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Batt Defends Sandpoint Governor Says City’s Reputation For Racism Is Undeserved

Gov. Phil Batt said Wednesday he plans to go to Sandpoint to help residents counteract negative publicity about hate groups and racists.

Such publicity is “undeserved, because it’s a fine community,” Batt said at a news conference. “I intend to go to Sandpoint to draw attention to the fact that the majority of people there are peaceful and fairminded.”

He also denounced hate groups and said such groups “should consider moving elsewhere.”

When a television reporter asked Batt if he’d like to kick out Mark Fuhrman, the controversial former Los Angeles police detective who has settled in Sandpoint, Batt answered, “I would if I could.”

Fuhrman, the detective who found the bloody glove in the O.J. Simpson murder case, has received massive national publicity for his earlier racist statements.

Sandpoint Mayor Ron Chaney, told of the governor’s remarks, said he found the Fuhrman comment “totally offensive.”

Chaney, whose wife sold Fuhrman his home and who has publicly supported the detective, said, “Mark Fuhrman is most certainly welcome in Sandpoint. An extremely high percentage of the residents concur on that.”

Chaney said Fuhrman and his family are “delightful people.”

The mayor said he thought racist activity in North Idaho had been exaggerated through media attention. “Anyone that is familiar with North Idaho most certainly knows that residents who live here are in no way involved in white supremacy or white separatism,” Chaney said. “It’s just not North Idaho.”

He added, “I think the best way to overcome these activities that have happened up here is to ignore ‘em. … We’re best serving our area if we forget it.”

But Batt’s Economic Stimulus Committee, a group of top business leaders, told the governor that concerns about racist activity crop up sometimes when Idaho tries to recruit businesses. They recommended a strong statement from the governor that “this is not Idaho,” emphasizing the state’s strong malicious harassment laws and low crime rate.

Buzz Arndt, a Sandpoint human rights activist, said, “It’s like ignoring an elephant in your front yard. You don’t combat racism by ignoring it.”

Arndt said local human rights supporters have taken action against racism by sponsoring educational efforts and community events. One talk was on countering prejudiced remarks in a positive manner. A June gathering against bigotry drew 500 people, 10 percent of Sandpoint’s population. A support group helps people who have suffered harassment.

“We have had very few calls for help,” Arndt said. “What we have up here is a bad reputation in the national press.”

Arndt said he was glad Batt was speaking out. “People ought to know they’re not walking into a community that welcomes racists or people who are prejudiced against other people for whatever reason.”

David Sawyer, Sandpoint’s mayor-elect, said he welcomed the governor’s attention, particularly if Batt might provide resources to help Sandpoint out.

“I think the best way for Sandpoint and our larger community to address any negative stain is to put forward a message of who we really are.”

Then, he said, “The rhetoric in the national media will die away and the positive message that will come out of Sandpoint will replace it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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