Republican candidates have made questionable remarks related to race at two different candidate forums in the last few days, including comparing union membership to slavery.
The first one was after a GOP Senate forum on Saturday, when candidate Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell used the widely disavowed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as a symbol for government overreach. He told Anchorage Daily News reporter Nat Hertz that although Bundy was problematic, he was “like Joe the Plumber.”
For a short time, Bundy was a hero among those who have fought against such overreach. When the federal government tried to make him pay for the 20 years that his cattle had been grazing on federal land, his supporters rode in on horses and brought guns. Fox News loved him. Right wing radio sang his praises. Then he began talking about his world view, including of race, and people didn’t love him much anymore. This is where he got “problematic.”
This is a truncated version of what he told a New York Times reporter about “the Negro:”
And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.
Hertz asked Treadwell about Bundy because of an allusion that Treadwell made about him in a speech at the forum. The racist comments got bigger headlines than Bundy’s original war against the feds. However, Treadwell, who had been following the story, told the ADN reporter that he wasn’t aware of the racist comments. “I don’t know what he said about race issues, and I don’t support that,” he told Hertz.
In a follow-up interview, Treadwell again said that he didn’t know about Bundy’s comments about race before referring to him, and that he didn’t support the rancher, but that he was nonetheless a symbol of a “sage brush rebellion” that’s brewing in the country over federal control of lands. If he were elected to the Senate, Treadwell said, wresting that control from the feds and putting it back into the hands of the state would be one of his top priorities.
Then, on Monday at a lieutenant governor’s forum, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan compared being in a union to slavery.
In response to an audience question about right-to-work legislation, Sullivan said that he adamantly supported it. “We ended slavery a long time ago,” he said.
In an interview after the debate, Sullivan clarified his remarks. He said that when someone has to pay to get a job, referring to union dues, it’s “economic slavery.”
Right-to-work laws vary in the 24 states that have such laws, but they generally mean that employees can’t be required to join a labor union and pay dues to get a job that has been negotiated through labor agreements.
None of the three other candidates in the forum—Republican state Sen. Lesil McGuire, Democratic state Sen. Hollis French, and Wasilla teacher Bob Williams—support the legislation.
In the past few years, conservatives have likened slavery from everything to affirmative action, to abortion to social security. And they often get reminded that it’s an offensive comparison. Most recently Sarah Palin made headlines for comparing the national debt to slavery.
In any case, the comment indicates that Sullivan plans to take his battle with the unions with him on his statewide campaign. Anchorage-based Republican consultant Marc Hellenthal said that it’s a battle that will likely help him in the Republican primary, but could hurt him and Gov. Sean Parnell in the general.
As the Alaska Democratic Party pointed out in a press release, Alaska has the second-highest rate of union participation in the country.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org