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Author of column cited by Sinquefield says it was meant as satire

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In remarks that have since gone viral, retired businessman Rex Sinquefield referenced a column in a central Missouri newspaper that seemed to suggest that the Ku Klux Klan created public education to harm black children.

But the author of that column said the piece was meant to be satire and dark humor to make a broader point about the need for school vouchers and was not meant to be taken literally.

The 2007 column "speaks for itself,'' said author Ralph Voss, a former judge and a Republican, in a telephone interview. "I could elaborate, but I couldn't make it any more clear."

Voss' column has attracted statewide attention since Sinquefield quoted an excerpt during a lecture last Thursday at Lindenwood University in St. Charles.

Sinquefield spent most of his address discussing his push to replace the state's income tax with an increased sales tax. Sinquefield — one of the state's most prolific political donors — has contributed millions of dollars toward an effort to get the proposal on a ballot later this year.

(Click here to view his entire address.)

But during a question-and-answer period, Sinquefield was asked about a separate initiative to change teacher tenure and evaluation. He eventually referred to the column by Voss, who's now retired and resides in Osage County. Sinquefield has an estate in the county.

Said Sinquefield about the column: "He starts off — and it's something like this — he said a long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how we can really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives And what they designed was the public school system."

That comment has sparked a flurry of condemnations from Democratic lawmakers and education groups. For instance, the Missouri School Boards Association called on all politicians to return their donations from Sinquefield. And Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said she was "flabbergasted"by Sinquefield's comments.

Sinquefield released a written apology on Friday for "my reference to a quote from Ralph Voss of the Unterrified Democrat."

And in a statement released today, Lindenwood University President James D. Evans said he categorically repudiated "Voss's derogatory statements and proudly stand with Missouri's dedicatedand effective K-12 educators, many of whom we have graduated."

Evans did not criticize Sinquefield.

In the telephone interview, Voss said the column was not meant to be taken literally. Voss was a Republican associate circuit judge in the state's 20th Judicial Circuit for 23 years. He retired from the bench in 2002.

The piece was posted in full on the Joplin-based blog, The Turner Reportand MissouriNet.

Voss said it was making a point that the institutions have become so poorly run that they may as well be run by the white supremacist group. Voss added on Monday that he thought his column "speaks for itself."

Voss pointed out that he explicitly wrote in the piece that the Klan did not start public education.

Part of a paragraph near the end of the column states: "The unfortunate thing for Missouri and most other states is that the above plan was put into action. The Klan had nothing to do with it.  But the fact remains liberals were placed in charge and the results are what we see unfolding in front of us.  The public schools in St.Louis — with 32,000 students — are no longer accredited. Kansas City schools are about as bad."

Voss then wrote that Missouri needs "a voucher system. Without this the problem will only get worse and we will be taking more and more money away from other schools."

He added in the interview, MissouriNet news director "Bob Priddy called it a satire, and I just don't see how you could put it any better than that."

"That's exactly what it was. A friend of mine who read it a few days later referred to it as dark humor," Voss continued. "Whatever you want to call it – that's it. I feel very strongly that we're making a terrible mess out of our public schools and that comes from the heart."

(Rex Sinquefield has been a donor to the St. Louis Beacon.)

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.