually know me and the many years I have worked locally for racial and other forms of equality were able to forgive my insensitive and inappropriate remark on my personal Facebook page."

(The Texas Democratic Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Scott, who took office in 2013 and is the only Black Republican senator, seemingly alluded to the controversy on Twitter, sharing a comment by Tulsi Gabbard about the "despicable" personal attacks made against him.

"Thank you for standing up against the bigotry," Scott wrote. "Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country—our American family deserves better."

In his response to Biden's speech last week, Scott spoke about his experience of being a Black conservative, saying that some Democrats had referred to him with various racial obscenities over his political beliefs in the past.

"I get called Uncle Tom and the n-word by progressives, by liberals," he said.

He also argued in his speech that criticism of Republican-backed legislation restricting voting in parts of the country was overblown, saying, "Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country."

"It's backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination, and it's wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present," Scott said.

Those remarks drew a response from Vice President Kamala Harris the day following the speech. "I don't think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak the truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today," she told Good Morning America.

Scott is currently serving as the lead conservative negotiator as both parties seek a compromise on legislation that would reform police procedures.

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