COEUR d’ALENE — Brent Regan says he never intended to hurt anyone with a comment, perceived by many to be racist, that he made about President Barack Obama during a legislative forum Saturday in Post Falls.
Regan, the Coeur d’Alene School District’s newest trustee, contributed to a discussion about federal gun control measures being explored by the Obama Administration.
During the meeting attended by eight state legislators and more than 100 citizens, Regan said that no clear definition of “assault” rifles exists, and then shared part of a conversation he’d had with his wife on the subject: “I said, 'They can't figure out what an assault weapon is — it's just black and it looks scary.' And she looks at me and says, 'Well, so is Obama.'"
Regan’s words, published by The Press Sunday in a story about the forum, elicited a flurry of comments on The Press website and other online venues. Some comment posters defended Regan, but many criticized the school board member, some calling for his resignation.
After submitting a guest column to The Press, in which he states he is not a racist and refers to his comment as a ‘humorous anecdote,’ Regan said in an interview Monday that it never occurred to him that his words would be perceived by some to be racist, or that they could be hurtful.
“This afternoon I got a call from a woman who was upset by it. She told me that I don’t understand,” Regan said. “I didn’t understand.”
Regan said he spent about 45 minutes on the phone with the caller, whose identity he would not reveal because of the personal nature of the conversation. The woman had been exposed to racism in the community, Regan said, and gave him a perspective he says he didn’t have previously.
“Out of my ignorance, it ends up it hurt her and potentially hurt her kids,” Regan said. “That’s just not acceptable to me, and it’s not acceptable to anybody.”
Regan said his words are now reflecting poorly on the school board that he was appointed to in December. He said he would apologize to the board members and the district administration.
He said he apologized directly to the caller who took the time to help him understand how his comment affected her, and said he realizes there are other people who have been hurt by his words.
“I’m sorry to them. I will endeavor not to step over my big feet like that again,” Regan said.
The statement attracted the attention of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, a group that has worked to combat discrimination and racism in the region for more than three decades. Task force members announced Monday they will be holding a press conference Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene “addressing a disturbing public statement regarding racism attributed to a member of the Coeur d’Alene school board.”
When asked for his response to Regan’s statement, school board chair Tom Hamilton said in a written statement that individual board members cannot speak for the whole board.
“Mr. Regan speaks only for himself. His comments are reflective neither of the board of trustees, nor of Coeur d'Alene School District 271,” Hamilton wrote. “Our board’s focus is on the betterment of our school district; anything that distracts from our mission of providing great teaching and learning to our students is unfortunate.”
Superintendent Hazel Bauman was unavailable Monday for comment. She is out of town attending a family funeral and could not be reached. Associate Superintendent Matt Handelman responded on behalf of the District 271 administration.
“As a district, we are hard at work on many important issues for our students,” Handelman told The Press. “We cannot allow our focus to waver from these items, nor from the daily teaching and learning of our students, which is at the core of what we do.”
Laura Rumpler, the school district’s spokeswoman, said her office became aware of a rumor circulating Monday that the trustees would be considering Regan’s comment when they meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The special meeting’s agenda indicates it will be an executive session, behind closed doors.
Rumpler said it is a student disciplinary hearing that was scheduled last week.
“This will not be discussed, nor could it be discussed in executive session,” Rumpler said.