Sara Thompson knew her views did not reflect the majority at the county commission meeting. The main item on the agenda - a resolution to make the county a Second Amendment sanctuary - prompted pro-gun advocates to flood the room.
Ms Thompson, the 64-year-old chair of the Sevier County Democrats, said those in attendance at the meeting in Sevierville, Tennessee, were generally respectful, even though she was just one of two people to speak against the resolution. But a litany of bigoted grievances, ostensibly unprompted, by one of the county commissioners have drawn stark condemnation and prompted other local leaders to distance themselves from the lawmaker and his opinions.
The county's 25 commissioners were given time to comment before the resolution came to a vote, Ms Thompson recalled. It was then that county commissioner Warren Hurst leaned towards the microphone and began a diatribe so hateful it caused Thompson to storm out of the meeting.
“Look what we got running for president in the Democratic Party. We can go over here to [the county jail] and get better people out of there than those running for democratic to be President of the United States,” Mr Hurst said, according to CBS affiliate WVLT, which captured some of his comments on video. “We got a queer running for president, if that ain't about as ugly as you can get.”
His comment - an apparent reference to Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay - drew laughter and applause from many in the room, Ms Thompson said. Mr Hurst then decried the plight of white men in the United States.
“I'm not prejudiced, but by golly, a white male in this country has very few rights and they're getting took more every day,” Mr Hurst said. “You'll hear em stand on the stage and say 'Oh, I'm for the poor and the black. You never heard one of them say 'I believe white people have rights too.'”
Ms Thompson's exit was captured on video, too. The woman recalled standing up during Mr Hurst's remarks to comment on his lack of professionalism. But no one was supporting her sentiment, she said, so she left.
“I found it totally unprofessional, demeaning, bullying; I could not stay there any longer,” she said. “Think about how many people were in that room. I'm the only one who stood up and objected to it.”
Many Democrats in Sevier County keep their political affiliation private out of fear, Ms Thompson said. But as Mr Hurst's rant has garnered national traction, leadership in Sevier and its surrounding jurisdictions have emphasised that the commissioner's views do not align with others in local government.
Mr Hurst's statements “do not reflect the opinion or position of Sevier county administration,” Sevier County wrote. The City of Sevierville, the county's seat, was more explicit in their condemnation, writing that their administration rejects “bigotry and prejudice toward any and all persons.”
In his own statement, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said he disapproved of Mr Hurst's comments, which were “his and his alone.”
“I have lived in Sevier County my whole life and know it as a place that is welcoming to everyone, as evidenced by the more than 12 million people who visit annually,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said in a statement. “Generations of families have enjoyed our beautiful county and know that our citizens are caring and compassionate.”
Sevier county's near-100,000 residents are more than 95 per cent white, according to census data, and that racial majority is reflected in its leadership. Assistant Mayor Perrin Anderson told The Washington Post the county's 25 commissioners are all white, consisting of 24 men and one woman.
The primary focus of Monday's meeting, which takes place once per month, was the resolution to make Sevier a Second Amendment sanctuary - which means legislators will refuse to enforce laws they believe will infringe on the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. It passed in a unanimous vote.
Mr Anderson stressed that Mr Hurst's comments were not related to anything on the meeting agenda. Mr Hurst, who was elected as chairman of the commission in 1982, could not be reached for comment Tuesday but told WVLT he stands by his words. He also said some of his best friends were African American.
Representative Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, whose Knox County district is 30 miles west of Sevier County, said emphatically that Mr Hurst should resign from the commission. Ms Johnson underscored the importance of tourism in Sevier, which lies near the popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The county also contains the mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, both known for their tourist attractions.
Ms Johnson lamented the dozens of social media posts she's seen from tourists to the area, some of whom have vowed not to return as long as Mr Hurst remains on the commission.
Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster in a statement to WVLT said her city “in no way condone[s] Sevier County Commissioner Hurst's disturbing comments,” and “welcomes everyone with open arms. We do not discriminate.”
“It's so frustrating because they rely a lot on tourists. It's such a welcoming, wonderful place,” Ms Johnson said in an interview. “But then you've got those elected officials there that are making statements like that, and the reality is they represent everyone in the county - including the LGBTQ community. To lash out at their constituents like that is ridiculous.”
Ms Johnson called Mr Hurst “wrong and ignorant” and said she was perturbed to see others laughing and clapping when he spoke.
“That should not be who we are, it's frightening,” she added. “Someone said 'Amen' as if he was preaching a sermon. It's all unacceptable and we've got to do better.”
Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates for LGBTQ rights in the state, echoed Ms Johnson's call for Mr Hurst to resign. The other option, he said, would be for the commission to introduce inclusive ordinances for the Sevier to bolster protections against discrimination based on race, gender identity and sexual orientation.
“There may be ways for him to make up for what he said but they have to be concrete, we're beyond an apology at this point,” Mr Sanders said. “We need to see some real change backed up by public policy in that county.”
A Tennessee county commissioner said he has "very few rights" as a white man in America during a Monday meeting where he also said an openly gay person running for president is "about as ugly as you can get." ...
LEAKED naked pics of US politician Katie Hill have added fuel to a sex saga that has now become a career threat for the politician. One of the images appears to show the congresswoman from California nude with a “bong” filled with a brown liquid...
In an interview with CNN broadcast on Saturday, retired Democratic politician Harry Reid said that President Donald Trump is a “very, very smart man,” warning Democrats against underestimating him in 2020. Reid, who served as a United States...
Warning: Spoiler alert if you haven't watched Netflix's "The Politician." Netflix's "The Politician" stars Ben Platt as Payton Hobart, an ambitious high school student running for class president. Platt notably starred in the Broadway musical "Dear...
This politician is full of “bull.” Watch the shocking moment a charging bull rammed into a politician as his followers carried him on their shoulders. Fortunately, only minor injuries were reported at this bull-taming contest in Dodderi, India...
Sign in to follow sources and tags you love, and get personalized stories.
Continue with GoogleContinue with FacebookContinue with Twitter