Michael Steele on Perry’s Hunting Camp: “It’s Very Troubling”

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Even as Texas Governor Rick Perry downplays the story of a racist epithet painted on a rock outside a property that he co-leased, black Republicans are not giving him the benefit of the doubt. First came GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who said yesterday that Perry handled the episode in a “very insensitive” way.

And in an interview with TIME on Monday morning, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele also scolded Perry. “It’s very troubling on some many levels, for so many reasons,” Steele said. Steele said questions over when and how clearly the rock had been painted over miss the point: 

So I’m going to lease lease a property, and on that property is a rock that has a hateful word on it that everyone knows to be racist in some form. What do you do? Do you paint over the rock? Or do you just remove the damn thing altogether? So, I’m sorry–my attitude is just remove the rock. That is the ultimate statement for me. Just get rid of the rock. Unless the thing is a damn boulder.

Steele stopped short, however, of impugning Perry personally. “I am not ascribing anything to anyone’s motives or decisions,” he said. He added, however, that he agrees with Cain’s criticism: “I think Herman Cain was right. It does lead one to feel that there was a level of insensitivity about how this would be perceived by the larger community. I’m not just talking about black folks, I’m talking about all folks. You would think that even in the 1980s that there would still be some sense of, ‘Do we really want this on our property? Even though we’re leasing it, still, do you really want that there? And just painting over it?”

At that, Steele, who believes the Republican Party needs to make amends with black voters for its “Southern Strategy,” simply sighed with exasperation.