The previously established accountability committee of the Delta County Republican Central Committee has been tasked with conducting a "complete, thorough" investigation into the fallout from a Facebook meme characterized as racist. The meme appeared on central committee chairman Linda Sorenson's Facebook page, spurring cries of outrage as the story spread across the country through social media, newspaper accounts and TV broadcasts.
"You cannot believe what I've been accused of," Sorensen said at the monthly GOP central committee meeting held last Tuesday. She described the comments as "threatening, vile and violent."
The furor prompted a closed-door meeting with local party officials and state GOP chairman Steve House last week. After that meeting, Sorenson prepared a statement which she distributed to news outlets and party leaders. Copies were made available at the Tuesday night meeting.
In her statement, Sorenson confessed to "liking" the internet meme, a picture of Ronald Reagan bottle feeding a chimpanzee from the movie "Bedtime for Bonzo." The photo contained the caption, "I'll be damned ... Reagan used to babysit Obama!" When contacted by a blogger who spotted the meme on Sorenson's Facebook page, she said, "I don't care if you're offended."
"However, I do care very much if anyone else was offended," she said in her statement. "Please forgive me for being insensitive and not thinking of others in the heat of the moment."
In a followup story in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, members of the local GOP's executive committee claimed Sorenson's Facebook account had been hacked. Sorenson has since taken responsibility for her actions.
For the sake of transparency, Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee suggested the accountability committee prepare a full report on the matter.
Although central committee members said the vitriolic comments they're receiving are coming from out of state, McKee said he's hearing from local Republicans "concerned about our reputation."
"With our heads held high, we need to inform the rest of the world what happened. We need to come forward in a positive light," said Delta County coroner Kevin Lucy. "People are starting to look at Delta County in a different way now, and given our economy, that's the last thing we need."
An unidentified party member stated, "We won't come out on top of this anyway, because they're after your First Amendment rights of free speech. They've already won. Everybody will be a little more PC [politically correct] now, more careful about what you say. You're surrendering your freedom of speech to them."
Kevin Lucy disagreed, saying public accountability is part of the job. "I refuse to accept we've been defeated. As soon as we accept we're defeated, we're defeated."
Ken Richards, whose family includes five adopted children from Africa and Vietnam, said he's experienced racism firsthand. He called Sorenson's statement "a classic example of an apology without an apology," because she tried to shift the blame to others.
"We need a true apology," he said. "I don't want to be embarrassed for living in this county."
Roger Bentley agreed. "We need our integrity back," while another member of the audience cried out, "She didn't break the law!"
Bentley said he and fellow Republican commissioner candidates Mark Roeber and Don Suppes want the backing of a party with integrity and principle.
The motion to launch the investigation was approved, with one objection from an audience member who was informed only precinct committeepersons have a vote at central committee meetings. "Then why am I here!" she exclaimed as she left in a huff.
At McKee's suggestion, the accountablity committee will have until the end of June to complete its investigation.
"Hopefully we can alleviate this together, with God's help," Sorenson said.