A Republican member of Congress in one of the most competitive House districts in the country has a history of racist and problematic comments about welfare recipients in his prior job as a conservative radio host.
Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota) eked out an electoral victory in November of 2016, defeating his Democratic opponent in the state’s 2nd Congressional District by just under 7,000 votes. His re-election battle will likely be even tougher, as the Cook Political Report has rated his district as R+2 — meaning that the district is only two points more favorable toward Republicans than the national average.
But comments from Rep. Lewis’ old radio show that recently came to light may make the race even more competitive in November. On Friday evening, CNN reported that on a 2012 segment of his radio show, Rep. Lewis defended GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s controversial statements denigrating the “47 percent” of Americans he would never win over because they were government moochers.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for [former President Barack Obama] no matter what,” Romney said during a private fundraiser in Florida, “…Who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Lewis piled on while discussing the remarks on his radio show in a September 2012 episode, characterizing recipients of welfare as worthless vermin that were outnumbering the “producers.”
“When you and I see the welfare state in all of its wonderful manifestations and yet he’s still leading in Ohio, he’s still leading in Florida. How is this possible? It is possible because the Democratic dream come true is this: The parasites outnumber the producers. Then, when the parasites outnumber the producers, the party of parasites will give the majority of votes,” Lewis said, adding that he believed welfare recipients were traitorous.
“The government class, the Obama voters, as Romney correctly says in this breathtaking new audio, who are dependent on government, are selling out the country,” Lewis said. “They are unpatriotic, they’re scoundrels, they are selling out my generation and your generation and your children’s generation, so they can get their benefits today.”
While Lewis’ remarks during that episode of his radio program may have not been explicitly racist, other comments he made during that same segment reeked of racial bias. When an African American listener called the show to criticize former Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater for opposing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lewis defended Goldwater’s opposition to it, arguing that private businesses should have the right to discriminate against customers at their discretion.
“I frankly do think there are portions of [the Civil Rights Act] that were unconstitutional depending on your view of, of private contracts,” Lewis said.
Despite the tone of the remarks, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) did not call on his fellow Republican in Congress to apologize, saying Rep. Lewis as a congressman was different than the “shock jock” he used to be.
Listen to Lewis’ remarks below:
Nick Jewell is a freelance political writer, and a proud resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.