HELENA - Rep.-elect and current Sen. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, will apologize for the derogatory comment he made about special education students last week, incoming House Speaker Roy Brown, R-Billings, said Wednesday.
Some school administrators are calling for Butcher's removal from the 2005 Legislature's House Education Committee after he called severely disabled students 'vegetables" during a public meeting of the central Montana school superintendents last week.
Butcher, who dubbed his comment an "unfortunate choice of words," is also being criticized for the comments he made about minority students during the same meeting. Butcher said Nevada pays its teachers more because they have to "deal" with a more diverse student population.
"He says a lot of the stuff was taken out of context," Brown said Wednesday. "But I told him you still need to put together a statement and apologize."
When initially contacted about the remarks Tuesday, Butcher refused to apologize. He did say that he later told a few of the administrators that he made a poor choice of words.
"This thing where people have to grovel around and apologize for everything they say irritates me," Butcher said Tuesday.
Brown forced the senator to change his tune. Brown said Butcher will issue a written apology to the group of administrators he made the comments to, and will share his apology with the media. Butcher will not be removed from the House Education Committee.
House Minority Leader Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, said he's not surprised that the GOP lawmaker will be allowed to hold his committee assignment. He had joined the chorus of school administrators asking for Butcher's resignation.
"It represents a certain kind of tolerance within the Republican caucus," Wanzenried said.
Wanzenried went on to say that Butcher's comments compromised and maybe obliterated his credibility as a lawmaker. Butcher was criticized during the 2001 Legislature for referring to American Indian reservations as ghettoes.
At last week's meeting, Butcher said "vegetables," in reference to seriously disabled children, should be removed from the traditional school setting and relocated in regional hub schools that can better meet their needs. Butcher said Montana's small schools simply cannot afford to meet the varying needs of all disabled students.
And in explaining his comments about minority student populations, Butcher said "Montana teachers who leave the state for better-paying jobs elsewhere have to deal with groups of Hispanic, Asian and black gangs that are terrorizing schools."
Butcher did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday.