CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A video of Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Raese making an analogy between smoking regulations and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany has gone viral, and national Jewish and Democratic groups strongly criticized the remarks.Raese told the Gazette Thursday that he stands by the comments, saying, "I don't see anything that's incorrect in any of the statements I made. It's all very factual."In the video, apparently recorded at a campaign event in Putnam County last week and posted on YouTube, the Morgantown businessman decries smoking regulations in his home county, saying he doesn't want government telling him what he can or cannot do."In Monongalia County you can't smoke a cigarette, you can't smoke a cigar, you can't do anything, and I oppose that because I believe in everybody's individual freedoms and everybody's individual rights to do what they want to do, and I'm a conservative and that's the way that goes," Raese says in the video.
Raese goes on to complain that county health department regulations require him to post stickers at entrances to his office buildings stating that smoking is prohibited."In Monongalia County, I have to put a huge sticker on my buildings to say, this is a smoke-free environment," he says."Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody's lapel, remember that? Same thing," Raese continues, an apparent reference to the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.
The video was posted Thursday on political websites including Politico and the Huffington Post, drawing thousands of comments within hours of its posting on the latter site.Among those criticizing Raese for his remarks were officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international human rights group named after a Holocaust survivor who spent much of his life tracking down fugitive Nazis."This inappropriate comparison betrays an ignorance of what really happened in Nazi Germany, and demonstrates a callousness to the millions of Jews murdered by Hitler's Third Reich," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, and Mark Weitzman, the center's director of government affairs. "It compares signs that are meant to protect people's health with the yellow stars designed to dehumanize and degrade millions of Jews by a racist, genocidal regime."National Jewish Democratic Council President David A. Harris said, "Comparing smoking restrictions to the Holocaust is never acceptable on any day of the year. But for West Virginia Republican Senate candidate John Raese to apparently defend those comments on Holocaust Remembrance Day takes the insensitivity and callousness of his remarks to the next level."
In a similar tone, State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio issued a statement Thursday denouncing Raese."Comparing a smoking ban to the murder of six million Jews is shockingly insensitive and diminishes the memory of those killed in the Holocaust. John Raese's comments and his refusal to apologize shows no understanding of history and no respect. I feel certain that after Mr. Raese has time to think about it, he will apologize," Puccio said.Sen. Joe Manchin, who defeated Raese in a 2010 race and will likely face him in November's general election, would not comment on the matter Thursday.Raese told the Gazette he believes the video was a work of a "tracker" retained by Manchin's re-election campaign to record his speeches and public comments.
Raese said he stands by his statements in the video."If they're going to be taking personal freedoms, personal choices from us, I'll be happy to stand up and speak out," he said.He said that during the same speech, he also equated the mandated "smoke-free" signs with signs featuring a blue eagle that U.S. businesses participating in the National Recovery Act in the 1930s were required to display. Raese said that went unmentioned in the media coverage.Raese said he also discussed the historical context of anti-smoking regulations in Nazi Germany, but said those comments were not included in the video.He said he was surprised by all the uproar."When I think of all the issues that affect West Virginia, I don't understand how this gets on the Richter scale," he said.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.