As the Washington Post reported this weekend:
In the early years of his political career, Rick Perry began hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance.
“Niggerhead,” it read.
Ranchers who once grazed cattle on the 1,070-acre parcel on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River called it by that name well before Perry and his father, Ray, began hunting there in the early 1980s. There is no definitive account of when the rock first appeared on the property. In an earlier time, the name on the rock was often given to mountains and creeks and rock outcroppings across the country. Over the years, civil rights groups and government agencies have had some success changing those and other racially offensive names that dotted the nation’s maps.
But the name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor. Some locals still call it that. As recently as this summer, the slablike rock – lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint – remained by the gated entrance to the camp…
In the aftermath of this story, the presidential campaign of Rick Perry has gone into full-scale damage control mode, insisting that the slab painted with the word “Niggerhead” at the entrance to his hunting ranch had been painted over in the 1980s–a claim disputed by the Washington Post based on eyewitness testimony, one former worker at the ranch claiming it was visible “as recently as 2008.” Primary opponent Herman Cain has condemned the name of Perry’s hunting ranch as “insensitive,” and Perry himself (obviously) isn’t trying to defend it so much as he is running from it as fast as he can. There’s no question it’s a distraction the already-flagging Perry campaign doesn’t need, and will further repulse Republican voters in Northern states like New Hampshire–who already aren’t plussed by a perceived intellectual lightweight Texas governor. How about an intellectual lightweight racist redneck Texas governor?
That would make it official: the Republican ticket is ready for a new savior.
The reason that this story is so damaging for Perry is in large part because it is both simple and memorable. Rick Perry’s Family Ranch was Called “Niggerhead”. Was it still called “Niggerhead” two years ago? 10 years ago? We understand the spin that Perry’s camp is trying to do here, but it really doesn’t make that much difference when they may have tried to paint over the name. It’s Perry’s family ranch, it’s been there for awhile, and you can apparently see the name even though it was painted-over. This story is so easy to use to bludgeon Perry in advertisements that it will likely be absolutely crippling to his campaign, no matter what they say about it. There’s no amount of spin that will fix this now; Team Perry needed to stop this from coming out in the first place. This horse will not go back into any barn any time soon.
One thing we should note in Gov. Perry’s possible defense. Perry has a close friend and hunting partner in former Colorado gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis–each has bragged about trips hunting with the other, so it’s a reasonable assumption that McInnis has been to, uh, “Niggerhead.” Somebody should ask McInnis if he ever saw the “Niggerhead” sign Perry claims was painted over in the 1980s, right? Did Perry ever mention the sign over a beer on the hunt? Discuss having gotten rid of it? Acknowledged it was a stupid thing for a politician to display?
Don’t ask McInnis if he wrote it, just ask if he ever saw it.