OKLAHOMA CITY — In a Feb. 20 meeting of the Oklahoma Senate Education Committee, state Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, invoked Nazi officer Josef Mengele when criticizing school choice legislation being considered by the committee.
“I have told other senators I call this bill the 'Dr. Josef Mengele bill' because it is intended to kill public education,” Sharp said of Senate Bill 560, legislation authored by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. The bill would create an education savings account (ESA) program.
“Dr. Mengele was a doctor in Nazi Germany who would bleed his victims slowly and see how long they could survive. That is just what this bill does. We are slowly draining public education’s money to see how long it can survive.
“This bill will bleed public education, and Oklahoma's schools will die slowly. So just keep that in mind, senators. If you vote for this bill, you should know what you are voting for.”
Mengele was a Nazi SS officer and the lead physician overseeing the extermination and human experimentation programs at Auschwitz, the World War II concentration camp. He had a particular fascination with human experiments on identical twins and people with physical abnormalities. Known as the “Angel of Death,” Mengele was infamous for the cruelties he inflicted on his prisoners.
CIJ has requested a statement from Sharp, a retired schoolteacher, regarding his characterization of the bill. Sharp has not responded to CIJ’s request for comment.
Jason Bedrick, the director of policy at the school choice organization EdChoice, called Sharp’s remarks “truly shocking.” A former state legislator, Bedrick was the first Orthodox Jew elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
“It should be obvious that comparisons to one of the more vile human rights violators in history do not belong in conversations about legislation seeking to expand educational opportunities for children,” Bedrick said. “The focus should be on making sure that every child finds a school that fits his or her individual learning needs, but it is extremely difficult to have a civil conversation about the best way to educate our kids when our elected officials are making outrageous and offensive references to Nazi Germany.”
Rabbi A. D. Motzen was also critical of Sharp’s remarks. Motzen is the national director of state relations at Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization committed to strengthening Jewish communities and religious education.
“If the reports of what was said at a recent education committee are accurate, state Sen. Sharp could not have reached for a more farfetched or more offensive comparison,” Motzen said. “Trying to prevent Oklahoma parents from making choices about their children’s education is disturbing enough. As to invoking a Nazi murderer who performed cruel experiments on children and sent countless innocent victims to their deaths, well, there simply aren’t words to describe that.”
Motzen said Sharp’s statements were inexcusable and a particular affront to him because his great grandparents and many of his relatives were held at Auschwitz. He said that most of them were killed there.
“Unfortunately, in our society today, too many people feel that they have to resort to extreme hyperbole to make their point,” state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, told CIJ. Stanislawski is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
“Dr. Mengele killed people while ESA’s certainly do not. In addition, the senator got so emotional that I believe he did breach the Senate decorum. When someone gets highly emotional it is impossible to have true civil discourse and honest debate of issues which I believe the Senate should be having.
“Establishing public policy can get messy at times, but if we will remain respectful of each other there is no limit to what we can do as Oklahomans,” Stanislawski said.