COLUMBUS, Ohio – A leading Ohio education official was greeted with a mixture of anger and support Monday after delivering an apology for her Facebook posting of an Adolf Hitler photo alongside opposition to President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals.
Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar has been caught in a firestorm of criticism for the re-post on her personal page, which some interpreted as comparing Obama to the Nazi leader.
She said Monday she was sincerely sorry, did not intend to offend anyone, and would never do it again.
“I fully understand that as an elected official of the state, what I may say and do may find its way to the public domain and therefore must be measured and tempered,” said Terhar, an appointee of Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Board member Ann Jacobs called for Terhar to resign. Jacobs said she had been barraged by constituents offended by the post and the flap has damaged Terhar’s ability to lead.
“Her comparison of our president to the monstrous killer Adolf Hitler is unconscionable,” Jacobs said.
Board member C. Todd Jones said he was upset by the post, but believed Terhar’s apology should be accepted and mark an end to the controversy.
“I’m one of those people who was disappointed to see the statement, and I’m glad to see that you’ve owned up to it,” he told Terhar, calling the post “a thing that has dirtied everyone that it’s touched.”
A formal motion to remove Terhar from her post was rejected 10-6.
Board member Mary Rose Oakar said the controversy was not going away and urged Terhar to stay on the board but to step aside as president. She was unanimously elected by members to lead the board.
“Stay on the board and do a good job, but step down from your leadership as president so we can get on with educating children,” said Oakar. She decried any comparison of Obama to Hitler, recalling a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp that she viewed as “the worst place I have ever known.”
The exchange during public comment by Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz got heated, with several Terhar allies noting that the original post did not specifically link Obama to Hitler.
Several board members conceded that they were unfamiliar with how Facebook works, didn’t have Facebook pages, intentionally eschewed the social media site or did not see the original post.
Kurtz, whose party has sent fundraising pleas around the scandal and filed a lawsuit against Terhar, said the longer string of Facebook posts that Terhar shared was about Obama’s gun-control proposals in Washington.
Board member Kathleen McGervey vigorously defended Terhar and said the Hitler conflict had “made a mockery” of what the education policy panel is supposed to be about.
“Debe is a gracious, gracious woman, a woman of class and dignity, and she should not step down,” McGervey said. “I think that most of the people who are calling for her resignation are hypocrites.”
Monday’s meeting was relocated from the campus of the Ohio School for the Deaf to the Ohio Department of Education’s headquarters, which has security guards. The department says the move is unrelated.
Democrats rallied protesters to gather outside.
Terhar has acknowledged she made a mistake by sharing a photo of Hitler on Facebook while criticizing President Barack Obama’s new gun-control efforts. She maintained she wasn’t trying to compare Obama to the Nazi leader.
Excerpts from an apology issued by Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar over sharing a Facebook post that invoked the image of Hitler in a manner critical to the Obama administration’s gun-control proposals:
- “...(I)t was never my desire or intention to offend anyone at any time. I fully realize the sensitivity of the issue at hand and I was wrong to re-post something that could ever be perceived as insensitive by anyone....I sincerely apologize for my transgression to everyone who may have been offended by this incident.
- “I have the utmost respect for the President of the United States. I...stand extremely proud...that we have overcome obstacles thrown in our path for generations to elect and then re-elect our first African American president.
- “In a civil society, an honest, open free exchange of ideas is necessary to allow us to engage in a reasoned debate on any of those ideas. I firmly believe that to villify, ridicule and attempt to demonize and marginalize people who do not agree with you is counterproductive to reaching a consensus. My mission on this board is ... to lead us to a healthy consensus that is in the best interest of Ohio’s children.”
- “...I do ask for forgiveness for that mistake and give my complete assurance that this will never occur again.”