Perry campaign in freefall as problems with race, homophobia surface

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign has taken heat for his family’s hunting property, which is named after a racist term. But it’s not his only problem with race: A number of members of his campaign team have a history with inflammatory rhetoric on racial issues, as well as LGBT rights. And, Perry’s campaign is also taking fire from mainstream conservative Christians who view his associations with the New Apostolic Reformation with a great deal of suspicion.

Late last week, the House of Representatives failed to pass a resolution introduced by Democrats to call on Perry to apologize for not immediately getting rid of a rock that read “Niggerhead” at hunting grounds he and his family leased.

The resolution also asks Perry to “condemn the use of this word as being totally offensive and inappropriate at anytime and anyplace in United States history” and to “list the names of all lawmakers, friends, and financial supporters he took with him on his hunting trips at ‘Niggerhead.’”

Perry has defended his family’s actions, saying that the rock was painted and then turned over many years ago.

Campaign manager’s controversial history on race

Perry’s campaign manager in South Carolina, Katon Dawson is the former head of the South Carolina Republican Party. He came under scrutiny in 2009 when he was running to be the chair of the Republican National Committee and it was revealed that he was a member of a “whites-only” country club.

When the press reported on his membership in the club, Dawson said he had been working to get the club to change its membership practices. Dawson was a member of the club for 12 years before he announced that he had resigned in 2009.

At the time, an interview with Dawson done in 2003 surfaced that seemed to indicate that Dawson became involved in politics because he disagreed with desegregation in the 1960s:

I, in the 1960s was a product of school segregation, where we took our schools and completely disbanded them, and made racial equality. Fifty-Fifty. And the kids had no choices. They closed Booker T. Washington, Blease, down here. A pretty good school. Closed it and sent the students to A. C. Flora, across town. And they did it over the summer because the laws had been changed by the politicians. And, the day that school opened, we were on CBS news with the busses turned upside down, and one of them lit on fire. By folks who didn’t want to go to school there. Not folks who did.

The end of that story was, I was standing in a bathroom in public school… This scar over here [pointing to his forehead] was from a baseball bat. I will tell you it was a pretty harsh environment. Government reached into my life and grabbed me and shook me at the age of fifteen. I remember how blatant it was that government just thought that they knew better, that government just thought they knew better what to do in my school. And I can’t say it was so much racial. I can say that people had a lot of stuff thrust on them because politicians thought they knew better. Whether they did or didn’t, I don’t know. But from that day on I’ve always been politically active, and wanted my voice heard. Not always right. And my opinion is not always consistent with everyone else’s. but I care greatly about the State we live in, and greatly about the idea of freedom.

The controversy died down until reporters in South Carolina found evidence of Dawson being involved in more whites-only clubs. Dawson was an officer in the Camellia Ball and the Columbia Ball, two clubs that restrict membership to white, privileged families.

And in 2010, the South Carolina-based Fits News reported Dawson hadn’t actually quit the whites-only club while he was running for RNC chair. The news outlet alleges that Dawson merely paid in advance for his membership while he took a leave from the club.

Anti-LGBT

Perry’s Iowa team has several members that are opposed to LGBT rights.

Matthew Whitaker is Perry’s Iowa co-chair. He was a federal prosecutor from 2004 to 2009.

In February 2007, Whitaker emceed an event for the Iowa Christian Alliance, an anti-gay group headed by Steve Scheffler. Whitaker’s involvement sparked criticism from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State which said members of the federal judicial system should remain impartial.

“Appearing at an event like this certainly raises legitimate questions,” Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United told the Associated Press. “It’s important that our federal prosecutors present the image of impartiality and that they not be captive to the extreme agenda of special interest groups.”

Also in 2007, Whitaker brought an extortion case against openly gay Democratic Iowa state Sen. Matt McCoy who was quickly acquitted by a jury when the case went to trial in 2007. State Sen. McCoy and his attorney accused Whitaker of prosecuting the case based on politics.

McCoy told the Advocate at the time, “Since coming out as an openly gay man, I have been a continuous target of groups targeting gays to advance their own agendas of intolerance and hate. Clearly, there is significant speculation about what has motivated federal officials to take this action against me.”

Perry’s central Iowa field staffer, Dane Nealson, is the former chair of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans and he was livid when marriage equality for same-sex couples came to the state.

