Doctor who made ‘colored’ hand-washing comment to head Senate Health Committee

State Sen. Steve Huffman, an emergency room physician, will lead the health committee in the Ohio Senate — seven months after he asked in a hearing if the “colored” population didn’t wash their hands as well as other groups.

Huffman, R-Tipp City, was named chairman of the health committee by Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima. The two men are cousins.

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus this week said while Steve Huffman’s comments last year were deeply offensive, the group hopes he has learned from the mistake.

“If the Senate leadership will not replace Sen. Huffman as chair, then we will expect Sen. Huffman to use his position to improve the health of Ohio’s African-American population by working with OLBC to pass legislation that effectively addresses health disparities in the state of Ohio,” the Black caucus said in a written statement.

Huffman issued a statement this week that said in part: “Over the last several months I’ve participated in classes on diversity and inclusion and I’ve discussed this issue with my African American colleagues in the legislature as well as African American health care leaders in my district to identify ways the medical community can better help underserved populations.”

Senate GOP Caucus spokesman John Fortney said as a medical doctor, Huffman is highly qualified to chair the Health Committee. He noted that Huffman has a history of providing medical care in minority neighborhoods.

“He apologized months ago for asking a clumsy and awkwardly worded question. Sincere apologies deserve sincere forgiveness, and not the perpetual politically weaponized judgment of the cancel culture,” Fortney said.

During a hearing in June on whether to declare racism a public health crisis, Huffman asked if “the colored population” is hit harder by the coronavirus because perhaps they don’t wash their hands as well as other groups.

“My point is I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why it doesn’t make them more susceptible to just get COVID. Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups or wear a mask or do not socially distance themselves? That could be the explanation of the higher incidence?” he said.

The remark led to calls from the OLBC, Ohio NAACP, ACLU of Ohio and A. Philip Randolph Institution for Huffman to resign. Huffman was dismissed from one of his medical jobs. He issued an apology but did not step down as a lawmaker.

OLBC said it offered to hold a discussion with Huffman about his remarks last year but the meeting has yet to happen.

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