Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore & Harford counties) said Peter Franchot’s chief of staff should be disciplined for having made inflammatory remarks on social media about members of a conservative group who are against stay-at-home orders and other restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. However, Jennings stopped short of calling for Len Foxwell to be fired.
“Sometimes people — they say stuff on Facebook that they shouldn’t, that they regret, that they should apologize for. Every time somebody does something like this they always call for their head, that they should be fired. I think that he should be disciplined without a doubt. But it’s Franchot’s employee. He can do whatever he wants. That’s a decision he has to make and his constituents can decide from there,” Jennings told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Monday.
Foxwell made the remarks in a Facebook post on April 13, however, the remarks were not reported on until Saturday evening. His remarks were posted above an NPR story about the Patriot Movement. The movement’s leaders have called on their followers to resist a stay-at-home order issued by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. Some of President Donald Trump’s supporters have been part of protests aimed at reopening the country. Though Trump has tweeted his support for lifting restrictions in several states where the virus is less prevalent, he has said the final decision will be left to the governors in those respective states. Foxwell said of the Patriot protesters in a since-deleted post:
“Let’s lure them into a big, big warehouse (we’ll call it something real classy to suit their refined sensibilities, like “America MAGA Platinum Palace”) with the promise of all the unfiltered Camels they can smoke, all the Salisbury steak and banana moonpies they can eat, washed down by all the Old Crow and Icehouse they can drink. Plus, autographs from Scott Baio and pics with Tawny Kitean, posing all sexy and everything on a sportscar, just like in that old Whitesnake video! Get them in, bar the door and then let Darwin work his magic.”
Jennings was asked about the tenor of Foxwell’s remarks.
“I think they were stupid. I think it was in poor taste. When you get into a position like that, as a chief of staff, you have to watch what you say. And even though he did it on his personal page, I think he made a mistake, without a doubt. I think he definitely owes people an apology. But again, it’s sarcasm. And we as a country have a First Amendment right to say what you feel…He should be punished, without a doubt, but I don’t know if firing him is the right thing.”
Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) echoed similar sentiments.
“I’ve never been one to force somebody to fire somebody. I think it’s bad policy.”
Chisholm, like Jennings, took issue with the tenor of Foxwell’s remarks. Though the remarks were directed toward protesters in Idaho, Chisholm focused on the hundreds who showed up in Annapolis on Saturday to voice opposition to Maryland’s COVID-19 restrictions. Chisholm said Foxwell’s remarks were in all actuality directed at the Maryland protestors.
“I have a ton of small-business owners and they hurting,” he said. “They are waiting on money from either the state-that they were promised but hasn’t show up yet-they have employees that haven’t received their unemployment checks-and they have the federal government that has given out part of the stimulus money or all of it as that point. And as far as I can tell it went to larger corporations…so they’re hurting and they show up to show their displeasure and their questioning of some of the numbers, and Mr. Foxwell comes up and basically calls them a bunch of rednecks. And I think its a sad reality but it is looking into his true beliefs.”
Chisholm reiterated that he is not in a position to say whether Foxwell should be fired.
Foxwell’s remarks were met with outrage by many Republicans in the state. Maryland GOP party chair Dick Haire wrote Franchot on Saturday night. In the letter, Haire blasted the remarks and called on Franchot to fire Foxwell. Franchot, who is a 2022 candidate for governor, shortly thereafter responded to the controversy by showing support for Foxwell in a post on his personal Facebook page.
“It has never been my policy to comment on social media content posted by members of my staff, so long as it is done on their own time. I won’t start now. Suffice to say, however, that I remain 100 percent supportive of Len Foxwell and the exceptional work he continues to do for me and for the people of Maryland. He is an exceptional public servant, a dear family friend, and I look forward to his continued service as my Chief of Staff for years to come,” the comptroller wrote.
Prior to Franchot’s post, Foxwell sought to clarify his earlier remarks.
“Again, this had nothing to do with rank-and-file Trump supporters – notwithstanding my deep, searing distaste for the President’s politics and his catastrophic mismanagement of this crisis. Nor, obviously, did I ever express hope that someone would die. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply, absolutely false. By now, it’s fairly obvious that, like so many other social media brush fires that revolve around this President, a handful of provocateurs twisted unrelated content to suit their narrative of victimization and government persecution.”
Franchot’s office declined to comment on whether Foxwell will be disciplined or whether he intends to issue an apology, and referred MarylandReporter.com to the comptroller’s Facebook page.
There are 13,684 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Monday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, while 516 people in Maryland have died from the virus.