Rape comment backfires for lawmaker

Thornton Democrat says Republicans taking cheap shots

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A Democratic state lawmaker is in a political flap over a rape comment that he made during a recent debate on a gun bill in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, has since apologized for what he said. But he also said in a Feb. 19 interview with Colorado Community Media that Republicans — some of whom have made comparisons to the infamous rape comments made by former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin last year — are trying to make political hay out of the situation.

“I am not Akin, man,” said Salazar. “I will stand on my record from now until kingdom come. I don’t have any policy positions that are anti-women. Whereas, they have policy positions that are.”

Salazar’s comment occurred late in the evening on Feb. 15, during debate on a bill that seeks to ban concealed weapons from being carried on college campuses.

Salazar was making a point about how he felt that having more guns on campus doesn’t make anyone safer, saying that it’s a not a good idea for students to be firing guns in chaotic situations, where the reality of a situation may be uncertain.

“That’s why we have call boxes,” Salazar said. “That’s why we have safe zones. That’s why we have whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re going to be shooting at.”

The next part of his comments is what got him in trouble.

“And you don’t know if you feel like you’re going to be raped. Or, you feel like someone’s been following you around. Or, if you feel like you’re in trouble. And when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop a round at somebody.”

Some Republicans took Salazar to mean that he doesn’t think women have the wherewithal to understand whether or not they’re facing imminent danger, or that they don’t know how to react in those situations.

And Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, blasted Salazar’s comments on the House floor, before using Twitter to say that Salazar implied that women “may not know when they’re being raped.”

Salazar acknowledged in his interview with Colorado Community Media that what he said “was such a bad thing,” but that “he did not mean to hurt anybody.”

“It wasn’t reflective of the statement I was trying to make which was that more guns on campus doesn’t make people safe,” he said. “And please understand this: I know full well that women are fully capable of defending themselves.”

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, said that she did not hear Salazar’s comments on the House floor last week, but that after seeing the video, she “was appalled.”

“To me, it unveils his core beliefs,” Murray said. “That grown women would be too flaky (to handle themselves in those types of situations.”

Murray joined House Minority Leader Mark Waller of Colorado Springs in calling for Democratic leadership to call out Salazar for his “irresponsible” comments.

“I think the governor and the Speaker of the House should come out and condemn it,” Waller said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office issued a statement, saying, “Rep. Salazar acknowledged his remarks were inappropriate and he apologized. That’s what he needed to do.”

Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, acknowledged that Salazar “muffed it a little bit, as sometimes we all do.” But she said she “strongly supports” Salazar as a legislator.

“I’ve known Joe a long time now,” the majority leader said. “He really is a strong supporter of women’s rights.”

Hullinghorst said that it “crossed her mind” that Republicans were trying to fan the flames of this story, considering that national GOP candidates like Akin have received attention for insensitive comments about rape. Akin famously said that if women are victims of a “legitimate rape,” their bodies “have ways to shut that whole thing down,” meaning pregnancy.

“When people think of who is behind women’s rights, you think of this side of the aisle,” Hullinghorst said.

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