State Politics

After legislator’s Lincoln-Hitler comparison, some GOP leaders silent

Rep. Larry G. Pittman of Concord reads over legislation on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C.
Rep. Larry G. Pittman of Concord reads over legislation on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C.

A day after a state legislator made national headlines by saying that President Abraham Lincoln was a “tyrant” similar to Germany’s Adolf Hitler, some N.C. Republican leaders aren’t saying much about the comment.

Rep. Larry Pittman, a Concord Republican and pastor, posted the controversial remark on his campaign Facebook page after someone criticized his bill to ban same-sex marriage and told him to “get over it.”

Pittman replied, “and if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it? Lincoln was the same sort (of) tyrant, and personally responsible for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans in a war that was unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

The comment has made headlines in national media such as The Washington Post and as far away as Israel.

House Speaker Tim Moore, who leads the chamber’s Republican caucus, hasn’t responded to emails and phone calls seeking his response to Pittman’s statement. House Majority Leader John Bell also could not be reached.

Reached by phone Wednesday, N.C. Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse referred questions to Moore’s office and Pittman’s office. He declined to comment further.

Pittman himself has also been silent, although he appears to have deleted his original comment from the Facebook page. He has not returned phone calls from The News & Observer and other media outlets, nor has he posted any new comments on Facebook.

House Speaker Pro Tem Sarah Stevens told The N&O Wednesday that “I haven’t seen his comment” and therefore couldn’t address it.

At least one House Republican legislator, however, is denouncing Pittman’s remark and voicing support for Lincoln.

“There’s no excuse for making that kind of blanket statement that’s incredibly offensive,” said Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican who chairs the powerful House Finance Committee. “Sometimes people say something they don’t mean, so I hope that whatever statement that comes next is apologetic.”

Saine says Pittman’s comment harms the legislature’s reputation. “The public perception of elected officials is tarnished every time there’s a gaffe like this, whether it’s on the left or the right,” he said, noting that Pittman was a hot topic Wednesday morning in Saine’s hometown barber shop. “I’d rather talk about issues and things that are important, and when someone goes rogue like this, it’s certainly newsworthy.”

Should House leadership take action against Pittman?

“I don’t really know what our options are,” Saine said. “I have a feeling the folks that are going to go to the polls in 2018 will certainly remember this. I’m not sure that it’s up to us to dole out any punishment.”

Saine said the NC GOP is still the “Party of Lincoln,” and he’s a fan of the 16th president.

“He is a symbol of our party,” he said. “We certainly respect and hold high on a pedestal Abraham Lincoln.”

Democrats were quick to pounce on Pittman’s comments and criticized Moore’s silence on the issue Wednesday.

“Speaker Moore has remained silent after yet another outrageous comment by Rep. Pittman,” N.C. Democratic Party executive director Kimberly Reynolds said in a news release. “This is clearly part of a larger pattern with Moore, where time after time, he refuses to stand up to members of his caucus when they embarrass our state.”

The Democratic Party pointed to other controversial comments made by Pittman since he joined the N.C. House in 2011. In 2012, he said in an email to Moore – who wasn’t the speaker at the time – that the state should bring back public hangings, including for doctors who perform abortions.

After the email leaked out, he told WRAL News that he “got a bit carried away and overstated my case.”

In February, Pittman co-sponsored a bill that would drop a provision in the state constitution that prohibits secession. That bill has not received a hearing in the House.

While Pittman does not hold any major leadership roles in the House, Moore did appoint him this year to co-chair the House Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Pittman proved popular in his conservative Cabarrus County district in last year’s election, beating a Democratic challenger with 58 percent of the vote. He also defeated a Republican challenger in last year’s primary with 53 percent of the vote.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter