White House Silent on Racial Controversy
GOP Official Expresses Regret Over Distributing Article Critical of Civil War Outcome
By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 5, 2003; Page A05
The White House and the Republican National Committee declined to comment yesterday on a racial controversy involving a Bush administration ally who is campaigning to become chairman of the California Republican Party.
Bill Back, the California party's vice chairman running for the top job, sent out an e-mail newsletter in 1999 that reproduced an essay that said "history might have taken a better turn" if the South had won the Civil War and that "the real damage to race relations in the South came not from slavery, but from Reconstruction, which would not have occurred if the South had won."
The Contra Costa Times reported on the e-mail article yesterday and quoted Shannon Reeves, the California GOP secretary and an African American, saying: "There's no room for bigotry in the Republican Party, and I don't think there's a lot of room in the Republican Party for people who distribute bigoted information. What's appalling is to have the vice chair of the Republican Party distribute this."
In a statement, Back said: "Upon reflection, I should have been more sensitive regarding issues raised in this piece and not included it in the e-mail. I regret any pain and offense taken by readers."
Back said he "strongly" disagrees with the views in the article, and noted that over time he has reproduced pieces from the left and the right "to present Republicans with a broad perspective on articles, opinions, and issues being discussed in California and throughout the nation."
While declining to comment on the controversy, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said: "The California Republican Party will decide who will lead them. We are not involved in the race for state party chair."
Dick Rosengarten, publisher of the newsletter California Political Week, or Calpeek, said the controversy is a setback not only for Back's bid to lead the party but also for the Bush administration's efforts to make the Republican Party competitive in California. "I feel sorry for President Bush," Rosengarten said. "They have to stop shooting at each other before Bush has a chance at coming close to winning California."
Back is in a close race with Silicon Valley attorney Duf Sundheim that will be decided at a convention next month. Back has worked closely with one of Bush's key supporters in California, Gerald Parsky. Neither Parsky nor Bush has endorsed anyone, although Back, who has helped gather support for Bush from California conservatives, is widely described as having their private backing.
The controversial article that Back reproduced in his e-mail newsletter was written by William S. Lind of the Free Congress Foundation, who posed the question: "What If The South Had Won the Civil War?"
Lind's answer, in part, stated: "Certainly Southerners would not be living under the iron rule of an all-powerful federal government, as we all do now. Northerners might not be, either; a Union defeat would have given states' rights a boost in both countries. . . . What would my great-grandfather, Union Army sergeant Alfred G. Sturgiss, say to all of this? If he could see the sorry mess the country he fought for has become, I think he might sadly say that he'd fought for the wrong side."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company