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Our view: Slavery comment inappropriate in any era

How far should elected officials go to reflect the views of their constituents? St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson says that's his job, and the will of the people comes first before his personal convictions. He brought up the subject at a...

How far should elected officials go to reflect the views of their constituents?

St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson says that's his job, and the will of the people comes first before his personal convictions.

He brought up the subject at a Feb. 27 County Board meeting discussing a smoking ban. Even though he's not a smoker, Nelson said, the voters in his district would probably oppose a ban, and he would support them.

That's fine when the subject is a smoking ban. But Nelson didn't stop there.

"If the people in my district had voted for slavery, and the vast majority had, and I was representing them, the answer is yes, I would have voted for it," Nelson said.

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What? Is Nelson really saying he'd vote for slavery?

Well, listen to the recording of the meeting carefully and you'll hear him say he would have supported slavery 155 years ago, not today. But that doesn't make it much better. Even Andrew Johnson, who became one of the worst presidents of United States, had more of a conscience than that. As a senator from Tennessee, Johnson stayed loyal to the Union when his state seceded at the onset of the Civil War, which was all about slavery. Johnson's integrity earned him a spot as Abraham Lincoln's vice president, and when Lincoln was assassinated, he became president himself.

Nelson apparently forgot about the tape of the meeting and told the News Tribune's editorial page staff "I never said that." Then he said he did mention slavery but that he would be opposed to it no matter what his voters thought. None of that is on the tape.

Nelson is correct that he didn't introduce the word "slavery" at the meeting - that was Commissioner Bill Kron, who was asking how far Nelson would go to vote the will of his district. But it was hardly a trick question or a heated back-and-forth exchange. Six minutes went by for Nelson to think up his answer.

Yes, Commissioner Kron was testing him. And Nelson failed.

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