JEFFERSON CITY - A black female senator accused Republican Senate leaders Thursday of having racist and sexist motives for excluding her from a budget committee.
The joint committee, which met Wednesday to discuss the state budget, consisted of three Republicans and two Democrats. All were white males.
Sen. Mary Bland, D-Jackson County, said she had been intentionally excluded after she had written two letters expressing her desire and qualifications for serving on the committee.
"Discrimination runs rampant in the Senate and the Senate is greater than that," Bland said. "I would hope that most of my colleagues would feel the same. Because if not, we haven't moved anywhere. We've made laws but we can't change hearts."
Bland released a statement saying the exclusion was part of a trend of discrimination aimed at her by Republican leadership, which has taken a "Sen. Trent Lott-like stance."
Bland and two other female senators held a press conference Thursday to voice their complaint about racial and gender discrimination by Republican leadership.
Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, who appointed members to the budget committee, said such an accusation was simply not true.
"I am surprised and disappointed that so deadly a charge would be leveled by my friend Senator Bland," Kinder said. "When five names are laid in front of me, do I go through a checklist of racial and gender check-off? That is not part of my thought process."
Bland verbally attacked Kinder and Sen. John Russell R-Lebanon, the committee chairman who recommended committee members. Before the members were chosen, Bland sent two letters to Russell expressing her desire to be appointed to the committee.
"The president pro tem is insensitive and obviously don't understand what leadership means," Bland said. "So to say that gender and race is not an issue for him is an insensitive and racist remark."
Russell said it appears Bland feels she has been overlooked but said that was not his intent.
"She got her feelings hurt because I failed to respond to a letter," Russell said. "I didn't realize she had her feelings hurt."
Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, was one of the Democratic senators chosen to serve on the committee.
Dougherty, who has less seniority than Bland, was chosen because of his interests in social services, Russell said. But Bland argued that because of her seniority and because she represents the Kansas City school district, she should get the position.
Dougherty said he has fought hard to keep social services from being cut from the budget and is well qualified to represent blacks.
"It was my fight on those three issues that got (social services) back in (the budget). And you ask any of those senators in the room back there. It was mine. Does my work benefit and represent well the African-American community as the white community? You're damn right it does."
Among the senators who joined Bland during her press conference and expressed support were Senators Rita Days, D-St. Louis County and Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County.