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Confederate flag dispute leads to explicit conversation between Ohio lawmakers

Posted at 5:28 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 19:40:06-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A disagreement between two members of the Ohio House of Representatives is raising some eyebrows.

The conversation was over a proposed amendment to ban the display and sale of the confederate flag at county and independent fairs introduced by District 12 Representative Juanita Brent.

District 79 Representative Kyle Koehler said he cannot support the amendment because it’s an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

Brent has been steadfast in her approach to banning confederate memorabilia at local fairs five years after the confederate flag was banned at the Ohio State Fair.

“We can’t talk about making the county and independent fairs a place for everyone to go to if we still allow confederacy memorabilia,” Brent said.

Some of her Republican colleagues, however, stand firm in their stance that banning the flag violates Ohioans’ constitutional right to free speech.

“When I had a conversation with other people about this amendment ahead of time, even though they told me they disagreed with me, they were still respectful in their conversations and that’s all people have to ask for,” Brent said.

Before a committee meeting in June, Brent said she and several of her colleagues, including Koehler, had a tense conversation in the statehouse.

Brent claims Koehler referred to her as a “son of a b****.”

“And then I proceeded to walk behind him and I grabbed the door of the committee room while he was holding it and I said, ‘Don’t you ever talk to me like that again.’ And right after that, we had to go right into committee,” Brent said.

In both a written statement and a lengthy phone conversation with Koehler Tuesday, he admitted to using the expletive under his breath after walking several feet away from other lawmakers.

He insists the expletive was not directed at Brent but was instead said out of frustration and the idea that his disapproval of the amendment defined him as a racist, which would affect private matters in his home life.

Brent said she believes House Republicans who do not support banning the flag support the racist ideals associated with the confederacy.

“You’re with us, and when I say with us I’m referring to the Democratic members who were all going to vote for the amendment,” Brent said. “Or you’re against us.”

Koehler added he denounces racism of any kind and his disapproval of the amendment does not mean he supports racism, but rather believes the amendment is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

He said he finds the confederate flag and the history behind it “abhorrent,” but believes it should be up to county and independent fairs to decide whether to allow the sale and display of confederate memorabilia.

The amendment has been tabled at the state level and Brent said she is working on drafting her own bill to ban the sale of confederate flag memorabilia at county and independent fairs.

Representative 79 Kyle Koehler’s full written statement is below:

“In June, I had a 10-15 conversation with a group of people in a hallway outside a hearing room before a very crucial vote on a bill concerning county fairs. While tense, it was never loud, no one yelled and no one ever called anyone a name.

I had told the Representative Brent that while I found the display and sale of the confederate flag offensive, I could not amend a bill with her language that we were both informed by the Legislative Service Commission was unconstitutional. She said she would submit it anyway.

This issue is very personal to me because we help raise two children of color in our home on the weekends through kinship/foster care. I felt that my vote to defend the first amendment would be characterized as defending racism.

I walked away extremely frustrated.

After getting more than 15 away, with my back to the group of people, I reached for the committee room doorknob and said a curse word under my breath after remaining calm during the entire discussion.

Not to anyone, not at anyone. I said what my father used to say when a bolt would break off while trying to fix something in the garage while I was growing up. That was unprofessional of me. I apologized for that.

I never directed it anyone nor have I ever directed something like that at anyone.

Everyone standing in that hallway knows that.”