Black Caucus Seeks Culture Change on Tenn. Capitol Hill

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus says a culture change is needed on Capitol Hill to prevent the dissemination of racist e-mails like the one sent from a state computer about President Barack Obama.

Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis and members of the caucus held a press conference on Thursday to voice their disdain for the incident reported this week in which a state employee of a Republican senator used a state computer to send an e-mail about Obama.

The employee was reprimanded but remains employed. Democrats have called for her to be fired.

But Deberry said termination doesn't necessarily solve the problem if it's not understood why the incident happened in the first place, "and keep it from happening again."

For instance, he said the woman who sent the offensive e-mail about Obama might consider undergoing training in "diversity and sensitivity."

"We need to take a look at why this happened," Deberry said. "We don't want just some quick reaction. We want ... the culture to be changed, and that's what we're going to insist on."

The e-mail that has made national headlines shows a portrait or photo of each U.S. president except Obama, who is depicted in a cartoon fashion as only a set of wide eyes in a black background.

Sherri Goforth, a legislative aide for Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Diane Black, said she was forwarded the e-mail by an acquaintance with no political ties and that she should have deleted it.

Goforth, who is white, apologized to anyone offended by the e-mail.

Black acknowledged that Goforth's action was a policy violation and that a letter of reprimand was placed in the aide's file.

In another incident this week, a temporary state worker resigned after sending an offensive e-mail from his state computer. The e-mail contained several pictures with off-color remarks at the bottom of each, including two that poked fun at an individual with Alzheimer's disease and Asians, officials said.

Black said she supports the caucus' effort to create a more sensitive atmosphere at the Capitol.

"I think this is a good idea," she said. "As a matter of fact, I think there probably should be included in this just general information for people about policies of using the state's e-mail for any kind of personal use."

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