Religious leaders call on Tillis to apologize over 'traditional' - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Religious leaders call on Tillis to apologize over 'traditional' comment

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In a September 2012 interview with Charlotte PBS affiliate WTVI, Thom Tillis referenced a need for the Republican Party to better communicate with minority voters. (WTVI) In a September 2012 interview with Charlotte PBS affiliate WTVI, Thom Tillis referenced a need for the Republican Party to better communicate with minority voters. (WTVI)
RALEIGH, N.C. - Religious leaders in Raleigh are calling on North Carolina speaker of the House and Republican United States Senate candidate Thom Tillis to apologize over remarks he made nearly 2 years ago.

In a September 2012 interview with Charlotte PBS affiliate WTVI, Tillis referenced a need for the Republican Party to better communicate with minority voters, but it's how he phrased that need that is now causing controversy on the campaign trail.

"The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is, more or less, stable. It's not growing," Tillis told Carolina Business Review host Chris William. He added, "The African American population is roughly growing, but the hispanic population are growing in significant numbers. We've got to resonate with those future voters."

That statement did not resonate with Dr. Earl C. Johnson, a reverend at Raleigh's Martin Street Baptist Church.

"It borders on racism," Johnson said. "The history of African Americans in North Carolina goes back to slavery. I mean, we were here."

Johnson and other members of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association plan to ask for an apology at a press conference scheduled for Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Martin Street Baptist Church.

"And wanting him to at least acknowledge that he made a mistake and maybe he should have rephrased it another way," Johnson said.

Tillis campaign manager Jordan Shaw defended the comment in a statement saying in part, "Speaker Tillis made it clear that the Republican Party must reach out and engage all North Carolinians to broaden its message of freedom and opportunity to an increasingly diverse state and country. It is disappointing -- but not surprising -- that Kay Hagan is intentionally taking these comments out of context."

Tillis is running against Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.

The Hagan campaign also asked for an apology earlier in the week, which the Tillis campaign declined to give.

Johnson said in also asking for an apology that his group is acting on its own.

"I have nothing, nothing with [Senator Hagan]," he said.

Shaw also sent WNCN a list of examples were Democrats and members of the media have used the term "traditional" to refer to a specific group of the electorate and did not face the same backlash.

In 2012, U.S. Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker told The Stanford Daily, "I'm very confident that Barack Obama is going to win. I saw the latest polling before the actual election took place and he was ahead in Ohio, ahead in Florida, close but ahead in Pennsylvania. So I feel pretty confident that he's going to win. And again, often that polling does not capture voters who are part of this enthusiastic surge [of] non-traditional voters -- people who are not likely voters -- so I have a lot of hope and belief that President Obama will win."

The campaign also said CNN analyst Roland Martin used the term in 2008 referring to white voters in New Hampshire. It also pointed out that members of the NAACP have used it in similar ways.

Political observers say the controversy probably won't hurt Tillis with the voters he needs to win.

"Tillis looks to win this election by having an older, white electorate turn out," N.C. State political science professor Steven Greene said. "Those people are not going to be particularly upset about his comments."

In a statement released Friday, Orlando Watson, Communications Director for Black Media for the Republican National Committee, said, "The truth of the matter is Thom Tillis called for expanding the Republican Party’s efforts to engage minority voters - something every single elected official in America should be doing. But two years later, Kay Hagan is distorting Tillis' words - the same exact words previously used by the NAACP and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- in her desperate attempt to score incredibly cheap political points. The reason is obvious: Kay Hagan cannot defend her liberal record and would rather resort to deplorable attacks to defame her opponent."

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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