FULLERTON, Calif. -- A Southern California GOP official who sent an email depicting President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee said Wednesday she considered the email political satire – not racist – and would not step down, even as local party leaders called for her resignation and launched an ethics investigation.
Speaking publicly for the first time outside her Fullerton home, Marilyn Davenport read from a written apology she first issued two days ago and said her constituents were urging her not to resign her position on the Republican Party's Orange County Central Committee.
The press conference came as Obama arrived in San Francisco for a three-day visit that will also bring the president to Los Angeles on Thursday for a fundraising event.
"I feel that it was inappropriate and I offended people," Davenport said, flanked by her husband and by longtime GOP activist Tim Whitacre, who organized the press event.
"I think it's only racist when the intent in my heart is to make it that way, and that was not the intent in my heart," she said.
Davenport, who is serving her fourth two-year term, acknowledged that she didn't send the email to some friends because she felt they would be offended. She added, however, that she only saw the image as political satire about "all that's going on with (Obama's) birth certificate."
Some voters have maintained since the latest presidential election that Obama is ineligible to hold the nation's highest elected office because, they say, he was actually born in Kenya, his father's homeland. Obama's mother was an American citizen.
Hawaii officials have repeatedly confirmed Obama's citizenship, and his Hawaiian birth certificate has been made public. Courts have rebuffed lawsuits challenging Obama's eligibility.
Davenport said she's not sure if that birth certificate is real or not and said she felt uneasy about the president's background.
"My position would be I am concerned, knowing what the responsibility is of a president," Davenport said. "I guess we should know his origin, shouldn't we? ... I guess I wonder why he doesn't tell us."
Until Wednesday, Davenport had not publicly addressed the firestorm created by her email, which depicts three chimps dressed in human clothes sitting as if for a family portrait. Obama's face is superimposed over the baby chimp's face and the text under the image reads, "Now you know why -- No birth certificate!"
The fallout has been particularly embarrassing for Republicans in Orange County, one of the most conservative counties in the nation with a strong tea party presence and home to an attorney who has been at the forefront of the legal challenges to Obama's citizenship.
Davenport's email is also the latest in a series of gaffes by local GOP leaders.
In 2003, Newport Beach Councilman Dick Nichols said he wouldn't vote to add more grass to the swanky Corona del Mar beach because there were already "too many Mexicans" there. Last year, then-Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose passed around an email after Obama's inauguration that depicted a watermelon patch on the White House lawn.
In February, Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, who is also the local party's first vice chairman, drew national criticism after making what many interpreted as anti-Muslim remarks outside a fundraiser by an Islamic group.
Davenport aligned herself with several of those politicians and her email last Friday was a third strike, said Michael Schroeder, former Orange County GOP chairman. Schroeder was the one who alerted the media about the email, he told The Associated Press on Wednesday, and is coming under fire from Davenport's supporters.
"Part of the reason why I felt that I needed to immediately and very publicly denounce this as soon as it hit my computer is that this is someone who has a pattern," Schroeder said. "She needs to take responsibility at this point."
Davenport said Schroeder's claims about her past behavior are untrue.
One of her supporters, the GOP activist Whitacre, said he fears the public condemnation of Davenport by GOP leaders is politically motivated.
"When I saw what was going on with this dear lady ... I was not about to let her get thrown under the bus," he said. "Our public needs to hear straight from Marilyn Davenport what went on, her mindset" when she forwarded the email.
She represents the 72nd Assembly District in Orange County on the committee, which is made up of volunteer officials elected for two-year terms. The group is tasked with fundraising, campaigning and debating policy for the Republican Party.
She will be up for re-election in 2012.