Recent comments made by max Lenington, a county treasurer, assessor, and superintendent of schools in Billings, are showing a lack of darker side of today’s elected officials. Last week the Billings Gazette, via a public information request, reported Lenington used racially charged language in emails sent from his official county email address. This alarming finding raises many questions.
The quote in question was pulled from an email Lenington sent to his sister on Nov. 13, 2012, in response to the reelection of President Obama: “It still baffles me as to how he got elected; it must mean there are more lesbians, queers, Indians, Mexicans and n—– than the rest of us!” Despite backlash to this wildly inappropriate language, Lenington says he won’t resign from office. His reason for this is almost as outlandish as his racist language: “You’ve got to get out with the real people because you’ll see that people still use that word periodically. This is Montana … this isn’t Chicago, this isn’t Washington.”
This statement is nearly as offensive as the first, because it suggests that Lenington believes his constituents find racist and bigoted language to be acceptable, when this is clearly not the case. Lenington goes on to explain that such language is a “personal thing” (an email to his sister), and that he would never use such language in a public capacity.
From the email, and Lenington’s reaction, we can gather a few things: Firstly, Lenington was foolish enough to use the email of his official public office for personal discourse. That error in judgment aside, we can see the people of Yellowstone County have unwittingly elected a man who uses racist and bigoted language into office since 1982. His position as superintendent of schools is especially alarming, since he has a direct influence on the public education of children in Yellowstone County.
Although it is certainly within Lenington’s First Amendment rights to use such language, it is clear from public outcry that Yellowstone County citizens disapprove of any public servant who has convictions such as his. Many groups are calling for his resignation, including the NAACP and at least one Yellowstone County commissioner. Outrage aside, seeing public officials such as Lenington slip through the cracks of the democratic process shows the importance of voting and thoroughly examining candidates before casting your ballot, even on a local level.
[pullquote align=”right”]“Lenington believes his constituents find racist and bigoted language to be acceptable, when it clearly is not.”[/pullquote]
By the time this article is published, Election Day for Gallatin County, Nov 5, will have come and gone. Ideally, everyone will have voted. The importance of casting an informed ballot is even more significant in light of Yellowstone County’s current crisis. Play the card of apathy, and you may have a racist and a bigot in charge of your county’s checkbook and your children’s educations.