East Valley lawmaker Kelly Townsend has sparked outrage on social media this week with a Facebook post declaring that celebrities have been "dropping like flies" because "they were druggies."
A Republican state representative for District 16, which includes east Mesa and Apache Junction, Townsend deleted the post soon after the firestorm began. On Thursday, she posted a long explanation and apology to people "hurt" by her comments and indicating that she's being "misunderstood." She didn't immediately respond to a message from New Times on Friday.
Facebook users were mourning the deaths of Debbie Reynolds on Wednesday, the day after the death of Reynolds' daughter, Carrie Fisher. Those tragedies followed the Christmas Day discovery of singer George Michaels' body, to top a year of celebrity deaths that also included Prince and David Bowie. As social media buzzed with complaints of 2016 as the New Year approached, Townsend, a widow and Christian birth coach who argued against the Legislature's welfare cuts last year, typed out:
"2016, just know that even though everyone is blaming you, I thought you were brilliant. And I know the real reason that many of these people are dropping like flies is because they were druggies. We used to call them stoners or tweakers. Not idols. So when people keep blaming you, just don't listen. And know that you are loved."
In her 647-word apology on Thursday, Townsend refers to "vile" comments on her original post, which she acknowledged "came out in the worse possible way." (See below for her entire apology post.)
One of her Facebook friends took her to task about the language she used in the post, she wrote, thanking him and other "Americans" who set her straight and adding that she's "quick and happy to backstep" her use of inflammatory words.
"The irony of it all is that I am currently working on a program to help women who are pregnant and struggling with addiction," Townsend wrote on Thursday. "Finally, anyone who might believe that my post was communicating that I was glad these stars have passed has misunderstood my post in its entirety and you can rest assured it was not what I meant."
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Comments on her legislative Facebook site, (one of at least two she uses), were predictably blunt: "You were literally praising the death of people that you looked down on. You are unfit to represent anyone if you cannot look at them as equals regardless of your opinions on how they live their lives," wrote Facebook user Kevin Camino.
Voters of Legislative District 16 elected Townsend last month to a third two-year term of office.
Below, Townsend's apology post from Thursday:
Life has an interesting way of teaching us to be better people. It can be filled with hardship which can make us coarse and thorny or we can learn and become more compassionate. Sometimes we oscillate between the two. I generally am an overly compassionate person whose life's work is to help others, to help folks at-risk, to help people who have gone through similar things that I have experienced, and those who have a story completely foreign to my own.
However, as sometimes can happen to the best of us, I made an attempt to post my thoughts on an issue that came out in the worst possible way. I was held accountable quickly by Michael Martinez who pointed out that I was advancing a stigma attached to people who suffer from drug addiction. I had to agree with him and took down my post straight away, but maintained my assertion that we cannot continue to hold up our "idols" without pointing out that their life may have been cut short by the abuse their body suffered due to their lifestyle choices. This undeniable truth is what we are not mentioning, which then leads to the potential for our youth to conclude that part of the recipe to stardom includes drugs and alcohol. We must make sure that although our love for our artists is large, it isn't okay to sweep their struggles under the rug. I cannot backpedal on that.
What I will go back on, and have, is that referring to folks struggling with that problem by using derogatory terms. That, I am quick and happy to backstep. The irony of it all is that I am currently working on a program to help women who are pregnant and struggling with addiction. I can only thank the many good Americans who ran quickly to educate me on my misstep. For you all, I am very grateful for your tone and willingness to take time out of your day to do so. For all the "haters" who took opportunity to accuse in the most vile of ways, I invite you to join me in this exercise in humility and learn with me to treat each other with kindness and thoughtfulness. You will impact your fellow man far more effectively than being hateful ever will.
Therefore, if you read my previous comments and felt hurt by them, to you I apologize for doing so. I meant no harm to you. I am happy to offer the apology. I only ask that you help me too in the effort to be honest about what addiction does to the body and when we lose our beloved stars because of an overdose, we make sure our youth understand that it is not a desirable way to reach respect among the public. It is, in fact, deadly. I will never keep my voice concealed about that fact in order to not offend someone. We need to have the strength to address that issue.
Finally, anyone who might believe that my post was communicating that I was glad these stars have passed has misunderstood my post in its entirety and you can rest assured it was not what I meant. Beyond that, I cannot help what is being passed around and can only offer you this statement. Anything beyond that is untrue.
Be blessed, my fellow Americans. 2016 was good to me (and there were some things that totally sucked big time - like this entire summer) but I am not going to dwell on that. It was a brilliant year. And I hope that 2017 is also equally brilliant, if not more. Will there be hard times? Yes. Are we hard core and willing to take it on? You bet. Claim healing and growth going forward, gang. May your New Year be happy and more than prosperous in many ways.