The Maryland Democratic Party has launched a petition drive asking Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele to repudiate his support of a book on the racial history of the Republican Party.
Democratic Chairman Terry Lierman said Michael Zak, author of Back to Basics for the Republican Party, used inflammatory language during a Lincoln Day dinner in Southern Maryland last month.
"Mastery over blacks has always been Democratic policy," the Calvert Recorder quoted Zak as saying during the dinner speech. In the book, Zak calls the Ku Klux Klan the "terrorist wing" of the Democratic Party.
Zak has spoken in Maryland on several occasions, including, he said in an interview yesterday, at the state GOP convention in 2002, when Steele was state party chairman. Steele introduced him, Zak said yesterday, calling Back to Basics "phenomenal" and "my favorite book."
Zak has posted Steele's endorsement on the Web site where he sells the book, www.republicanbasics.com.
"Now Steele wants to be Maryland's next U.S. senator," Lierman said in a statement announcing the petition drive. "I believe all Marylanders expect and deserve more from a U.S. senator. ... Michael Steele has failed an important test of character by aligning himself with Michael Zak's dangerous, deceptive and racially divisive commentary."
Steele, who has not declared his candidacy for the Senate but is considered a likely contender, was out of town yesterday and could not be reached. Steele's spokeswoman, Reagan Hopper, said his office would have no comment.
Zak said yesterday that the speech he delivers on his book is factual, not divisive, and that he has given it for four years "and no one has ever complained."
"My purpose is not to annoy Democrats," he said. "My purpose is to show Republicans that they should be proud of their heritage of civil rights achievement. Last year, 2004, was the 150th anniversary of the Republican Party, which was founded to oppose slavery. But to the best of my knowledge the Republican Party did nothing at all to celebrate the event."
Isiah Leggett, former head of the state Democratic Party and a law professor at Howard University, said Zak's "is an outrageous book and it belittles African-Americans and it stereotypes African-Americans."
"African-Americans up until the 1950s were Republicans. ... We switched that based on many of the things that Republicans were doing," Leggett said. "I agree with the sentiment that the book is outrageous, and it makes assumptions that we can't think, we aren't intellectual and we follow the party blindly."
Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, accused Lierman of practicing the politics of divisiveness - just as he accuses Republicans of doing, she said.
"Democrats have nothing to offer other than angriness and name-calling," she said.