“I find it disturbing that a handful of activists in black robes have reversed the decision of our elected officials over a decade ago and gone against the will of the Iowan people,” he said in 2009. “But this is the problem you’ll run into when you’ve had ten years of Democratic Governors appointing liberal judges who legislate from the bench. It is especially disappointing to see Governor [Chet] Culver and Senator [Mike] Gronstal reversing earlier statements saying they were committed to protecting marriage as being between one man and one woman, even as their constituents look to them for leadership to defend marriage. Flip flopping on issues such as this is not leadership. Because of this, we must let Iowans decide. Let the citizens of our state make their voices heard in a vote on the issue.”

Some of Perry’s surrogates are more vocal in their opposition to gays and lesbians.

New Hampshire state Rep. Alfred Baldasaro made headlines in that state several weeks ago when he praised a GOP-debate audience for booing a gay soldier, Stephen Hill.

“He doesn’t realize it, but when the (expletive) hits the fan, you want your brothers covering your back, not looking at your back,” Baldasaro said.

Baldasaro endorsed Perry and has campaigned for him in New Hampshire. When Democrats called on him to apologize, he doubled down on his statement.

“Oh no, I thought the audience, when they booed (Hill), I thought it was great,” he said.

He told the Union Leader that he doesn’t speak for Perry. “I’m not speaking for Governor Rick Perry. I’m speaking for myself as an American with a First Amendment right to free speech,” he said.

Perry’s traveling press secretary, Robert Black, once compared the Log Cabin Republicans to the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1998, the Republican Party of Texas denied the Texas Log Cabin Republicans a booth at the state convention and Black, who was communications director for the party at the time, told the press the Log Cabin Republicans were a “deviant group” like the Ku Klux Klan and, “We don’t allow pedophiles, transvestites and cross- dressers, either.”

Perry also picked an anti-gay activist to chair his Florida debate team. John Stemberger is head of the Florida Family Policy Council and successfully spearheaded the campaign to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the Florida Constitution.

Stemberger has made some controversial statements in his time amongst the religious right in Florida.

Stemberger was caught in a flap over adoption by same-sex couples when his group used a false picture to make a lesbian couple look bad. He also compared same-sex marriage to suicide.

An attorney, Stemberger once sued a company for renting a car to someone of Irish descent because they are likely to get drunk. In court papers, Stemberger argued that the company “knew or should have known about the unique cultural and ethnic customs existing in Ireland which involve the regular consumption of alcohol at ‘Pubs’ as a major component to Irish social life.” He added the car company “knew or should have known that Sean McGrath would have a high propensity to drink alcohol.”

The Florida Bar filed a misconduct complaint against Stemberger last year for his involvement in a high-profile case of a Muslim teen who converted to Christianity and ran away from her Ohio home to Florida. It was eventually dropped.

New Apostolic Reformation and The Response

Perhaps the most controversial of Perry’s surrogates are those affiliated with a controversial branch of Christianity, the New Apostolic Reformation, and The Response, a gathering of conservative Christians in Texas this summer.

Stemberger’s partner in Perry’s campaign is Pam Olsen. Olsen is a member of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which believes harmful spirits such as Baal have taken over geographic and political areas and, through spiritual mapping, they can be identified and eliminated.

Olsen is the head of the Tallahassee branch of the International House of Prayer which helped organize Perry’s The Response event in Texas two months ago.

Olsen says God will bring natural disasters to America because of the legalization of gay rights. She also says in the “end times,” God will give her the power to raise the dead.

Mainstream evangelicals have criticized Perry’s involvement with NAR members. Brannon Howse, who hosts a series of “Worldview Weekends around the Midwest and South, criticized the movement and those who latch onto it for political support.

“This is what people think is Christianity and it is not. This isn’t biblical orthodox Christianity,” Howse said recently on his radio program.

Perry’s deputy communications director Eric Bearse was also involved in The Response, as the event’s spokesperson. He appeared on the radio program of the American Family Association, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-gay hate group, to explain that the event was intended for people of all faiths to get to know Jesus Christ.

“A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths,” he said. “But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ. And that’s the message we want to spread on August 6.”

Along with the International House of Prayer, TheCall Ministries, a national prayer organization founded by evangelist Lou Engle, helped organize The Response. Engle has called for the need to convert gays, lesbians and Muslims, among other harsh rhetoric about the LGBT community. Engle led a rally of around 1,300 people in Uganda in May 2010 in support of the country’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

Leaders of the NAR movement, though not working for Perry’s campaign, have a demonstrated history of making controversial assertions.

Cindy Jacobs, a prophet in the movement, recently said the United States is cursed because Native Americans, who “did blood sacrifice,” “were cannibals” and “ate people.” She said The Response, led by Perry, was a key to eliminating that curse.

“[T]he land is starting to rejoice, you see, because of that prayer,” said Jacobs.

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Andy Birkey

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