“When you look at the way that he governs, you see that he is very inclusive,” said Brian Newby, an African American who served first as Perry’s general counsel and then as his chief of staff before returning to private law practice in Fort Worth. “You see that in his appointments; you see that in his friendships; you see that in the way that he deals with minority legislators.”
But many of those minority legislators say Perry has a long history — dating to his first race for statewide office more than 20 years ago — of engaging in what they see as racially tinged tactics and rhetoric to gain political advantage.
Black lawmakers have been particularly troubled by Perry’s recent embrace of the tea party movement, elements of which they regard as racially antagonistic, and by his championing of states’ rights and his call for Texas to consider seceding if federal policies didn’t change.
“When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” Perry said in 2009. “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”
Garnet F. Coleman (D), an African American state lawmaker from Houston, said, “Mr. Perry made his own bed the minute he started talking about states’ rights and secession. That wipes out anything that he may have done before. There’s no doubt that the talk of secession and states’ rights harks back to the 1950s and the Civil War.”
The governor’s record on matters of race is attracting new scrutiny after The Washington Post’s account of a secluded West Texas hunting property that Perry and his father leased that has long been known by a name containing a racial epithet.
The name, “Niggerhead,” was painted in block letters across a large rock by the property’s entrance. Perry has described the word on the rock as “an offensive name that has no place in the modern world.” But it remains unclear when or whether he dealt with it while using the hunting camp.
Some black leaders in Texas said the story is an embarrassment and a political liability for Perry, but none suggested that either the story or their history with him lead them to believe he is a racist.
On Monday, an influential African American state senator from Houston, Rodney Ellis (D), said Perry will have to go out of his way to prove that he sought to remove the property’s name as soon as he learned of it.
Ellis said the story will have other political consequences, as well. For instance, the governor recently filled a vacancy on a state motor vehicles board that is considering a request to create a vanity license plate featuring the Confederate flag. On Monday, Ellis and other black lawmakers said the story about the hunting property will bring even more scrutiny to the new appointee if and when the request is voted on — and, by association, to Perry.