Opinion: Lankford apology provides a lesson in listening
U.S. Sen. James Lankford apologized Thursday to Tulsa's Black community for partaking in a misguided effort to question 2020 election results from other states. This laudable move provides a lesson about the importance of listening to each other.
Lankford joined a dozen other U.S. senators who sought to oppose the Senate’s formal count of the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 unless a commission was created to investigate “allegations of fraud and irregularities” in the election.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said from the outset he was not trying to overturn the election, and knew the group’s effort was a “Hail Mary pass,” but hoped it would highlight the need for additional election reform at the state level.
Instead, it helped stoke the narrative that the election had been “stolen” from President Donald Trump. As the Senate and House tallied the electoral votes that day, Trump supporters laid siege to the Capitol building, resulting in one woman being shot and killed and one police officer getting killed.
After business resumed that night, Lankford backed off the challenge he had lodged earlier to results in Arizona, saying he couldn’t cast a vote that would be “in any way an affirmation of what happened today at the Capitol.”
His involvement, however, led several prominent Blacks in Tulsa to call for Lankford’s removal or resignation from the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Committee, something with which he has been actively involved. Lankford had also played a part last summer in Trump rescheduling a campaign rally in Tulsa so it did not fall on Juneteenth.
But by advocating as he did for the election review, these leaders said, the senator was essentially calling into question the Black vote.
Lankford told the Tulsa World he never thought the effort could have racial overtones, but came to understand otherwise. He said Blacks told him that when the president talks about problems in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, “we hear the president say, Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia are problems.”
In his formal apology Thursday, Lankford said he was “completely blindsided” by the reaction, “but I also found a blind spot.”
“After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate,” Lankford said. “I can assure you, my intent to give a voice to Oklahomans who had questions was never also an intent to diminish the voice of any Black American.”
Lankford, who generally puts considerable thought and deliberation into his work, said he should have recognized how this plan could be interpreted in the Black community. “I deeply regret my blindness to that perception, and for that I am sorry,” he wrote.
Perhaps Lankford’s apology will serve to repair some of the damage inflicted. Here’s hoping so.
Opinion editor Owen Canfield is in his 18th year writing editorials for The Oklahoman and has spent nearly 40 years in journalism. Email him at email@example.com or call him at (405) 740-7624. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription at oklahoman.com/subscribe.