GOP State Senator Criticized for Referencing 'Colored People' and 'Step on the Neck' in Speech About Debt

Colorado State Senator Rob Woodward was criticized by Democrats after he used the phrases "colored people" and "step on the neck" in a Friday Senate floor speech about a debt collection bill.

The Loveland, Colorado Republican caught himself at the tail of end of his "step on the neck" remark, noting in real-time that he was not referencing the May 25 death of George Floyd. Two autopsies revealed Floyd died of "mechanical asphyxia," after several Minneapolis police officers applied pressure to the victim's neck and back, with at least one of the officers using his knee.

"Why is it wrong for private enterprise to come back and try to collect those debts, but at the same time this bill lets local governments and state governments step in and step on the neck— and, well—I don't want to lean on other events that are going on outside right now," the GOP lawmaker said at the time, catching his own comment.

Woodward's remarks occurred as protesters gathered outside of the Capitol, continuing days of racial injustice demonstrations after Floyd's death.

Today on the floor, @SenatorWoodward made a racis— oh wait, an ill-conceived comment in regards to protecting Coloradans from extraordinary debt collections. https://t.co/rzVFk9E70D

— Senadora Julie Gonzales (@SenadoraJulie) June 6, 2020

Update: Woodward issued an extended apology Monday on the Senate floor explaining his remarks: "On Saturday, I stood in this well and uttered two phrases that are offensive. I am sorry. Those phrases were uttered in ignorance. Not out of hate or spite.
I have had a chance to seek wisdom from a few of my friends, some of whom happen to be African American Legislators here in the Capitol. We spoke about the words. We spoke about experiences – theirs and mine. We come from different places, different times, different lives. They taught me about the history of those phrases, and about the history of the battle that continues inside and outside these building. Each of us is human. We make mistakes. When I make a mistake, I would ask that you would give me a chance to learn. If we don't give each other the space to learn, then the only alternative is to do battle. And that just drives us further apart. This should be a place where we rise above and seek to understand each other. I'm committed to doing that!"

He continued criticizing the Democrat-sponsored SB211 debt collection bill, which restricts the garnishing of wages or bank accounts for people who can prove they are struggling financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Poor Coloradans navigated debt collections prior to the pandemic. But that number actually doubles to 44 percent of colored people who have navigated debt collections," he added, leading several Colorado Democrats to suggest his remarks were more than just a coincidence.

Democratic State Senator Faith Winter had cautioned her fellow GOP lawmakers about their language, saying that "words matter."

In an email to Newsweek Monday, Rep. Woodward explained his opposition to the SB211 bill:

"This bill does some great things by providing some protections to people suffering from the COVID shutdown so they don't face garnishments until recovery.
My opposition comes from testimony we heard that we still allow government tax collectors to collect their debts through extraordinary means of garnishment and attachment. And that the blanket protections cover not just those who are affected, but every debtor even if they have suffered no economic harm. And finally, testimony indicated that this bill will make it harder for those hardest hit from getting credit."

"Today on the floor,@SenatorWoodward made a racis— oh wait, an ill-conceived comment in regards to protecting Coloradans from extraordinary debt collections," tweeted fellow State Senator Julie Gonzales Saturday.

"We just had a colleague [speaking] about debt collection, who used the term 'step on the neck'," said Winter, during the same Friday hearing. "And that is so hurtful and so problematic right now."

"Time to have the hard conversations," Winter followed up on Twitter Saturday, sharing a Denver Post article on the incident.

Woodward later apologized and said he "failed to catch an error in the audio transcription" from which he was reading during his "offensive" Senate floor comments. In a Saturday Facebook post, he wrote: "I made an error in by saying the first few words of a common phrase that has been spoken many times by both parties from the Senate floor, but that many in our nation find very hurtful in context of recent events. For that I also sincerely apologize. Before I could finish that statement, I caught myself and immediately called them inappropriate.

"While it was not my intention to cause harm to either my colleagues in the Senate nor anybody listening who may have found offense in my words," he continued, "I agree with Senator Faith Winter that we must exercise extreme caution with the words we choose. I will continue to learn and grow and am thankful for the opportunity to do so."

One of the Democratic co-sponsors of the debt collection bill, State Senator Leslie Herod, responded to the Floyd protests this week by proposing a Law Enforcement Accountability Act, SB217.

rob woodward colorado republican colored
Colorado Republican State Senator Rob Woodward was criticized after he used the phrases "colored people" and "step on the neck" in a Friday Senate floor speech about a debt collection bill. Screenshot: Twitter | Alex Burness