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March 24, 2017 10:17 AM UTC

Meet Phil Covarrubias, Colorado's Newest National Disgrace

  • by: Colorado Pols
Rep. Phil Covarrubias (R).

News this week of a freshman Republican legislator defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II didn’t move the needle much in Colorado media, but national outlets jumped on the story you read about here first–credit where due to the exception locally, Denverite’s Erica Meltzer:

The liberal site Colorado Pols (totally unrelated to Colorado Politics) first highlighted Covarrubias’ remarks and uploaded the YouTube video recorded from the state’s official legislative channel.

Then picked up in the Huffington Post:

Covarrubias compared the fears after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack to the fears Americans have now after recent acts of terrorism, such as in Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California.

“What happened prior to [the camps] that kicked all this off? I think we were attacked at Pearl Harbor,” he added. “I think we need to look at the Americans that are in fear from the terrorism and the things that we’ve seen over the last few years especially.”

Despite Covarrubias’ attempts to kill HB 1230, the bill passed the second reading and is headed to the House floor for a third and final reading before it goes to the Republican held Senate, where it’s chances of passage are slim, according to The Durango Herald.

And then the Washington Post:

“We keep hearing about how things went down with the Japanese people. For anybody that has never been in the heat of combat, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and all of that was going on, there’s no time to ask questions and find out who’s a citizen and who’s not,” Covarrubias said. “You don’t have that moment in time. You need to regroup. It’s easy to sit up here and say this stuff now. But if you’re in that moment, it looks a lot different than being able to be in a nice suit and tie.”

He continued: “I hear people saying that we need to respect other people’s rights, and I agree with that, but what about them respecting our rights and our country and our laws? Because I’m not hearing that up here.”

Later on in the hearing, Covarrubias once again seemed to defend the mass internment of Japanese American citizens by pointing out that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. That attack, he said, was “what happened prior … that kicked all this off.”

And then national NBC News:

CAPAC chair U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) called Covarrubias’ remarks unacceptable.

“It’s outrageous that we have to keep reiterating that the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was wrong,” she said Thursday in a statement. “History doesn’t repeat itself because we forget. It repeats itself because apologists like Rep. Covarrubias attempt to convince us these atrocious actions were justified.

For whatever reason, local coverage of Covarrubias’ remarks has been slow in coming. Last night, 9NEWS ran a brief somewhat apologetic segment:

We can see how people listening to Covarrubias’ floor speeches Wednesday could have walked away with the impression he tried to justify America’s internment of Japanese people.

But Covarrubias swears that is not what he meant.

Today, finally, Denver7’s Lance Hernandez picks up the story thoughtfully:

Dr. JoAnn Ota Fujioka isn’t buying Covarrubias’ explanation.

“I was just infuriated,” she said, “because he has no knowledge of the of the whole milieu that was in play at the time.”

…Fujioka said there were Japanese-Americans in Colorado who couldn’t travel more than ten miles from home without permission.

She believes the restrictions and forced relocation were related more to bigotry and an attempt to suppress Japanese-American culture than concern about a security threat.

She said that’s why she found Covarrubias’ initial comment so offensive.

Rep. Covarrubias has tried since his comments went national to insist he wasn’t trying to justify internment of Japanese-Americans. It appears that Covarrubias is not really a very articulate guy, which makes his choice to run for the legislature a little questionable–but the idea that he was just trying to help people empathize with “the fear” Americans felt following the attack on Pearl Harbor doesn’t excuse what he said.

If anything, it helps reveal why it was offensive.


4 thoughts on “Meet Phil Covarrubias, Colorado’s Newest National Disgrace

  1. George Takei: They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.

    I was just a child of 5 when we were forced at gunpoint from our home and sent first to live in a horse stable at a local race track, a family of five crammed into a single smelly stall. It was a devastating blow to my parents, who had worked so hard to buy a house and raise a family in Los Angeles. After several weeks, they sent us much farther away, 1,000 miles to the east by rail car, the blinds of our train cars pulled for our own protection, they said. We disembarked in the fetid swamps of Arkansas at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Really, it was a prison: Armed guards looked down upon us from sentry towers; their guns pointed inward at us; searchlights lit pathways at night. We understood. We were not to leave.

  2. It's clear that my party needs to do a much better job of vetting candidates. Reminds me of 2014 when Nate Marshall was nominated here in HD 23 to run against Max Tyler. Turns out Nate had been somewhat of a white supremacist in his past and obviously had not been carefully checked out. Max was a solid shot for re-election no matter who ran. But still, you got to thoroughly vett. 

  3. Nobody should be surprised.  This idea has been popular on talk radio for the last several years (Michael Savage's show in particular).  And as a result, it has been gaining traction with the conservative base – both as a precedent for putting other Americans in prison camps when their loyalty is questioned, and also as a way to punch down Democrats for hypocrisy (because Franklin Roosevelt was a Democrat, etc.)

    So when Phil Covarrubias steps up and says this in the floor of the legislature … yeah, sure it is a gaffe.  But he is only giving official voice to a bad idea has been both widely circulated and increasingly accepted inside the GOP's tent – without much pushback or criticism.   And almost certainly, as a political newcomer, Covarrubias didn't see the backlash coming because … he was just speaking his mind.  Defying liberal BS and political correctness.  And he was expressing something that has gained wide acceptance in the media he reads and the people around him.  

    The silence of the Colorado media is mighty interesting.  


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