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Vt. legislator faults colleague on race remarks

MONTPELIER — The Republican leader in the Vermont House is criticizing a fellow GOP lawmaker over comments widely seen as racially insensitive.

Representative Don Turner, the House minority leader, said Friday that he was disturbed by remarks made Thursday by Representative Douglas Gage of Rutland during debate on a bill requiring statewide training of police against racial profiling.

‘‘I’m troubled by comments like that from anybody,’’ Turner said. ‘‘It’s concerning that anyone would make comments like that.’’

During Thursday’s debate, Gage quoted someone he said was an African-American neighbor in Rutland as disparaging other people of color moving into the Rutland area and dealing drugs.

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‘‘He was upset with them. He said many of them were drug dealers. This is his words, not mine,’’ Gage said. ‘‘He said they’re couch surfers. They lived with, he used the term, ‘white girls.’’’

Gage said the man told him many of the people he was disparaging were drug dealers and were giving him — the neighbor — a bad reputation.

‘‘This was his complaint to me,’’ Gage said.

Gage also said he had gotten to know and become friendly with many blacks in his work as a volunteer teacher at the prison in Rutland.

Several other House members, and some in the audience Thursday, said the comments displayed racial bias.

In an interview Friday, Turner said, ‘‘I know Doug and I’m sure his comments weren’t meant to be hurtful or harm anyone, but you have to be sensitive in what you say.’’

During his comments, and in a later interview, Gage stressed that the words were not his own and that he was describing what his neighbor had told him.

Turner made it clear that he still believes Gage’s comments were unwise.

‘‘I wouldn’t want to take that message and try to convey it to a third party,’’ he said.

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