Rick Perry Accused of Running ‘Race-Baiting’ Ads in 1990

(Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has rebutted criticism for leasing hunting grounds that once featured a stone marker bearing a racist name for the property, but this is not the first time he has been the subject of questions about racial issues.

During his 1990 campaign for agriculture commissioner, which he won, Perry ran ads against his opponent, Democrat Jim Hightower, which critics described as “race baiting,” according to news reports from the time.

A 1990 Fort Worth Star Telegram article detailed several African-American elected officials’ expressing concern that the ads were along the same line as the Willie Horton ads Republicans used in the 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis. Those ads were critical of Massachusetts’ weekend furlough program. They depicted Horton, who is black, as a menacing-looking convicted murderer who was furloughed under the program and then committing additional crimes.

The two Perry ads included footage of Hightower’s appearances with Jesse Jackson, whom Hightower endorsed in the 1988 presidential election. One ad featured a voiceover while the photos of Jackson and Hightower were shown, asking “Does Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower share your values?” and the second ad asked “Do Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower’s scandals bother you?” while also highlighting some of Hightower’s questionable acts.

In a 1990 letter written to Perry, provided by the Democratic group American Bridge, a leader of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus warned that Perry’s ads were along the lines of “race-baiting” and requested he stop running the ads.

“Given the foregoing, and in the spirit of genuine racial harmony and cooperation, please refrain from campaign tactics which appeal to the worse in us all,” Larry Evans, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, wrote. “My request is based upon my knowledge of you as an honorable and racially sensitive man.”

A spokesman for Perry’s presidential campaign said the ads were simply intended to highlight Hightower’s ties to one of the most liberal politicians in the Democratic Party.

“Rev. Jackson led the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party in his 1988 presidential campaign and Jim Hightower endorsed and worked on his behalf,” Ray Sullivan, communications director for Perry, told ABC News. “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.

“The same ad also mentioned Hightower’s unkind words about George H.W. Bush (a Texan) and Hightower comments about flag-burning.

“Supporting a very liberal presidential candidate, bashing Bush and seeming to be unbothered by flag-burning. Not Texas values, so said the ad. Voters agreed.”

Several lawmakers came to Perry’s defense today in an article in the Texas Tribune after Sunday’s Washington Post report on Perry’s involvement with a property that once bore a racist name.

Wallace Jefferson, the first black chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, told the Texas Tribune the controversy about the name of the hunting grounds the Perry family leased is “much ado about nothing.”

“To imply that the governor condoned either the use of that word or that sentiment, I find false,” Jefferson told the Texas Tribune.

Former Democratic state Rep. Ron Wilson, an African-American, said, “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He didn’t then, and he doesn’t now.”

Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West, who’s also black, said, “I don’t agree with him on policy issues, but you can point to many things he has done that were sensitive to ethnic minorities.”

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