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Rep. Winkler tweets, deletes and apologizes for ‘Uncle Thomas’ reference to Supreme Court justice

Rep. Ryan Winkler

After today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that strikes down parts of the Voting Rights Act, state Rep. Ryan Winkler, a DFLer from Golden Valley, fired off a tweet that referred to Justice Clarence Thomas as an “Uncle Thomas.”

Hours later, he formally apologized.

Thomas, who is black, was part of the majority ruling in the case.

Winkler’s original tweet this morning said:”VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas.”

The four others in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia.

The controversy was quickly reported locally, and was soon picked up by the Drudge Report, after a mention in the Washington Times.

Winkler soon deleted the original text and then sent these tweets from his account:

  • I didn’t think it was offensive to suggest that Justice Thomas should be even more concerned about racial discrimination than colleagues.
  • But if such a suggestion is offensive, I apologize.
  • Deleted Tweet causing offense regarding Justice Thomas. I apologize for it, but believe VRA decision does abet racism.
  • I did not understand “Uncle Tom” as a racist term, and there seems to be some debate about it. I do apologize for it, however.

In an interview after the flap, Winkler told the Star Tribune he doesn’t think it will hurt his political career:

“I don’t know. I hope people judge people on the merits of what they do in public office and not on the firestorm of a term that is used hastily but with no malintent.”

And he said he had decided not to pursue a rumored bid for secretary of state before the SCOTUS flare-up.

And at 1:40 p.m.he issued this statement through the House DFL caucus:

“I was very disappointed today in the Supreme Court decision to roll back key provisions of the Voting Rights Act because I believe the Voting Rights Act is one of the most important steps our nation has taken to eliminate racial discrimination.

“In expressing that disappointment on twitter, I hastily used a loaded term that is offensive to many. My words were inappropriate and I apologize. The implications of this Supreme Court decision are serious for our state and country and I regret that my comments have distracted from the serious dialogue we must have going forward to ensure racial discrimination has no place in our election system.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/25/2013 - 02:50 pm.


    Why would he not understand how offensive the term is, especially in this context?

    I happen to think that the Court’s voting rights decision will go down as one of the worst in its history (rivaling or surpassing Citizens United). I also think that Justice Thomas has minimal credibility on racial issues. That, however, is no excuse to resort to such slurs.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/25/2013 - 04:02 pm.

    The irony, of course,

    is that people who believe that black people still need special help when it comes to voting, like those who support the antiquated and insulting “voting rights act” are the real racists.

    Justice Thomas has every right to be offended that some in this society, like Winkler, consider him to be too stupid to be a free man.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/25/2013 - 04:31 pm.

      The true irony is that people who believe racism is done and over are casting themselves as the true anti-racists. The other irony is that an act to ensure that all who are eligible may vote, regardless of race can be called “insulting.” “Insulting” is a mild way of putting the denial of rights to other based on race.

      Before one criticizes the Voting Rights Act, one should at least understand what it does. The Act does not apply only to African-Americans. The Act was also applied in parts of South Dakota that had a pattern of denying voting rights to Native Americans. To say that it is nothing more than “special help” for black people is as ignorant as anything Rep. Winkler wrote.

      There is also more irony in so-called conservative jurists striking down a law that is specifically authorized by the Constitution, and that was duly enacted and re-enacted by Congress.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/25/2013 - 04:37 pm.


      Rep. Winkler was most definitely putting on display his own apparent ignorance of an incredibly important piece of American literary history.

      But for you to say the voting rights act is ‘racist,’ and that those who support voting rights are racists, begets your own ignorance. The very act was in many ways the culmination of the civil rights movement. To deny that much of the white population of the American south was not involved in mass-disenfranchisement of the black vote is to deny fact. The VRA was re-authorized (almost unanimously) by congress in what, 2006? For an american congress to do anything nearly unanimously is rare in the last two decades. Are you calling the entire 109th Congress racists? The VRA was re-authorized, in no small part, because ACTUAL racist disenfranchisement continues to this day. Justice Ginsburg illustrates several cases in her excellent dissent. Among them:

      “In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town’s election after ‘an unprecedented number’ of AfricanAmerican candidates announced they were running for office. DOJ required an election, and the town elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.”


      “In 2004, Waller County, Texas, threatened to prosecute two black students after they announced their intention to run for office. The county then attempted to reduce the avail ability of early voting in that election at polling places near a historically black university.”

      I can’t even begin to address the audacity of your claim that the progressive left, Rep Winkler in particular, believes that Justice Thomas is “too stupid to be free man.” I could say that many members of the party that incorporated the Dixiecrats into their fold, for many years would have believed Clarence Thomas to be too black to be an equal man.

  3. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/25/2013 - 04:45 pm.

    Special Help

    Also, no one thinks ‘black people need special help’ when it comes to voting. We think they need special protection from those that would intentionally and vigorously deny them their constitutional rights.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/26/2013 - 07:16 am.

    Pull out the fainting couch for the Republicans….

    As much as they have worked for a “post-racial” America, it’s still not gone…

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/26/2013 - 07:26 am.

    From Clarence Thomas, himself, in 1994:


    “I am not an Uncle Tom,” he said. “I do not pay attention to that nonsense. That is one of the problems we have as black people. We don’t allow differing views.”

    (end quote)

  6. Submitted by George Beck on 06/26/2013 - 09:59 am.

    Bad week for Rep. Winkler. Let’s not forget, however, that he is an outstanding and capable legislator who is able to get things done in St. Paul.

  7. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 06/26/2013 - 02:35 pm.


    Given the choice of Rep Winkler or “Justice” Thomas, I sure know which one I’d pick in a heartbeat. I can predict Clarence Thomas’ vote on ANY issue with 100% accuracy, just from reading a one-paragraph summary of the case. Hell, I could do it in my spare time and save the government his salary. The man’s a GOP mouthpiece and nothing more.

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