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Candidate forum erupts at racism comment



A Facebook conversation from 2015 in which state Sen. Andy Zay (R-Huntington) described affirmative action as discriminatory against white men has followed the senator throughout his campaign this fall, culminating in a chaotic end to a candidate forum Tuesday between Zay and his Democratic challenger, Gary Snyder.

Snyder has used snippets of that conversation in campaign advertisements on social media, particularly the phrase “racism is not real,” which Zay wrote while debating the effectiveness and purpose of affirmative action and other race-based policies he disagrees with.

Snyder referenced Zay’s words again Tuesday in his closing statements during a candidate forum hosted by the Wabash County Farm Bureau, eliciting boos from Zay’s supporters and condemnation from the forum’s moderator, Bill Ruppel, who said Snyder’s accusations were “stepping over the line” and in violation of the forum rules against personal attacks.

“I think it’s important that voters know what he said,” Snyder said, “(to know) his views on racism and they can make up their own mind on whether the comments were racist … I think we’re better than that. I think that’s not who we are.”

Wabash County Democratic Party Chair Chad Harris agreed, telling the Plain Dealer Wednesday that he feels Zay’s previous statements are acceptable for debate.

“The Republicans obviously felt that using Sen. Zay’s words was a personal attack and we feel otherwise,” Harris said. “We feel it was fair game.”

But Zay’s camp disagrees and is not happy with the way Snyder, a fellow Huntington resident, has been using the old Facebook comments in his campaign.

Zay told the Plain Dealer in October he feels Snyder is being a “political opportunist” and that the conversation is “not pertinent” to the most pressing issues, like opioid abuse and education policy.

“It was a conversation, it was not a position paper,” Zay said. “The conversation was really about affirmative action and what more role can the government take in that. Are there some limitations to affirmative action and the role it can play in moving us forward, and my position in that is it was.”

Zay has tried to clarify his words since the Facebook conversation was made public, stating that “racism exists” and “it’s our challenge to step forward and stamp those things out.” But Zay also told The Plain Dealer that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to “add and add and add to that legal book.” 

Ruppel told the Plain Dealer on Friday that he's disappointed Snyder violated the forum rules against personal attacks after agreeing to them.

"(Snyder) was the one at fault," Ruppel said, referring to the argument the debate ended on. "He went off on an attack that has been hashed early in the campaign. I said it was inappropriate and he started yelling over me.

"(The) Farm Bureau apologizes to the people there and apologize to the candidates that followed the rules," Ruppel added. "When people won't tell you the truth you can't always gaurantee it's going to happen as it should."

This story has been updated to include comments from the forum moderator.