Was it racial or religious?
On Tuesday, addressing a predominantly black crowd at a Dallas event hosted by state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, D-Dallas, and Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White said, "We need a governor who's a servant, as opposed to Rick Perry, who wants to be treated as master." The statement was first picked up by The Dallas Morning News.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry's re-election campaign took strong exception to the line, which it called a "racially motivated attack." Perry campaign manager Rob Johnson released a statement calling on White to apologize "for his insensitive remarks that are nothing more than an attempt to divide our state."
Republican Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who is black, laid it out a bit more explicitly: "Bill White’s use of the terms 'servant' and 'master,' conjuring up images of slavery, are simply ignorant and offensive. Pandering to an all-black audience by inserting race into this political campaign should be offensive to not only us African-Americans, but all Texans." Similarly, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri opined, “It is very disappointing in this day and age, when it is so important for public figures to promote unity and harmony among our state’s diverse population, that Bill White would choose language that when viewed in context of the group to which he was speaking, clearly can be interpreted as a racially divisive statement."
White's campaign says the line wasn't tailored to the audience and wasn't a reference to race or to slaves. His campaign released several accounts of the candidate using similar phrasing, which his staffers say has its roots in scripture, in addresses to audiences ranging from the Kingwood Tea Party to local Democrats in Corsicana. "If the Perry campaign had used Google, they could see that Bill White often talks about a servant leader and someone who's only in it for himself," said White spokeswoman Katy Bacon.
Having heard the remarks in person, Mallory Caraway says she did not hear any racial overtones and that neither did any of the attendees she talked to afterward. "There were no indications from his comments that it referred to slavery, and no one ever mentioned that to me," she said. "I'm surprised that Michael Williams would allow himself to be engaged in such an issue to help Rick Perry gain votes."
Other Democrats are taking the opportunity to flip the accusations of racial motivation back on the Republicans. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, released a statement saying, "The governor needs to stop trying to use African-Americans as a wedge for his divisive and partisan political campaign. We don't have to parse the governor's words to find animosity towards communities of color, a simple look at his actions during his 25 years in office makes clear his position."