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Morris besieged; leadership uses humor

– Girl Scout cookies were in abundance Tuesday at the Indiana Statehouse as Republican leadership tried to tamp down a growing controversy, and Fort Wayne Rep. Bob Morris struggled to move past statements he made about the group.

"We have a lot of other legislation that I'm focusing on the rest of the session," Morris said. "This was a resolution, and that's that."

Morris sent a letter to his House Republican colleagues Saturday denouncing the Girl Scouts as a "radicalized organization" that supports abortion, encourages sex and accepts gays. He decided not to sign onto a resolution supporting the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts based on Internet research he had done and his Catholic faith.

Morris said the letter was meant to be private and was sent from his personal email. But The Journal Gazette obtained a copy and first reported the story Monday. The topic has since become national news.

Morris said he removed his two daughters from the local Girl Scout troop Tuesday.

No colleagues voiced support for Morris on Tuesday, and he would not confirm reports that GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma had a meeting with him to discuss the issue. Morris would only say he and Bosma are close and speak regularly.

Bosma, meanwhile, spent the day trying to defuse the controversy with humor. He walked around the Statehouse with a box of Girl Scout cookies at all times, offering them to anyone he passed.

He also joked from the podium that he had bought 278 cases of Girl Scout cookies in the last 48 hours and then asked all female legislators who used to be Girl Scouts to offer the motion to adjourn.

Democrats also got in on the act. Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, of Bloomington, passed out Girl Scout cookies in the Senate, and House Democrats handed out pictures of President Ronald Reagan surrounded by Girl Scouts.

Morris said he stands by his concerns about the group, saying that if anyone calls the national Girl Scouts and asks, they aren't against abortion.

"If you're not against it, you're for it," he said.

The Girl Scouts of the USA website says it does not take a position on human sexuality, birth control or abortion.

The group also denies having a relationship with Planned Parenthood. Morris' letter said the Girl Scouts is "quickly becoming a tactical arm" of Planned Parenthood.

That also sparked Planned Parenthood of Indiana to respond Tuesday, calling his statements inflammatory, misleading, woefully inaccurate and harmful.

"On the national level, inflammatory and generally inaccurate claims about a partnership between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood have been promoted primarily by anti-choice lawmakers seeking to place pressure on organizations to disassociate or distance themselves from Planned Parenthood," said Betty Cockrum, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

"Planned Parenthood currently has no formal partnership with the Girl Scouts but supports their mission and recognizes their century of contributions to our society."

Morris' comments Tuesday came only after butting heads with the Statehouse press corps. He initially said he would meet with the media, did one interview and then ran to the House floor for a resolution. He then refused to come off the floor for hours and eventually made a mad dash for the stairs, pushing one television reporter out of his way.

He stayed in the House Republican caucus for an hour more before finally addressing the media. He also apologized personally to the reporter he bumped.

nkelly@jg.net

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