On Wednesday, the Country Music Association announced the newest members of the board of its charitable foundation: singer Chris Young and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R).
The announcement of the latter immediately raised eyebrows in Nashville, because the CMA actively tries to stay out of politics — and some in the industry protested because of his political views. Then, about 24 hours after the announcement, Huckabee resigned.
“The CMA Foundation has accepted former Governor Mike Huckabee’s resignation from its Board of Directors, effective immediately,” a CMA spokeswoman said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
The harshest public condemnation came from manager Jason Owen, who called Huckabee’s appointment “grossly offensive” and “a detrimentally poor choice by CMA and its leaders.” Owen’s management company, Sandbox, represents country music stars such as Faith Hill, Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town, currently featured on the front page of the CMA Foundation’s website. He also co-owns the label Monument Records, a division of Sony Music, with high-profile songwriter-producer Shane McAnally.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must let you know moving forward, Sandbox and Monument will no longer support the CMA Foundation in any way (this includes everyone we represent collectively) considering the heartbreaking news shared today regarding Mike Huckabee appointee/elected to the CMA Foundation,” he wrote in a letter to CMA chief executive Sarah Trahern and Director of Community Outreach Tiffany Kerns. “Further, we find it hard to support the organization as a whole as a result.”
Owen, who is openly gay, continued: “I have a child and two on the way. This man has made it clear that my family is not welcome in his America. And the CMA has opened their arms to him, making him feel welcome and relevant. Huckabee speaks of the sort of things that would suggest my family is morally beneath his and uses language that has a profoundly negative impact upon young people all across this country. Not to mention how harmful and damaging his deep involvement with the NRA is. What a shameful choice. I will not participate in any organization that elevates people like this to positions that amplify their sick voices.”
Huckabee, the father of President Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a former Republican presidential contender, said in 2010 that same-sex marriage was akin to incest and polygamy. Recently, he has been critical of companies that backed away from the National Rifle Association after the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting, calling them “cowardly.”
On Friday, Huckabee published a long letter to his website and blamed “bullies” for his swift exit.
“I genuinely regret that some in the industry were so outraged by my appointment that they bullied the CMA and the Foundation with economic threats and vowed to withhold support for the programs for students if I remained,” he wrote.
He also wrote in-depth about his support for music education, a mission for which the CMA Foundation donates millions of dollars. “The message here is ‘Hate Wins.’ Bullies succeeded in making it untenable to have ‘someone like me’ involved. I would imagine however that many of the people who buy tickets and music are not that ‘unlike me.'”
Huckabee’s departure occurred a few hours after Owen published his letter in Hits Daily Double, an industry website, that stated: “There’s great concern and protest over [Huckabee’s] appointment, and rightfully so. Many in Nashville are sharing feelings of embarrassment for our country and industry.”
Huckabee’s interest in music might have originally made sense to the CMA board; last year, Huckabee wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “A conservative plea for the National Endowment for the Arts.” His website also states that he’s “an avid musician since age 11, is a bass player and often joins guest artists on his weekly television show,” the self-titled “Huckabee” on TBN.
“Governor Huckabee led an impressive administration while serving the state of Arkansas and his policy experience with education reform is something we are fortunate to be able to learn from,” the CMA said in its original announcement about Huckabee.
However, Huckabee’s appointment did seemingly conflict with the CMA’s apolitical stance, just on display at the CMA Awards in November. A few days before the show, which took place shortly after the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, the organization warned reporters that it would kick out anyone who asked singers about politics or gun control on the red carpet.
Then, after backlash from many (including CMA Awards co-host Brad Paisley), CMA rescinded its restrictions, saying “The sentiment was not to infringe and was created with the best of intentions to honor and celebrate Country Music.”