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Buttars apologizes for potentially racist comment

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, apologized Tuesday on the Senate floor for a statement he made earlier in the afternoon during a debate over a controversial bill that he said could have been taken as racist.

"I just got my mouth a little bit ahead of my brain here," Buttars told his fellow senators. He offered an apology to "anyone who took offense" and said that he did not intend the statement to be degrading in any way.

His comments came after Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, took the unusual step of announcing there had been a breach of decorum and that the senator involved wanted to apologize.

Buttars had used the term black to negatively describe the "baby" being divided in a bill dealing with sharing school construction funds between districts.

"This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark, ugly thing," Buttars said.

Several senators, including Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, let Valentine know they were offended.

Romero thanked Buttars from the floor for his recognition of the concerns and said he appreciated the response. Later, Romero told reporters that he was comfortable with the way the matter was handled, but disappointed the statement was made.

He said it was important to him that the issue be addressed quickly to make sure it was clear such statements are not acceptable and "could have hurtful feelings in the community."

Valentine said later he didn't see the statement as racist "but the more I thought of it, I saw it as a breach of decorum." Valentine said when he raised the issue with Buttars during a brief recess after the debate, it was Buttars who offered to make an apology.

"It was a very emotional debate for him," Valentine said.

The incident sends a message to senators that they "have to constantly be aware of the fact of who we are and who we represent," the senate president said. "The institution, the Legislature, does not discriminate."

Senate staff said Buttars left the Capitol immediately after adjournment Tuesday. His colleagues said Buttars was shaken by the incident. "He was upset. He felt bad," Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said.

Hickman said he did not believe the statement was meant "in a racial or a derogatory way" but was simply a case of misspeaking.

"We're all guilty of that on occasion," Hickman said. "Sometimes we say things we just regret and that is the case here."