Rick Perry hunting camp controversy: What you need to know

October 3, 2011

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is fighting back against a story that the name of his longtime hunting camp included a racial epithet. As Amy Gardner reported:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign spent Sunday deflecting scrutiny of a report in The Washington Post detailing a West Texas hunting camp he once leased with his father that includes a racial epithet in its name.

It is the latest in a series of controversies the candidate has contended with in recent weeks as he seeks to retain the front-runner status he quickly claimed after entering the race seven weeks ago. Perry created a stir Saturday when he told a crowd of New Hampshire Republicans that he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug violence there.

Here are the details, from Stephanie McCrummen, who broke the story:

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.

When asked last week, Perry said the word on the rock is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world.”

But how, when or whether he dealt with it when he was using the property is less clear and adds a dimension to the emerging biography of Perry, who quickly moved into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates when he entered the race in August.

Will this scandal do serious damage to Perry’s campaign? Chris Cillizza wrote:

Exactly when the name of the hunting camp was obscured is still being debated. What we do know is that this is something Perry would rather not be dealing with right now.

Is it a game changer? It’s not clear yet. Is it a big headache and giant distraction? You bet.

Perry is already dealing with the fallout from some poor debate performances last month, showings that raised questions about whether he is ready for primetime. This story, which revealed that the hunting camp went be the name “Niggerhead,” adds to the negative narrative out there about Perry and serves as a further distraction for the Texas governor.

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