It wasn't too many hours ago when there was zero chance that teams of Los Angeles television news crews would have staked out Marilyn Davenport's ranch-style home in a gorgeous hillside Fullerton neighborhood and demanded on-camera interviews.
Davenport has stopped answering her front door, but anxious reporters keep coming. Members of the media point cameras at her house from the street, so she's had to lower her shades. A local political blog published her home address and private telephone number, causing her to worry about her safety. She's had to take the phone off the hook because, she says, anonymous people have been leaving voice mail messages calling her "vulgar things like 'whore.'" Her husband Dick--a tall, elderly man with an easy smile and polite manners--is "not happy at all about this, naturally."
I'm sitting and facing Davenport in her living room. There's a brown couch, beige carpet, a ceramic duck on the coffee table and a lone, framed rural scenic painting on a beige wall over a credenza displaying family photographs. A piano sits in a corner of the room. There's nothing visibly flashy or garish in the house--so, in that sense it's hard to imagine that this woman has, at least temporarily, won herself a scandalous place in history.
I ask Davenport to describe what she believes has been her ordeal. Her shoulders slump. She sighs, shakes her head slowly and says, "I understand why everyone is contacting me. I wasn't wise in sending the email out. I shouldn't have done it. I really wasn't thinking when I did it. I had poor judgment."
Davenport says she looks forward to regaining her good reputation.
(c) Photograph by R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
Davenport says that she received the doctored photo of a chimpanzee Obama from a Tea Bagger based on the media frenzy prompted by New York billionaire Donald Trump rehashing claims that the president might have been born in Africa and, therefore, disqualified to occupy the White House.
Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, and Michael J. Schroeder, former chairman of the California Republican Party, have denounced the email as racist and are demanding that Davenport resign her seat on the party board.
"I'm not going to resign," Davenport tells me. "I really have no plans to do so. My constituents have told me not to resign, and I'm very happy with their support. Everybody who knows me says they can't believe people are calling me a racist. I am not a racist, but I do think I need to apologize again with different words."
She grabs a single sheet of paper and begins to read an unfinished statement she may publicly release as early as tonight.
"Basically, I want people to know that I humbly apologize and ask for forgiveness for my unwise behavior," she reads, glancing up in between sentences. "Before I sent that email, I should have stopped to think about the historical implications [of depicting a black man as an ape]. That can be offensive. Obviously, I have unintentionally offended others, and I am so sorry."
She pauses, scans her draft statement and then looks back at me.
"Basically, what I'm saying is that as a Christian I won't ever repeat this," she says. "I will be much wiser from now on."
Several hours after this interview, Davenport--who cites Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater as her political heroes--released her formal statement, called herself "an imperfect Christian lady" and quoted the Bible in asking for forgiveness.
"I want you to know that I humbly receive your rebuke," she wrote.
In response to this story, Schroeder said he is "pleased that Marilyn Davenport has elected to accept responsibility for her actions." He called her remarks "sincere and complete."
"I think the healing process can now begin," said Schroeder. "And the party's ethics committee should take this apology into account when it decides what to do."
But Schroeder still believes Davenport should step down.
"Unfortunately, at this point, it's in the best interests of both the Republican Party and Mrs. Davenport that she resign," he said.
Baugh told me in a telephone interview tonight that Davenport's apology in this story is "more like the Marilyn I know--a sweet woman."
But, like Schroeder, he said, "the damage to the Republican Party has been done by her and I still think she should resign."
Tim Whitacre, a former U.S. Marine and a longtime Republican activist, said that calls for Davenport to resign are now "ludicrous."
"Marilyn has the support of her constituency," he said. "She should not step down. She is a great lady without a mean bone in her body."