Race became a flashpoint in Perry's 1990 campaign
October 3rd, 2011
05:57 PM ET
9 years ago

Race became a flashpoint in Perry's 1990 campaign

Washington (CNN) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry has found himself on the defensive after The Washington Post reported Sunday that a hunting ranch leased by the Perry family for decades was marked at its entrance by a rock painted with the word "Niggerhead."

But it's not the first time Perry has found himself dealing with the tricky subject of race in the heat of a campaign.

During Perry's 1990 campaign for Agriculture Commissioner against incumbent Democrat Jim Hightower -his first statewide race– Perry was accused of "race-baiting" after his campaign ran a television ad tying Hightower to Jesse Jackson.

Hightower backed Jackson's unsuccessful 1988 bid to become the first African-American president.

According to a pair of news reports from November of 1990, the Perry ad, which ran in the closing weeks of the campaign, depicted Hightower and Jackson side-by-side as a narrator asked: "Does Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower share your values?"

The ad also said that Hightower chaired Jackson's presidential campaign in Texas, a claim disputed by news reports about the race.

The Hightower campaign accused Perry of using racial scare tactics and assembled a group of African-American elected officials to condemn the ad at a press conference in Dallas, according to a Fort Worth Star Telegram story.

"It's racist, it's insulting, it's an affront to our community and we are downright mad about it," state Rep. Fred Blair said of the ad, according to the paper.

Hightower supporters said the spot was reminiscent of the now-infamous Willie Horton ad that helped derail Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign in 1988.

State Rep. Larry Evans, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus at the time, penned a letter to Perry accusing him of "race-baiting" and calling on his campaign to pull the ad.

"My request is based upon my knowledge of you as an honorable and racially sensitive man," Evans wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to CNN by the independent Democratic group American Bridge.

Perry refused to pull the ad and went on to win the race.

He blasted Hightower for pushing "a despicable, low-life smear" and called on the Democrat to apologize for "injecting racism" into the campaign, according to a Houston Post column from that November.

A spokesman for Perry's presidential campaign said the goal of the ad was simply to highlight Hightower's ties to one of the era's leading liberal politicians.

"Rev. Jackson led the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party in his 1988 presidential campaign and Jim Hightower was his Texas campaign chairman," said Ray Sullivan, Perry's communications director. "The 1990 TV ad truthfully highlighted Mr. Hightower's role in the '88 presidential campaign and truthfully demonstrated his very liberal politics to Texas general election voters."

Sullivan noted that a number of African-American officials from Texas have come forward in the wake of the Washington Post story to defend Perry against allegations of racism.

One of them who served with Perry in the state legislature before the 1990 race, former Democratic state Rep. Ron Wilson, told the Texas Tribune on Monday that the governor "doesn't have a racist bone in his body."

But Leland Beatty, one of Hightower's advisers on the 1990 campaign, recalls that Perry and his aides were unmistakably trying to tap into racial anxieties with the Jackson ad.

As Beatty remembers it, the Perry campaign was "obviously trying to scare people."

"Being a political professional, I know why people do those sorts of things, and they wanted to make people afraid," he told CNN.

Filed under: 2012 • Rick Perry • Texas
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. jeff

    welcome to the big leagues Mr Perry you had better lock that closet door im sure there is much more inside that will eventually come out should you win the nomination

    October 3, 2011 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  2. thomas

    New Photos Reveal Terrible Depth of Texas Drought !

    Massive chemical plant fire near Dallas can be seen from the Bush Museum !

    A massive fire was burning out of control Monday morning at a chemical plant in Waxahachie, located about 30 miles south of Dallas

    Firefighters were on the scene at the 1600 block of state Highway 287 at the Magnablend chemical company, which manufactures custom chemicals for a variety of industries, including oil fields, agriculture, pet food and feed supplements, water treatment, construction and industrial cleaning.

    Perry says slowing carbon emissions hurts economy
    Texas Governor Rick Perry, struggling to regain his status as front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, expressed fresh doubt on Saturday about whether humans are causing climate change.
    "I still stand by that the science is not settled on man-made global warming," Perry said while campaigning in the key early primary state of New Hampshire.

    Smoke on the Water , Fire inthe Sky !
    Perry / Enron 2012

    October 3, 2011 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  3. Ron

    Told you he is a fraud. Now, maybe you'll believe me! This guy is toast.

    October 3, 2011 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  4. Keith

    Racismin the south, in this day and age, give me a break. They gave it up right after the civil war, never to raise it's ugly head again.... Just ask any person of any color but white (white is a color you know) how lives there.

    October 3, 2011 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    The issue, was liberalism, vs. conservatism.

    TX is, after all,a conservative state, with fiercely independent people.

    Making a racial issue out of that, was totally dishonest.........something the Dems love to do, for any reason.

    October 3, 2011 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  6. Voice of Reason

    How long will we have to endure this feigned self-righteous nonsense? These guys remind me of those European occor starts who flop over on the ground holding their shin every time another player runs by... All the while looking out of the corner of their eye to assure that the refs have a good view.

    Cain and his manufactured indignation make me ill. (Not to say i dont think Perry perfectly capable of being a racist pig – I just really doubt this is what Cain lies awake at night worrying about). This has been repeated a hundred times over the last few months, and we will be forced to endure more... Some invented indignation over some inconceivable slight. rinse, repeat.

    I dont want some idiotic thin-skinned wimp who thinks the media is picking on them to be my President. I want someone who can rise above the nonsense, and dish it out or put an end to it when needed. How about someone with a little backbone for a change?

    October 3, 2011 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  7. Voice of Reason

    soccor stars, not occor starts. Guess I cant type today.

    October 3, 2011 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  8. Larry L

    I'm so shocked! Who would think people might consider a good ole' boy Texan closely tied to the right-wing oil men Tea Party types a racist? Duh. I'd like to see him placed under hypnosis and asked about the conversations around the campfire when he gets together with his West Texas buddies, has a couple of drinks and feel safe... and very white...

    October 3, 2011 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  9. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    First it was birther Trump, Anybody but Mittens. But, Perry is so yesterday, the new flavor is Christie chocked full of nuts. The Joisey governor will last about three weeks, and then the Kochs will realize that he is too left of center to govern, and pull their money out of his campaign.

    October 3, 2011 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  10. bobcat2u

    Patience people. You know they don't unload all their guns at one time. The whole truth is going to come out about this man, and then he'll have to slither back under his rock.

    October 3, 2011 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |