State Senator Sylvia Allen, who reversed her decision not to seek reelection earlier this month, is now facing calls for her to be removed from her position of chair of the education committee because of inflammatory comments she made.
First reported by the Phoenix New Times, Allen was recorded making the inflammatory comments at an event dedicated to Mormon political pioneers at the Republican Party offices in Phoenix.
At that event, Allen referred to a book by a University of North Carolina professor focused on demographic changes in the United States and expressed concern that America is "going to look like South American countries very quickly.”
“The median age of a white woman is 43. The median age of a Hispanic woman is 27. We are not reproducing ourselves with birthrates,” Allen said. “But here’s what I see as the issue: It’s because of immigration.”
The comments garnered national attention and denouncements from her opponents in the race for state Senate, with many calling the remarks racist.
Both Wendy Rogers and Rep. Bob Thorpe, both of whom are Republicans hoping to win Allen’s Senate seat in 2020, denounced the remarks, with Rogers calling it a “very racist statement.”
Thorpe said Allen’s “racially insensitive” comments saddened and confused him, calling the district Allen represents and the state of Arizona a melting pot of cultures and nationalities.
In a statement on Facebook following the publication of her comments, Allen apologized to anyone who “has been hurt by my words.”
Nonetheless, in an interview with the Daily Sun, Allen insisted her comments were not racist and made up only a few minutes of a nearly 30-minute speech.
Allen described the backlash to her comments as a “verbal lynching” of her and explained that she was trying to communicate a concern that immigrants are not being taught American values.
“We have to make sure we are also teaching this, to make sure they assimilate,” Allen told the Daily Sun. “I’m definitely not racist.”
Allen explained that for her, assimilating means new immigrants understand “what the culture, tradition and government of America is all about,” adding other important aspects of assimilation are speaking English and having a house and a job.
Allen said she was referencing communist Venezuela when she worried about immigrants making the United States look like South America.
In a statement Tuesday, Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Education Commission, called on Senate leadership to remove Allen as the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee following her comments that he said ”spread fear and intolerance.”
“Elected leaders who are elevated to key roles in our state must represent everyone and strive to be inclusive of all voices. We embrace our differences as a value in Arizona,” Thomas wrote in a statement. “Senator Allen has disqualified herself and we ask for her immediate removal.”
Democratic candidate for state Senate Felicia French also chimed in on the controversy via Twitter, denouncing the comments and writing, "Diversity is what makes America great."
"I was proud to serve with countless immigrants over my 32 years in the military. Immigrants and their children also founded nearly 50% of Fortune 500 companies, employed 13.5 mil people and created $6.1 trillion in annual revenue in 2018," French's tweet read.
Allen reverses on re-election
This is the second time Allen, who has represented Legislative District 6 since 2015, found herself in the spotlight this month.
Earlier in July, Allen announced she would be seeking reelection despite previously saying she would not be looking to continue her political career.
In April, Allen told the Daily Sun, “the time is right for me to step down,” and said she had grown wary of all the driving the job requires given the size of the district. But Allen said her feelings toward continuing in her role changed because of two main factors.
For one, Allen said she wants to continue the work she is doing as the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. Allen said she has been proud of the work she has done in that committee.
Allen added she also wants to do her part in keeping the Senate in the hands of the Republicans and believes she will have a good chance of keeping her seat and thus helping to keep the party’s majority.
This does mean there are now three Republican candidates all vying for the seat Allen currently holds.
Rogers said she was surprised that Allen had changed her mind about running, and in the same statement released on Allen’s controversial comments, wrote, “Sylvia needs to retire like she said she was going to do and let those who love all of America hold elected office instead."
Rep. Thorpe, who is termed out from running in the state House, also expressed frustration about Allen’s reversal.
“For over a year, Sen. Allen had told multiple people that she was not going to run again. It is of course her choice to run; however, I was disappointed, and it puts people who have supported both of us in difficult situations as whom to support now,” Thorpe said.
Allen did say she felt bad about how her decision may affect Thorpe’s campaign as he runs for her seat. Allen called Thorpe a good representative and she wished he had not been termed out.
But Thorpe said because Allen will be termed out in 2022 anyway, she should have run to replace his seat in the state House.
And Thorpe suggested in choosing to run for senate again, she was not being a team player and doing what is best for the Arizona Republican Party and their constituents.