Rick Perry’s record on race in Texas is a m ixed bag
Rick Perry’s record on race in Texas is a mixed bag
AUSTIN — Racial divisions still run through Texas, and they swallowed part of Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign over the weekend with a revelation that his leased hunting ranch was known by a racist name.
For Perry friends and detractors alike in Texas, it has spurred outrage — at the implicit accusation that he is in any way bigoted but also at his penchant for slashing budgets and for partisan politics that have disproportionately affected blacks and Hispanics.
Perry’s 10-year record as governor includes his appointment of Hispanics and blacks to an impressive list of “firsts” in high-profile posts. He also has fought against some of the harder-line anti-illegal-immigration initiatives that Hispanics see as harmful.
But he also has cut education, health and scholarship programs, run political ads that underscored racial tensions and embraced “states’ rights,” conjuring memories of Jim Crow laws in the South.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who has worked closely with Perry’s office on economic development initiatives and has fiercely fought him on others, said there is bitter disappointment that Perry has not shown greater awareness.
“Is Governor Perry a racist? Absolutely not,” West said. But have his policies hurt black Texans? “That’s the reality,” the senator said.
The issues resurfaced when The Washington Post reported Sunday that Perry and his father, beginning in 1983, leased a 1,000-acre site whose name included the N-word. A large stone had the name painted at the gate.
Perry said that he saw the rock on one of his first trips to the leased land and called his father, who went out shortly after and painted over the word. The Post cited sources, some unidentified, with conflicting memories of when the rock was painted, including one who said it was a few years later than Perry claimed.
Rivals Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have knocked Perry for the sign and for failing to address it immediately, while a White House spokesman was less critical, noting that the governor agreed that the word was offensive.
Perry cited his family’s “quick” actions to paint over the rock even though they did not own or control the property. He also stressed that he has “a long and strong record of inclusiveness.”
Gordon “Doc” Arnold, a lobbyist who served with Perry in the House, told The Dallas Morning News that he didn’t see the offensive sign when he went hunting with Perry on the property in the late 1980s. He and other Perry associates from his legislative years defended the governor.
“I don’t think he ever uttered a racially insensitive word,” Arnold said.
Former House Speaker Gib Lewis, a Democrat, said it was not uncommon for geographical features to carry racially offensive names as a vestige of the post-Civil War South, but those references have largely been eliminated over the years.
Lewis said that in his dealings with Perry as a legislator and a state elected official, he’s never heard the governor express racial intolerance.
“It’s a cheap shot,” Lewis said. “I’ve known Rick ever since he came to the Legislature. I’ve been around him and I’ve never heard him say anything — and trust me, I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of racist things.”
Race has often been a factor in Texas politics. In 1990, Perry targeted Jim Hightower, the Democratic agriculture commissioner he unseated, with a TV ad that featured Hightower with civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson.
And in 2002, a Perry spot suggested that Democrat Tony Sanchez was complicit in laundering drug money through his South Texas bank, feeding a stereotype about Hispanics in the region.
Rep. Garnet Coleman , D-Houston, sees a political pattern, though. Coleman, who is black, cited the governor’s embrace of the tea party and some of its factions that have depicted President Barack Obama in racist ways.
Perry has championed state sovereignty and winked at secessionists, harking back to the days of the civil rights struggle.
Politicians carefully choose their words, Coleman said, and these are “code words to people.”
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said that the governor’s policies and budgets are aimed at fostering a strong economy and adequate education and the opportunities that those afford.
“The governor works for all Texans regardless of race, ethnicity or the sound of their last names,” Nashed said.
State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said that Perry’s conservative agenda in this year’s legislative session showed a callous disregard for minorities.
Perry set the tone when he made a measure to ban sanctuary cities one of his priorities, Villarreal said. The bill, which failed, would have prohibited cities from having policies that prevent police from questioning those they stop about their immigration status. Hispanic and black lawmakers have also said that the state’s new “voter ID” law will disproportionately keep minorities from casting ballots.
Villarreal also pointed to Perry’s insistence on balancing the budget with cuts alone, which slashed $4 billion from public schools and wiped out state support for pre-kindergarten instruction. Hispanics account for almost 75 percent of the growth in public schools over the past 10 years.
Perry’s minority appointments — 24 percent of the 5,700 people appointed — include the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and the secretary of state. Brian Newby, who is black, served as the governor’s general counsel and chief of staff. In Texas, nearly half percent the population is black or Hispanic.
The governor has made appointments based on qualifications, Nashed said, but “regardless of who they are, he’s proud of having made these appointments.”
West acknowledged that Perry has advanced minorities with those appointments but said the issue of racial progress ultimately comes back to the attitudes represented by the sign.
“Whoever put the sign up in the first place had evil thoughts about African-Americans,” he said. “Being there, whether the sign was painted or not, is not something I would want my governor associated with at all.”