Orange County GOP Committee member sends e-mail with Obama's face on chimpanzee body

President Barack Obama speaks on fiscal policy April 13, 2011 at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium in Washington, DC.
President Barack Obama speaks on fiscal policy April 13, 2011 at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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An e-mail sent by an Orange County GOP Central Committee member has raised a controversy. Marilyn Davenport's e-mail shows a photo of President Obama's face on the body of a baby chimpanzee. The caption reads "Now you know why – No birth certificate!"

"When I opened the e-mail, I was shocked," Orange County GOP Chair Scott Baugh told KPCC. "I couldn't believe my eyes and I was really perplexed as to why Marilyn would send it to me. And I didn't think it was funny at all, and I immediately responded to her and told her that the picture was dripping with racism and that it was done in poor taste, and she shouldn't ever send e-mails like that again."

Davenport says it was a joke, but Baugh says, "A joke is something that's funny, and I didn't think this was funny at all."

Baugh says Davenport didn't reply to his e-mail. He then sent out an e-mail asking for her resignation, and she responded the entire Committee saying she thought it was just a joke.

There have been several black leaders, including Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable, who want Baugh to expel Davenport, not simply ask for her resignation, but according to Baugh, the Central Committee can't do that. "The Central Committee is governed by the election code, which is state law. State law only gives you three grounds to expel a person, and racism is not a grounds to expel someone for. You can only expel them if they are excessively absent, if they move from the jurisdiction or they support somebody from a different party against one of our nominees."

Baugh says that he doesn't think that this e-mail is a sign of a decline in political discourse. "There has been racism throughout the ages, and it exists in both parties, and the bottom line is, what do you do about it when it raises its ugly head? And we're doing all we can do at this point, and we will continue to put pressure on Miss Davenport to resign."

Baugh says he doesn't know if Davenport will resign. "I'm not sure she understands the gravity of this situation or the offense that it has created. I'm hopeful that once she understands the gravity of it, that first of all, she apologizes for it in a way that embraces what it is. So far, she says I'm only sorry if you were offended. Well that implies somebody was too sensitive. What it doesn't do is embrace the fact that this was laced in racism, so she should apologize for that. And then, if she does that, well then we'll see if she continues on in the party."

Baugh says that they will continue to put pressure on Davenport. "The most that the Committee can do is individually or collectively call for her resignation, put pressure on her to resign. You can adopt a resolution. There is an ethics committee hearing that will be convened for matters such as this, and they'll issue a report. And the Executive Committee will get that report and then decide what action they can take based upon the standards that are set forward in our bylaws."

- Steve Julian & Mike Roe

More from KPCC wire services:

Southern California black leaders try to oust tea party activist after Obama e-mail backlash

Black leaders in the Southland redoubled their efforts today to have a tea party activist thrown off the Orange County Central Committee for sending out an e-mail picture of President Barack Obama's face on the body of a baby chimpanzee.

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Los Angeles Civil Rights Association President Eddie Jones and four other black community leaders planned to hold a news conference in Inglewood early this afternoon to detail their plans.

Hutchinson said the news conference participants would demand a meeting with Orange County GOP Chair Scott Baugh so they can press him to expel Marilyn Davenport from the central committee.

Davenport, a Fullerton resident, recently e-mailed a picture of Obama's face superimposed over a baby chimp's face with the caption, "Now you know why – No birth certificate!"

O.C. Weekly political blogger R. Scott Moxley reported on the email, causing civil rights activists and some Republicans, including Baugh, to call for Davenport to resign from the Central Committee – something she has refused to do.

"I saw the e-mail and I thought it was despicable," Baugh told the O.C. Weekly.

He told the Los Angeles Times he received the Davenport email Friday afternoon and sent a reply telling her it was "dripping with racism and is in very poor taste." He said he thought the Orange County Republican's ethics committee should take up the matter.

But Hutchinson suggested Baugh hasn't done nearly enough.

"Davenport sent out a racist, inflammatory and despicable photo ... Davenport's depiction and Baugh's inaction to date mock the GOP's repeated contention that the GOP vigorously condemns racism," he said on the eve of his news conference.

In a joint statement with Jones, he added: "Baugh's refusal to take action to expel Davenport from the GOP's top policy-making body is a blatant endorsement of racism by a GOP top official."

Alice Huffman, the president of the NAACP in California, also condemned the picture, saying in a statement from Sacramento: "There is no way that depicting the President of the United States as less than human can be considered anything but a racist act."

But she did not echo Hutchinson's criticism of the GOP's Orange County leadership.

"The California NAACP does appreciate that many of Mrs. Davenport's Republican colleagues have condemned her actions and called for her resignation from the Orange County Republican Central Committee," Huffman said.

She said her organization "calls on Marilyn Davenport to resign from the Orange County Republican Central Committee and if she continues to refuse to, we call for the Orange County Ethics Committee to look into her actions."

Davenport has denied that her intent was racist.

When Moxley reached her for comment, Davenport reportedly said, "You're not going to make a big deal about this, are you? Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black."