Perry's 'ranch problem' injects racism into GOP race

According to the Washington Post, Texas governor and Republican 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Perry has a “ranch problem”. For years, including some during his tenure as governor, he and his family hosted hunting and other events at a West Texas hunting camp they leased called “Ni**erhead”.

Perry has offered varying accounts of when “the name painted in block letters across a large, flat (3-by-5 foot) rock standing upright at its gated entrance” was painted over. Basically, Perry states that his parents painted over the name in 1983 or 1984.

According to the Post, “Perry’s version of events differs in many respects from the recollections of seven people…who spoke in detail of their memories of seeing the rock with the name at various points during the years that Perry was associated with the property.” Some believe they saw it as recently as 2008.

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The Post is correct in stating that names such as these were “once applied to products such as soap and chewing tobacco” and “most often to geographic features such as hills and rocks” but this issues should raise a number of questions about Gov. Perry and his campaign.

What impact will this have on Perry’s campaign? It was just over seven weeks ago that Christian Conservative and Tea Party backed Gov. Rick Perry entered the Republican race for president as the Washington Times called him, “the instant superstar many political observers expected.”

Since that time this “instant superstar” has been ridiculed for calling Social Security a “ponzi scheme”, offended with his base over his support of tax-payer backed college tuition for illegal immigrants, and performed poorly in a series of debate performances. This particular issue will not bring an end to his quest for the presidency but Perry is dying a death of a thousand cuts, most of them self-inflicted.

How does a self-proclaimed Christian conservative square the racially offensive name of this property with his religious beliefs? According to the Texas Tribune, just a few days before he announced his candidacy Gov. Perry during a private meeting with potential evangelical conservative donors that same weekend Perry promised them, “I can assure you that there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for president.”
Where’s the outrage from evangelicals and Perry supporters such as Rev. James Dobson, James Lininger, and Richard Viguerie? Where’s the outrage from Bachmann, Santorum, and Romney? As Dr. King once said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Rick Perry is a Southern governor who is strongly backed by the Tea Party. Does the fact that a place like “Ni**erhead” existed as recently as four years ago say any thing about the South, where the Tea Party is most dominant? When looking at the Tea Party and our contentious political landscape from a broader historical perspective what you see is that our current dysfunctional situation is not a recent development but the culmination of a conservative backlash that can be traced back to 1948 and the rise of the states’ rights Democratic Party, which quickly became known as the Dixiecrats

The Dixiecrat party was formed after thirty-five Democratic delegates from Mississippi and Alabama walked out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention. These delegates were protesting the adoption of Senator Hubert Humphrey’s (D-MN) proposal of civil rights planks calling for racial integration and the reversal of Jim Crow laws in the party platform. We see the vestiges of this bigotry in the Tea Party politics of today.

In the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights report Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party movement and the Size, Scope, and Function of Its National Factions it says from the outset, “the majority of movement supporters are people of good will.” But, integrated into their calls for a reduction of the budget deficit and smaller government are concerns about race, sexual orientation, national identity, national birth rights, and who qualifies to be an American.

As the Tea Party movement has taken shape amidst this fiscal rhetoric; racist, white-nationalist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and anti-Semitic elements have found their way into the “movement”. In his book White Nationalism Black Interest the late Dr. Ronald Walters described this phenomenon as the politics of resentment. Dr. King called it white backlash.

When asked about this issue on Fox News Sunday, fellow Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, said, “There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the ‘n word,’ and for him to leave it there as long as they did is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”

Herman Cain is right but he did not go far enough. This is more than “insensitive” this is reprehensible and provides great insight into the core of Gov. Rick Perry and how he was raised. This was acceptable and “business as usual” in Perry’s home of Haskell County where they just started celebrating the birthday of Dr. King two years ago. According to Haskell County Judge David Davis while looking at a window, “It’s just a name…like those are vertical blinds…It’s just what it was called. ”

The vestiges of racism in America are dying long slow deaths. One does not have to look but to the top of the Republican field, to “the instant superstar many political observers expected” to see how deep they run.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to or email:

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