A Georgia Republican lawmaker who warned that his Democratic former colleague could "go missing in the Okefenokee" over supporting the removal of Civil War monuments said he regrets that his comments on Facebook were "misinterpreted as a threat against her."
State Rep. Jason Spencer added that the nation's "terrible" racial division would only get worse if he cannot continue to have the type of conversation he had on social media with former Democratic state Rep. LaDawn Jones.
"It is a painful conversation that we need to have, in our communities, our state, and our nation," the Woodbine Republican said Wednesday in a statement. I’m grateful that LaDawn Jones is willing to start that conversation with me, and I hope that our experience will start similar conversations among others.”
Spencer has faced a flood of criticism since he warned Jones, who is black, that she won't be "met with torches but something a lot more definitive" if she continues to call for the removal of Confederate statues in south Georgia.
"Too many necks they are red around here," he wrote. "Don't say I didn't warn you about 'em."
Jones, who sat next to Spencer during her four years in the Georgia House, said in an interview she didn't feel threatened by Spencer's comments but that she was "concerned" by his reaction.
"Because if that's representative of what people in south Georgia think," she said, "then yikes."
Spencer was rebuked from both sides of the aisle shortly after his Facebook exchange was published Tuesday in the AJC.
The Democratic Party of Georgia condemned his "reckless comments in the strongest possible terms" and Stacey Evans, a Democratic candidate for governor, said he should be ashamed for "inviting such violent rhetoric into an already heated and divisive area of discussion."
"Threats in any shape or form, veiled or not, have no place in civil discourse among colleagues and should be unacceptable no matter the issue," she said.
While Georgia Republican leaders were largely silent, several activists and operatives criticized his exchange. Among them was Justin Tomczak, a GOP strategist who called Spencer's comments "completely unacceptable, inexcusable, disgusting in any political discourse."
Read Spencer's full statement:
"I respect former State Representative LaDawn Jones as a colleague and as my former seat mate in the Georgia House of Representatives. I respect her for her passion, her willingness to engage in debate with me, and her ability to advocate strongly for what she believes. She has always done so aggressively and without any fear. She’s never backed down from me in any of the debates we’ve ever had, even if those debates might have appeared to others that we were being hostile or rude to each other. LaDawn and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I am glad that she wants to learn how people with different worldviews think. It’s a rare trait in most people, and she deserves praise and respect for having it.
“I regret that my choice of words in warning LaDawn about the possibility of violence has been misinterpreted as a threat against her, or anyone else who would like to see historic monuments to the Confederacy removed. I was trying to warn her that there really are people who would harm others over the issue. In light of the recent tragic murder of a woman in Charlottesville, I believe that a certain degree of caution is necessary. I still do.
“I condemn racism, ‘white supremacy’ and any group from the yesterday’s Klan to today’s neo-Nazis, who espouses such vile beliefs. They should not be tolerated. Provoking such hateful people is to deliberately invite violence with them, and that should not happen in America in the 21st century.
“The racial division in our nation is terrible and is going to get worse if my colleague and I cannot have the kind of conversation we had on social media and will continue to have face-to-face. It is a painful conversation that we need to have, in our communities, our state, and our nation. I’m grateful that LaDawn Jones is willing to start that conversation with me, and I hope that our experience will start similar conversations among others.”