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Oklahoma GOP post compared food-stamp recipients to animals

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party apologized Tuesday for a post on the party’s Facebook page that said giving people food stamps is akin to feeding animals in national parks, marking the new leader’s latest misstep over divisive comments.

Party Chairman Randy Brogdon said on Facebook that the post was intended to illustrate the cycle of government dependency. He apologized “for any misconceptions that were created.”

The original message, posted Monday, said 46 million Americans participate in the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, or SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps. The post then said the National Park Service encourages people not to feed wild animals because they “will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.”

The post concluded: “Thus ends today’s lesson in irony.”

About 604,000 people receive SNAP benefits in Oklahoma, mostly the elderly, disabled and children.

The post, which was removed Tuesday afternoon, also drew immediate criticism from Democrats and Republicans.

“It is not a representation of the party as a whole and it makes the party look uncaring,” said state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City. “And that is not the GOP I associate myself with.”

Oklahoma Department of Human Services spokeswoman Sheree Powell called the post “shameful.”

“It was insensitive and uninformed. If they had even bothered to ask what the reality of poverty looks like… they wouldn’t have made that kind of post,” she said.

Brogdon didn’t return messages left on his cellphone and at party headquarters seeking comment Tuesday.

Brogdon, a one-time tea party favorite, defeated the incumbent GOP chairman in May with the help of the party’s right wing. He prompted outrage earlier this year for hiring T.C. Ryan as the party’s political director despite Ryan’s guilty plea three years ago to domestic violence charges. Amid criticism, including from Gov. Mary Fallin, Brogdon accepted Ryan’s resignation shortly after party members threatened to try to oust him.

During his unsuccessful race for governor against Fallin in 2010, Brogdon drew criticism from fellow Republicans when he called for the creation of a state militia to defend Oklahoma against the federal government’s encroachment on state sovereignty. He later backtracked.

“The GOP is either tone deaf or intentionally offensive,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Scott Inman said Wednesday.

Powell said able-bodied adults without children can only receive food benefits for three months if they are unemployed, Powell said. After that, recipients must work at least 20 hours per week.

The Republican governor released a statement saying she appreciated Brogdon removing the post and accepted his explanation. She said welfare reform was an important subject that deserved “respectful, thoughtful conversations.”

“Republican values are about honoring the dignity of all Americans, not disparaging them,” Fallin said.

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