The trouble with democracy is you gotta represent the crazies too. And nowhere does that better than state legislatures. In these so-called "laboratories of democracy," the range of experience and IQ are about about as wide as, well, those of the general population. This year, with just about everyone's eyes on the presidential race, state legislative coverage is particularly scanty. The "D" or "R" (or "G" or "L" or "I") beside a candidate's name goes a long way in determining whether they win, and can matter a lot more than some op-ed they might have written a few years back. Even so, you'd think there might be some limits (besides being a convicted felon, I mean) to what candidates can say or do and still get support.
But plenty of the weirdest or most disturbing candidates are running for re-election. Take Arkansas, where not one, not two, but three different state legislators have all made blatantly racist arguments. The Natural State is the last Democratic stronghold in the South, at least on the state and local level, and Republicans believe this is their year to capture both chambers. But if they succeed, they'll likely do it with folks like Representative Jon Hubbard, who in 2009 called slavery a "blessing in disguise." His logic (or lack thereof) is that slaves' descendants were "rewarded" with citizenship—never mind that it was of the second-class variety. And anyways, according to Hubbard, being enslaved in America was better than free life in Africa. And lest you think this was some sort of mental lapse or slip of the tongue, think again; he did not say this verbally but published it in a book. In other words, he presumably wrote it, read it over, and then thought, "Yup."
In the Arkansas Republican caucus, Hubbard can hang out with Loy Mauch, another sitting representative who has written a series of letters to the editor over the last decade defending slavery. "If slavery were so God-awful," he wrote in one letter, "why didn't Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn't there a war before 1861?" Mauch has also compared Lincoln and his supporters to Nazis and lamented that the 14th Amendment "completely destroyed the Founders' concept of limited government." Once again, these weren't just off-hand comments—these were letters to the editor. A series of them. It was enough that Jim Walton—the son of the Walmart founder and hardly a paragon of liberal values—asked Mauch's campaign for his donation back.
The racial madness seems to come in threes. Charlie Fuqua, another member of Arkansas' Grand Old Party, has his own book out, noting that the only solution to "the Muslim problem" is to simply deport them all.
Not all of America's nuttiest candidates are busy writing defenses of slavery or promoting Islamophobia. In Montana, you have incumbent Republican lawmaker Thomas Burnett, who has penned a 55-page report called "Hunger in America: The Myth." In case you can't guess, Burnett explains that school lunches and food stamps are a "colossal waste of money" that make people unhealthy. He explains that "satiety kills" and childhood hunger isn't real. Just to be helpful, he include some uncredited internet photographs of fat people. While there are some controversial-but-not-unreasonable policy recommendations, the report is loaded with (surprise!) racially charged language, arguing that those receiving food stamps are known for "shirking responsibility" and "laziness."
Of course, these lawmakers could be forgotten soon enough—as the next crop of strange statements bubble up from our legislatures. Just think back two years, when Texas Republican Representative Debbie Riddle warned the nation about "terror babies" on Anderson Cooper. She's still in office, and has no Democratic opponent this year. But then again, she was smart enough not to write it all down.