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U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis

Updated 12:18 a.m. 

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Greensboro) is calling on Republican opponent Thom Tillis to apologize for remarks from 2012 that resurfaced this week.

Tillis, the speaker of the N.C. House, is taking some flak for comments he made in an interview with Carolina Business Review. The politically liberal website Talking Points Memo wrote about the interview, in which Tillis was asked about Hispanic voters not supporting the Republican Party.

(The exchange can be viewed in this video at about the 2:45 point)

Tillis said he believed his party had to do a better job emphasizing the points on which Hispanic voters already agreed with Republicans. Then he made a comment about changing demographics in North Carolina that has created some controversy.

“The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable,” Tillis said. “It’s not growing. The African American population is roughly growing, but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. We’ve got to resonate with those future voters.”

The comment has been taken by some — including a writer for U.S. News & World Report and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow — to mean that Tillis only considers white people to be “traditional” North Carolinians.

That would leave out black North Carolinians, whose ancestors were brought to the state as slaves more than a few generations ago, and non-whites who settled in the state since its founding in 1789.

On Wednesday, Hagan addressed that statement.

“As an elected official, Speaker Tillis sets the wrong example by classifying some North Carolinians as traditional and implying others are not,” she said. “And he should apologize for this offensive comment immediately.

“Unfortunately, Speaker Tillis’ comment is not an isolated incident, and more than anything, his damaging legislative agenda that has been wrong for our state shows that his comments were no mistake.

"For generations, North Carolina has been a diverse state, and I am committed to representing all of our families as I seek to put North Carolina first. Unfortunately, Speaker Tillis has been more concerned with separating, dividing and conquering North Carolinians.”

The Tillis campaign said Wednesday that the comment has been misrepresented.

“Thom has been clear that he believes North Carolina Republicans need a message that resonates with every North Carolinian,” said Jordan Shaw, the campaign manager for Tillis.

“He believes the philosophy of growth and hard work and freedom has appeal to people across North Carolina, whether they are natives of the state or newcomers and regardless of demographics.”


Posted 2:02 p.m. Thursday

Sen. Kay Hagan is calling on N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, her Republican opponent in November, to apologize for remarks from 2012 that resurfaced this week.

 “As an elected official, Speaker Tillis sets the wrong example by classifying some North Carolinians as traditional and implying others are not," Hagan said in a statement Wednesday. "And he should apologize for this offensive comment immediately."

 “Unfortunately, Speaker Tillis’ comment is not an isolated incident, and more than anything, his damaging legislative agenda that has been wrong for our state shows that his comments were no mistake," Hagan said.

"For generations, North Carolina has been a diverse state, and I am committed to representing all of our families as I seek to put North Carolina first. Unfortunately, Speaker Tillis has been more concerned with separating, dividing and conquering North Carolinians.”

 Tillis is taking some flak this week for comments he made in a Carolina Business Review interview back in 2012.

Politically liberal web site Talking Points Memo wrote about the interview, in which Tillis - now trying to unseat incumbent Senator Kay Hagan in a closely watched race - was asked about Hispanic voters not supporting the Republican party.

(The exchange can be viewed in this video at about the 2:45 point)

Tillis was asked:

"When you see this shift that Hispanics used to be in the Republican Party and now they're clearly on the other side of the aisle, when you see all of these things that have transpired, what do you think about? What is going on in the Republican Party?

Tillis replied:

"Well I think it has more to do what's going on in the demographics of this country and recognizing that and then having a platform and a message that resonates.

If you take a look, you mentioned the Hispanic population —the African American population, there's a number of things that our party stands for that they embrace. I think we have to do a better job of communicating it. I think we have to do a better job of being out there in between elections, garnering support for the things that we're trying to advance. And I think that we need a focus on limited government and free markets which is something that's appealing to everybody. That kind of work will position us for those growing sectors.

The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It's not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. We've got to resonate with those future voters."

The exchange has been taken by some - including a writer for U.S. News & World Report and MSNBC host  Rachel Maddow- to mean that Tillis only considers white people to be "traditional" North Carolinians.

That would seem to overlook black North Carolinians whose ancestors were brought to the state as slaves more than a few generations ago and non-whites who simply settled in the state since its founding in 1789.

Tillis campaign Communications Director Denial Keylin told Talking Point Memo that wasn't Tillis' intent - he was simply talking about recent population growth.

"'Traditional' North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations," Keylin said. "A lot of the state's recent population growth is from people who move from other states to live, work, and settle down in North Carolina. Thom Tillis for example."

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Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.

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