Legislative candidate Paula Davis was taken aback recently when a member of the Republican Party’s local executive committee told her that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” a comment others present said was made in jest.
Davis, a Republican, is running for the open District 69 House seat along with Republican Metro Councilman Ryan Heck and Democratic attorney Mark Holden. She said she was shocked when former School Board member Jerry Arbour uttered that phrase during her interview for the endorsement.
But Arbour insists he made the statement as a lighthearted joke.
The incident happened in August at the home of East Baton Rouge Republican Party Executive Committee chairman Woody Jenkins, where the candidates interviewed. Davis talked to the committee first, and then Jenkins asked her to wait in his kitchen — as all candidates were asked to do — while her opponent, Heck, interviewed.
“A woman’s place is in the kitchen,” Arbour added.
Davis said she turned to him and said, “I can’t believe you just said that.”
The committee’s vice chairwoman and School Board member Connie Bernard heard the remark and said Arbour didn’t intend to offend Davis.
“I made that comment in a joking matter because it was a tense, relatively long meeting,” Arbour said. “I didn’t think anything of it, nor did anyone else. When I found out she took offense to it, I went and apologized.”
Davis said Arbour would not have needed to apologize if his comment was actually a joke. She said his tone was serious.
“I said, ‘What you said disgusts me,’ ” Davis said she told Arbour after his apology.
Arbour said he is not a chauvinist and that his comment does not represent his views on women. He said he has supported multiple women’s bids for public office, including 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham and former Commissioner of Elections Suzanne Terrell.
Jenkins said he did not hear Arbour’s comment, though he was in the room at the time. He said Arbour’s statement was not offensive, unless someone is “hypersensitive.”
“It was completely meaningless,” Jenkins said. “It’s just how people talk, it’s just lighthearted banter. It’s no big deal.”
Jenkins said the committee will endorse a candidate for the Oct. 24 election, but they have not announced their endorsement yet.
“We try to be fair and equitable to everyone without regard to gender or race,” Bernard said about the endorsement process.
Neither of Davis’ opponents said they agree with what Arbour said.
Heck, who sits on the executive committee but was outside of the room when the incident happened, said Arbour’s statement does not reflect the beliefs of the committee or the Republican Party as a whole. Holden described himself as “pro-family and pro-women’s rights.”
Davis said the comment lit a fire under her campaign, but that she does not want people to vote for her only because she is a woman. She said she would rather people vote for her based on her experience as a former Louisiana deputy commissioner of insurance.
“A woman’s place is in the kitchen, in the board room, in the Legislature, wherever she wants it to be,” Davis said.