tennessee governor remembers "chinese coolies"

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recently traveled to China on a trade mission. In an email he wrote to Tennessee newspapers while traveling in Beijing, he used the term "coolie" to describe China's industrial boom in comparison to the Chinese railroad workers of the 1800s American West:
The scale, the energy, the focus of this place is astonishing. I've thought of China as a giant, poor third world country (remember those Chinese coolies who built the railroads?) now charging onto the industrial stage for the first time.
In some circles, this is actually considered an ethnic slur. My guess is, the Governor has no idea, because he's kind of a fool. This blog at the Tennessean.com raises the question: Uh, governor, did you really mean to write that? And here's a follow-up post, with the Governor's surly retort: Bredesen shares his thoughts on historic Chinese laborers. Yes, Governuh. I do remember the Chinese coolies who built the railroads. They worked their asses off but were excluded from the photo taken at Promontory. What's up with that?