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Candidate’s blackface parody comes under fire

David Sponheim, a state Senate hopeful, speaks in a video while doing a blackface parody of President Barack Obama.  - Screen shot
David Sponheim, a state Senate hopeful, speaks in a video while doing a blackface parody of President Barack Obama.
— image credit: Screen shot

The head of the Island County Democrats is denouncing a candidate for a state representative seat who put on “blackface” to impersonate President Obama in an internet video.

Oak Harbor resident David Sponheim, 54, is one of three candidates running against state Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island.

Sponheim filed as “prefers Democratic party” even though he and his partner, Sarah Hart, have worked for years to start a new centrist political party they’ve dubbed “America’s Third Party.”

Sponheim has run for president twice as a write-in candidate for America’s Third Party and said he plans to run again in 2016.

Sponheim and Hart discuss their political ideas in a three-hour “video chat” program they broadcast online six days a week. It was during one of these programs that Sponheim, a white man, painted his face black in a caricature of “Broke Obombus.” The video can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWXMqpb8tpg

Sponheim said his impersonation was intended as satire and that he was surprised when people accused him of being racist.

“In order to impersonate a black president, I had to wear blackface,” he said. “I’m the last person you should call a racist because I believe in integration and equal rights for everyone.”

Many people, however, do believe that it’s offensive to wear blackface, especially given the history of minstrel shows that presented demeaning portraits of African-Americans. Just this week, French police officers are being investigated for a “blackface party” because it was considered racist.

“Whether it is the original white ‘Amos and Andy’ or white fraternity/sorority girls and boys, blackface is always about mocking black skin and presenting stereotypical black behavior,” Mark Sawyer, a professor at UCLA, wrote in a CNN commentary.

Sponheim said he believes that Obama hasn’t been truthful with the American people about such issues as health care, so he decided to make the video as a bold critique of the White House.

“It’s risky to do things that are edgy,” he said. “I’m trying to raise the bar of politics and address the issues.”

Sponheim argued that it’s OK to wear blackface nowadays because black people sometimes pose as white people. He pointed to the 2004 movie comedy “White Chicks.”

Sponheim said he used to consider himself a Democrat but became disillusioned by the divisive politics; he describes himself as liberal on social issues and a fiscal conservative.

Hart ran as an independent when she ran for state Senate in 2008; still, Sponheim said he decided to file as “prefers Democratic party” because many of his ideas adhere to the party’s platform. Sponheim said his priorities include preserving nature and freedom, as well as pushing forward with the opening of marijuana dispensaries, which he sees as a big money-maker for the state.

Aaron Simpson, chairman of the Island County Democratic Central Committee, said Sponheim has not reached out to the party locally and does not have its support. He described Sponheim’s blackface video as “very objectionable.”

“It further reinforces my opinion that the party will never even consider endorsing him,” he said.

Additionally, he said, Sponheim shows a “blatant disrespect for public disclosure rules” with his campaign signs, which don’t specify which seat he is running for.

Simpson said Island County Democrats have already endorsed Mount Vernon resident Nick Petrish, who is also running against Hayes. Petrish could not be reached for comment.

Hayes said earlier this week that he hadn’t yet seen the video and felt it wasn’t appropriate to comment on it at this time.

Oak Harbor resident Brien Lillquist is also running as a Republican for the seat.

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