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WHEATON – The Republican incumbent in the race for the 42nd House District seat is under fire from several Democratic lawmakers for what they say are racist and homophobic comments she allegedly made about her opponent in a recorded telephone conversation.
Amy Grant [R-Wheaton], a freshman member of the General Assembly, is heard on a phone call making remarks about Ken Mejia-Beal, a Black and openly gay man, who is challenging her in the Nov. 3 election.
In the call, Grant said her opponent is afraid to travel to the heart of her district, “not because he’s Black but because of the way he talks, he’s all LGBTQ.”
The conversation was between Grant and an unnamed party. The details about who initiated the call are in dispute.
Democratic state representatives Will Davis, Camille Lilly, Greg Harris and Emmanuel Chris Welch on Monday morning held a virtual press conference where they released recordings that they claim were evidence of Grant's "racist and homophobic statements."
In the phone conversation, which was supposedly a fundraising call, Grant refers to Mejia-Beal as "just another of the Cook County people."
"That's all your gonna vote for is Cook County, another, ya know, Black Caucus, that's all we need is another person in the Black Caucus," Grant is heard saying.
During the call, Grant also is heard saying, "He wants to work for the chronically ill. He just gives us like crazy, and every week it’s a different reason for why he wants to get into the race."
Welch strongly criticized Grant's remarks.
"We have a sitting state representative using a racist and homophobic pitch to raise money to help her get elected," Welch said at Monday's virtual press conference. "Think about that, Rep. Amy Grant was comfortable saying racist and homophobic things when she knew she was being recorded."
Harris, the first openly gay House majority leader in the state's history, said he was disturbed by the comments made by Grant and "wants voters to know who they are voting for."
Grant on Monday morning released a statement in which she said she deeply regrets the comments she made about Mejia-Beal, and had reached out to apologize to him.
"These comments do not reflect my heart or my faith," Grant said in a statement.
When asked Monday about Grant's apology, Welch responded that "we have to question her questioning an opponent talking about the chronically ill."
"If you’re living with diabetes, you’re living with high blood pressure, you have pancreatic cancer like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and you fought, you’re fighting like a champion like she did. Rep. Amy Grant has a problem with you speaking for the chronically ill," Welch said.
"We heard that on that tape," Welch continued. "Do we want someone like that in the Illinois legislature? This call questions her character and is completely inconsistent with her apology that she makes now, because she was caught on tape. But what’s she saying when she’s not on tape?"
Grant specifically mentioned Davis in the phone call, calling him a “buddy of mine,” saying, “he respects me.”
“I can be cordial and friends with any member of the General Assembly as long as it’s a respectful relationship,” Davis said. “She clearly has taken it in a different direction… Her comments hit me personally, as an African American man, to say that we don't need any other members of the Black Caucus, does that mean we don't need any other thoughtful, intuitive representatives to come to Springfield regardless of who or what they are?”
The Democrats said they wouldn’t release the entire recording because of issues with personal identification.
“She talks about other people, is disparaging of other people,” Welch said, adding “I just thought that it wasn’t our place to reveal the entire call.”
A House Republican spokesperson called for the tapes to be released and claimed that "to her recollection, Grant did not give permission to be recorded." However, in one audio clip a recording states that the call was being recorded. Democrats also claim that there is little to no expectation of privacy for a legislator or a candidate.
A spokesperson for state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, disputed this story, however. In an email Monday, the spokesperson said Grant did not agree to be recorded, and the individual had actually initiated contact with Grant and identified themselves as a potential donor and supporter of Republican U.S. House candidate Jeannie Ives, who previously held Grant’s seat. The individual then turned the full tape over to the Democratic caucus due to concerns with Grant’s comments.
Illinois is a two-party consent state, meaning it is illegal to record a phone conversation with a “reasonable expectation of privacy” unless all parties involved are aware and consent to the call being recorded. The revealed clips were short, the longest being less than 40 seconds.
The Democratic lawmakers said Grant had originally called the individual as part of her fundraising efforts, and that was the subject of their call. The individual returned Grant’s call and informed her the call was being recorded, according to the Democrats.
Mejia-Beal released a statement Monday chastising Grant for her remarks.
"But in her hurtful, degrading, and wholly unacceptable comments which have now come to light, Representative Grant makes it clear that she sees only the color of my skin and my sexual orientation – and that in her mind disqualifies me as a leader and even disqualifies me as a member of our community," Mejia-Beal said.
“Nowhere in Representative Grant’s one-line public response or the phone message she left me reading that same message is any acknowledgement that the statements she made so matter-of-factly on those recordings were also a grievous insult to every member of our community.
"Where is Representative Grant’s apology to those who hear her comments and wonder if they fit into her vision of our community? Where is the apology to all whose faith calls them to love their neighbors as themselves? Where is her apology to all in our area who are sick of politicians dividing people with their rhetoric? And where is Representative Grant’s commitment to use the time she has remaining in office to finally represent all of our unique community?"
Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.