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Shelley Luther, a Republican candidate for Texas House and hairdresser who became a hero of the anti-lockdown movement during the coronavirus pandemic, recently said in a since-deleted tweet that Chinese students should not be allowed to attend Texas colleges.
“Chinese students should be BANNED from attending all Texas universities,” Luther said in the Wednesday tweet. “No more Communists!”
In a follow-up tweet that is still online, Luther said the state's taxpayers "should not be subsidizing the next generation of CCP leaders," referring to the Chinese Communist Party. In a subsequent tweet, she said it is "common sense" that CCP members "should not have access to our schools."
On Friday, state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat from Houston who is Chinese-American, condemned Luther's comments and asked her to publicly apologize.
"Luther’s statements are ignorant, hateful, and incite violence against not only Chinese Americans, but all Asian Americans," Wu said in a statement. "To casually conflate all Chinese students in America with actual registered members of the ruling party in the People’s Republic of China is not only ignorance of an extreme nature, it is also the type of rhetoric that drives anti-Asian hate crimes."
Republican leaders were virtually quiet about Luther's tweet, but one Republican in the Texas House, Rep. Jacey Jetton of Richmond, who is Asian American, tweeted Sunday that the GOP "should stand against cancelling Chinese Students on college campuses."
Asked for comment Friday, Luther declined to apologize and attacked Wu, who was among the House Democrats who broke quorum and went to Washington, D.C., last year in protest of Republicans' priority elections bill.
"It doesn’t surprise me that a socialist Democrat who doesn’t even know how to show up to work thinks the position that communist Chinese citizens should not access taxpayer funded state institutions is racist," Luther said in a statement to The Texas Tribune.
Luther's comments came as anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise. They increased by more than 73% in 2020, according to recent FBI data, far outpacing all hate crimes, which increased 13%.
Luther is challenging state Rep. Reggie Smith, R-Sherman, in the March primary for House District 62, which is in North Texas along the Oklahoma border. The district favors Republicans, so whoever wins between Smith and Luther is set to hold the seat after November.
Luther became nationally known at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when she refused to shut down her Dallas salon in defiance of emergency orders. She was sentenced to a week in jail but was released after only a few days, via a motion granted by the Texas Supreme Court.
She became a vocal critic of Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, and ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in a special election later that year.
Jetton, the House Republican, directly pushed back against Luther in a series of tweets, saying it was an "attempt to score cheap political points" by conflating all Chinese people with their government.
"You certainly don’t speak for Republicans or Texans like me," Jetton said to Luther. "I hope the people of HD 62 use their votes to show they don’t agree with your brand of fear-based pandering either."