Lankford Responds to Critics of Amendment
WASHINGTON–Responding to an onslaught of criticism, U.S. Sen. James Lankford (Rep., Okla.) said he had proposed to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as an act of fiscal responsibility and that he was not trying to “rewrite history or join the mob.”
The senator said he had gotten calls criticizing his proposal and some of them were racist.
“I’m trying to deal with our finances for the future, as well as to be able to honor our continued history,” he said recently.
“Those people don’t need another holiday,” Sen. Lankford said some callers said regarding Juneteenth being a national holiday.
Juneteenth is June 19 and is a day celebrated by some Southern Blacks to note the Emancipation Proclamation, the news of which was received belatedly by slave states west of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“I think I know what you mean by ‘those people,’ ” Sen. Lankford continued. “I’m just going to tell you if you’re a person that’s calling me saying, ‘those people don’t need another holiday,’ you and I are just going to disagree.
“Because, I don’t see ‘those people.’ I see fellow Oklahomans and I see fellow Americans. So if this is about race to you, we’re just going to disagree, you and I.”
Sen. Lankford is no longer cosponsoring an amendment that would have substituted Juneteenth for Columbus Day as a paid federal holiday.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (Rep., Wisc.) and Sen. Lankford announced that they had withdrawn the amendment, which was to be offered to a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Sen. Johnson said he suggested Columbus Day for the swap “because few Americans in the private sector get it as a paid holiday, and as a result, it is lightly celebrated, and would not be disruptive to most Americans’ schedules.
“I was in no way deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or expressing any value judgment regarding his place in history.”
Sen. Lankford said all 100 senators have agreed that Juneteenth should be a federal holiday. But he said adding another paid federal holiday would cost taxpayers about $600 million a year, as federal workers would either get a day off or be paid overtime if they had to work.
Under the amendment he sponsored, Columbus Day would still have been a holiday, but not a paid one, he said.
According to Pew Research, only 21 states give their workers a paid day off on Columbus Day, the second Monday in October. Oklahoma is not one of them.
Many states have other names for the day that recognize the fact Native Americans were on the land before explorer Christopher Columbus “discovered” it. Oklahoma observes Columbus Day and Native American Day on that Monday.
“I’ve had hundreds of people that have reached out to my office,” Sen. Lankford said, “and have called me, frustrated, angry about the fact that I’m trying to be able to get rid of Columbus Day because they saw on a Fox News program or they read on some conservative blog site that’s what I was planning to do.
“So, let me set the record straight: I’m the same person I’ve always been. Nothing’s changed.”
The Oklahoma senator said he was “mad and frustrated” about statues being pulled down.
“There’s no way I’m trying to rewrite history or join the mob or get rid of 4th of July or all the things that I’ve heard some people in ‘conservative media’ say that I’m trying to do,” he said.
“I’m trying to, actually, save our dollars, to preserve our history and to continue to be able to celebrate things together.
“I’m not trying to appease anybody.
“I’m trying to be able to serve everybody in this. We are all in this together. And our history is all of our history, so, we should all honor that all together.”