Social media post scorches GOP chairman

LISBON — The Columbiana County Republican Party chairman has apologized after coming under criticism from Democrats for a Facebook post saying the California wildfires were “God’s punishment to liberal California.”

“To err is human. I confess to erring in my recent post regarding the tragic wildfires in California. My intent was not to show any disrespect to the innocent lives that have been lost to these wildfires but rather to point out the policies that have largely contributed to the fires,” David Johnson said in a statement issued after igniting a political social media firestorm that caught the attention of some national news outlets.

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras called Johnson’s meme posted Monday “vile and disgusting, and the people in the Republican Party should hold their leaders to a standard of decency.”

Columbiana County Democratic Party Chairman Nick Barborak issued his own news release Tuesday, saying Republicans need to hold their chairman accountable.

“I find Mr. Johnson’s post to be despicable and, as a Christian, highly offensive,” he said.

Betras called for Johnson to resign as chairman, but Barborak said that should be up to Republicans.

“So far their silence speaks volumes. This must be acceptable to them. If it is not, they should speak out,” Barborak said.

Johnson said he has no intention of resigning. He posted the meme after reading a story by a conservative online news site about how in 2016 California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bipartisan wildfire management bill passed by the state Legislature that would have given local governments more say in identifying high-risk wildfire areas.

His post, which has since been removed, included a photograph of the wildfire and the words “God’s punishment to liberal California” and “Hell on Earth, brought to you by the liberals in California.”

“Look, it was an inartful expression and for that, look, I regret it sincerely. I certainly didn’t intend to offend or hurt the feelings of anybody (whose) lives have been affected by this, and if I did that I am certainly sorry,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he just meant to draw attention to the fact government policies have contributed to the wildfire problem.

“Memes on social media can be hard hitting,” he said. “I will be the first to admit that mine was hard hitting. It was not meant the way it came out. I am genuinely sorry for it.”

Barborak said what Johnson really means by the post is “individuals who do not agree with him politically are evil and deserve what he refers to as ‘Hell on Earth’ as punishment. This extreme and hateful rhetoric only serves to further divide a nation that has become cynical about politics.”

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