IRVINE, Calif. (CBS/AP) — The head of the Orange County GOP is asking for an ethics committee Tuesday to determine how to handle a political firestorm, after Marilyn Davenport sent an email picturing President Barack Obama’s face on the body of a baby chimpanzee.
Davenport, a Fullerton resident and elected member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee, sent an email Monday afternoon asking for forgiveness for her “unwise behavior,” just before the GOP committee met for its monthly summit at a hotel in Irvine, where the fallout from the incident was the hot topic.
The county’s GOP chairman, Scott Baugh, told about 75 GOP members at the Monday night meeting that despite Davenport’s “sincere apology,” he still condemned her actions and believed she should resign from the committee because her presence would remain controversial and provide a distraction.
The email Davenport sent Friday to a small group of GOP committee members shows an image posed like a family portrait, of chimpanzee parents and child, with Obama’s face superimposed on the young chimp. Text beneath the picture reads, “Now you know why no birth certificate.”
Some voters have maintained since the last presidential election that Obama is ineligible to hold the nation’s highest elected office because, they argue, he was actually born in Kenya, his father’s homeland. Obama’s mother was an American citizen.
Hawaii officials have repeatedly confirmed Obama’s citizenship, and his Hawaiian birth certificate has been made public. Courts have rebuffed lawsuits challenging Obama’s eligibility.
“To my fellow Americans and to everyone else who has seen this email I forwarded and was offended by my action, I humbly apologize and ask for your forgiveness of my unwise behavior. I say unwise because at the time I received and forwarded the email, I didn’t stop to think about the historic implications and other examples of how this could be offensive,” Davenport’s apology read.
“I am an imperfect Christian lady who tries her best to live a Christ-like honoring life. I would never do anything to intentionally harm or berate others regardless of ethnicity. Everyone who knows me knows that to be true.”
Davenport, who was not present at the meeting, represents the 72nd Assembly District in Orange County on the committee, which is made up of volunteer officials elected for two-year terms. The group is tasked with fundraising, campaigning and debating policy for the Republican Party.
“The eyes of the nation are focused on us tonight because of the actions of a member of this committee. I do not know what was in the heart of Marilyn Davenport when she sent that email, only she does. I want to accept and do accept that Marilyn is not a racist,” Baugh told those gathered for the meeting.
“The email is without question extremely racist. Depicting African-Americans as monkeys is a longtime, well-known and particularly offensive slur because it denies them their basic humanity.”
The body’s ethics committee would investigate the incident, interview Davenport and make a report back to the executive committee within a week, Baugh said.
Deborah Pauly, the committee’s first vice chairman, said the investigation should also include how the email, which Davenport forwarded to a few GOP members, was leaked to the OC Weekly, which first reported on it.
“I do believe that this is an internal matter and it needs to be dealt with swiftly and through the mechanisms provided for in our bylaws. It’s the only sensible thing to do. … but I think it’s important that Marilyn have a full opportunity for a complete hearing of all the facts and that would be including how that email was distributed to the media, causing all this stir.”
A phone message left for Davenport on Monday evening was not immediately returned.
Tim Whitacre, a longtime conservative activist in Orange County and representative of the county’s 69th Assembly District, spoke in support of Davenport and said he had visited her Monday afternoon.
He said the “petite grandmother originally from Kansas” who taught Bible study classes and had a heart condition was terrified by the outcry and had taken her phone off the hook after receiving angry calls. He asked committee members to forgive her and accept her apology — but said she didn’t intend to resign.
Davenport is next up for election in 2012 and can only be removed by a recall before then, committee members said.
Earlier Monday, the president of the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People decried the email as racist and dismissed Davenport’s claims that it was intended as a harmless joke.
The White House didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
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