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Republicans call for censure; YouTube video captures comment

State Sen. Chuck Riley apologized Wednesday for a Hillsboro town-hall remark that suggested he supported slavery.

“I made a statement that I deeply regret,” the Democratic lawmaker from Hillsboro said in the Senate chamber.

The remark was captured Saturday on a YouTube video, when a gun-rights advocate confronted the lawmaker for his April 14 vote for Senate Bill 941, which extend criminal background checks to most private firearms sales.

Riley said the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such checks.

“So when the Supreme Court said slavery is legal, they were right then, too?” the man asked.

“They were right for the time until they changed it,” Riley responded.

The reference was to the 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which the court held that slaves were property and could not sue in federal courts.

Slavery was abolished at the end of the Civil War in 1865 with the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Riley said later on the video that he did not agree with slavery.

But his initial remark drew a call for censure by Senate Republicans, most notably Sen. Jackie Winters of Salem, the Senate’s only black member.

“I never meant to suggest that slavery was right,” Riley said Wednesday in a statement he read in the chamber.

“Slavery is an abomination. It’s a permanent stain on our nation’s heritage.”

After a long pause, he added: “Today, I want to apologize to my fellow senators and to every Oregonian. I ask your forgiveness and I hope we can work together to make every citizen of this state treated equally under the law.”

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day said he accepted the apology.

“I think the words I heard this morning were heartfelt and gracious and they are accepted well in the spirit in which they were offered,” Ferrioli said.

“We often say things that approach or even surpass the bounds of decorum. When we do these things, our colleagues call us to task. And in a cooler moment, a calmer moment, we think about these comments and perhaps regret them.”

Riley is the target of a recall effort based on his support for the background-checks legislation, which is awaiting a vote in the full House. It passed the Senate on a 17-13 vote.

The recall effort has not yet qualified for the ballot.

Riley, who was in the House from 2007 to 2011, unseated three-term Republican Sen. Bruce Starr of Hillsboro by a final margin of 287 votes of 36,000 cast for both of them in the 2014 election. A Libertarian candidate drew 3,593 votes.

Riley’s campaign received $75,000 from Everytown for Gun Safety, a movement supported by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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Clarifies that recall effort has not yet qualified for the ballot.

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