Knotts' slur stirs the Haley storm

Lawmaker calls candidate a 'raghead' on Internet show

joconnor@thestate.comJune 3, 2010 

South Carolina State Senator Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) answers a question during a news conference at the Statehouse Friday, June 26, 2009. Knotts confirmed that SLED has agreed to open an investigation into governor Mark SanfordÕs actions.

GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM

Lexington state Sen. Jake Knotts called political rival and Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley a “raghead” on an Internet political talk show Thursday evening.

The term is a slur typically used against Arabs or other ethnic groups who wear turbans or headdresses. Haley, a state representative from Lexington, is the child of Indian immigrants.

“We already got one raghead in the White House,” Knotts said. “We don’t need another in the Governor’s Mansion.”

According to those present and watching the show, “Pub Politics,” Knotts also talked at length about Haley’s parents’ religion and her family. Haley was raised as a Sikh, but converted to Methodist and has said she attends both services. “Pub Politics” host Wesley Donehue said the video will be posted today.

Haley’s religion was raised as an issue during her first S.C. House run in 2004, when anonymous fliers claimed — inaccurately — that she was a Hindu. Haley won the race, unseating the House’s longest-serving lawmaker.

Haley is in a four-way contest for governor. Knotts is a longtime ally of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who is also running for governor. Wednesday, Bauer campaign consultant Larry Marchant said he had a one-time sexual encounter with Haley in 2008. Bauer asked Marchant to resign, but Haley accused Bauer of “fishing” the story to the press. The allegation was the second in as many weeks against Haley, who has maintained she has been faithful to her husband of 13 years.

Though they both hail from Lexington, Knotts and Haley have been adversaries, as they represent opposing wings of the county’s Republican Party. Haley is a longtime supporter of Gov. Mark Sanford, who has been a Knotts adversary.

“What the race in ’04 proved was the goodness of the people of South Carolina,” Haley said after a Columbia campaign stop. “What the race in 2010 will prove is the goodness of the people of South Carolina, that there fewer people of the Jake Knotts (ilk) and that there are a lot more good, educated people (who) want their voice heard in government.”

Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson said that Knotts was an embarrassment to the state, and that South Carolina voters would make it clear on Tuesday they are better than this.

S.C. GOP chairwoman Karen Floyd called on Knotts to apologize, which he did late Thursday.

Knotts said his comments were meant as humor.

“My ‘raghead’ comments about Obama and Haley were intended in jest,” Knotts said in a statement. “Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It’s like local political version of ‘Saturday Night Live.’

“Since my intended humorous context was lost in translation, I apologize. I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I apologize to both for an unintended slur.”

Knotts was not a scheduled guest on the show, said Donehue, who is also the Senate Republican caucus spokesman. The other host, Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Phil Bailey, said Knotts’ views do not reflect those of the show.

“Pub Politics” has featured reporters, including those from The State, bloggers, political scientists and elected officials discussing the week’s political news.

“People talk,” said Donehue. “It’s an open discussion of politics over beer.”

“I, along with everyone else at the table, was shocked,” he said of Knotts’ comments.

The Knotts slur capped a day of elbow-throwing, in which Bauer challenged Haley to take a lie-detector test to prove she has not had a sexual affair, as the former Bauer campaign staffer claimed.

Bauer said he, too, would submit to a polygraph test to prove he had no part in pushing the story into the media.

“Nobody has been a better friend of transparency than Andre Bauer,” Bauer said in a news release. “ … Ms. Haley, on the other hand, speaks of transparency, but apparently only for other people, not for herself. And now, we learn that she is refusing to release phone and text messages which could clear up some of the unfortunate recent allegations.”

Haley, whose signature issue is government transparency, has said she will not open her state e-mail and phone records to the public after a claim made last week by political blogger Will Folks that he and Haley engaged in an inappropriate physical relationship in 2008.

Haley has said opening the records would be a waste of time and a distraction from the real issues of the campaign.

Also:

Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley said Thursday if irrefutable evidence of an affair surfaces if she is elected governor, she would resign the position. Haley made the comments on a Columbia radio show a day after a State House lobbyist claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the married Haley at a 2008 school-choice conference in Utah. Haley, the lone woman in the race for governor, was again answering questions about her personal life. Last week a Columbia blogger and former Haley aide claimed to have had “an inappropriate physical relationship” with Haley in 2007. Neither claim has been supported by indisputable proof, only circumstantial evidence. Haley, who is leading her Republican opponents in recent polls, is slated to have a famous defender make the case for her election directly to South Carolina voters. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will be featured in phone calls to voters over the next few days urging them to support Haley reject "made-up nonsense."

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