Think back to the 2008 presidential election when, during a town hall, a woman told John McCain she was worried about then-candidate Barack Obama because, she said, "he's an Arab."
McCain promptly shut her down, saying, "No ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."
State Rep. Mike Hill had a similar opportunity late last month when, during a meeting with a group called Women for Responsible Legislation, an audience member mused about a biblical call to kill "a man who has an affair with another man."
The Pensacola Republican could have said, "No sir. Gay people are decent members of our society. I may disagree with how they live, but we don't kill people because of their sexual orientation."
He didn't. Instead, he said the Old Testament said much the same thing. Another attendee asked whether Hill might consider legislation to that effect. Hill wondered aloud "how that would go over."
Then, they all had a good laugh.
John McCain is dead and so, apparently, is Hill's humanity and sense of propriety. Imagine laughing about killing people because they're gay.
It's good to see Republican leaders denouncing Hill's sentiments. "We unequivocally condemn both the question asked of Rep. Hill, and Rep. Hill's laughter and refusal to push back and remind his audience that this is America and we don't stone people to death we disagree with," said House Speaker Jose Oliva said in a joint statement with Chris Sprowls, chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Terrific. Oliva and Sprowls said exactly the right thing.
If Hill refuses to resign, will they lead a move to censure him or strip him of committee assignments? Anything less amounts to "just words."
Remember that the legislature this year refused to take up a bill by Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, requiring an official state apology for the injustices of the so-called Johns Committee, which persecuted gays in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly in the state university system. If the bill had been heard, its first stop would have been a committee whose members included Hill.
Let's also remember that just last month, President Donald Trump laughed off a Pensacola, Fla., rally attendee's shouted suggestion that people crossing the border should be shot.
"That's only in the Panhandle that you can get away with that statement," the president cracked.
When Hill finally addressed the controversy this week, he did not apologize for his behavior. Rather, he apologized for his "tone" and for having failed to note the proper Bible citation.
"I apologize for not directly responding to the fact that the premise for this question was inaccurate," Hill wrote in the statement sent to a Pensacola-area radio talk show host. "I deeply regret how the tone of my response to a constituent was received at this event. I believe that no matter one's race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status or otherwise, that all lives are created equal in the image of God."
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat and one of only a few openly gay legislators, rightly described Hill's statement as a "non-apology" and called on Hill to apologize or resign.
In response, Hill essentially called Smith a liar. "You are many things, but truthful is not one of them," he tweeted. For good measure, he said that Smith had a "silly grin."
In other words, no contrition. No attempt to make amends. Just insults and schoolyard taunts.
Leaders of Florida's Republican Party were right to call out Hill for his bigoted behavior.
Now, if he refuses calls to resign, they have three choices.
They could reprimand him, censure him or remove him from office.
Or they could strip him of committee assignments and show Floridians that bad behavior carries consequences.
Or they could let him stay where he is and give Floridians regular reminders that homophobia is allowed to thrive in the GOP-controlled state Capitol.
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