Date: Tuesday, January 26, 2010By: Denise Stewart, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Black political and civil rights leaders in South Carolina say Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s recent comments comparing poor people to stray animals is an example of how the politician presents different messages to different communities.
“When he’s in our community, he’s the professional baby kisser, and he visits black churches,” state Rep. Leon Howard, a Democrat from Columbia, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “But when he’s in places like Greenville, the crowd is different, and his message is not consistent.”
Bauer, a Republican who seeking to replace Mark Sanford as governor, has come under fire in recent days for the statements he made last Thursday during a town hall meeting.
"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals," Bauer said. "You know why? Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."
Dr. Lonnie Randolph, South Carolina president of the NAACP, called Bauer’s comments “inhumane and disrespectful.”
The NAACP president said it is sad when a person “seeking the highest elected office in the state doesn’t understand that people who are in need are supposed to be helped.”
"I am disgusted by these comments. They show an unbelievable lack of compassion toward the unemployed workers in our state who are hurting during these hard times," said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat who is also running for governor. "His comments were immoral and out of line."
South Carolina schools Superintendent Jim Rex, another Democratic candidate for governor, called Bauer's comments "reprehensible" and said he should apologize.
Bauer, one of at least three Republicans and five Democrats running for governor, said Monday that he regrets his choice of words, but maintains that government should expect welfare recipients to try to better themselves. He wants to require them to take drug tests and attend parent-teacher conferences if they have children in school.
A child of divorce who benefited from free lunches himself, Bauer insisted he wasn't bad-mouthing people laid off from work in the recession or advocating taking food from children, but rather emphasizing the need to break the cycle of dependency.
"Do I wish I'd used a different metaphor? Of course I do," the 40-year-old said. "I didn't intend to offend anyone."
Howard said Bauer’s comments will have a negative impact on his efforts to win black voters.
Bauer had gained favor among some blacks and senior citizens by introducing initiatives to address some of their concerns, Howard said, adding that his own father liked some of Bauer’s programs. But Bauer’s comments will cause him to lose ground, he said.
Others like Bauer’s message, Randolph told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “You must remember when he made those remarks, he was talking in Greenville. That’s the home of Carroll Campbell, the modern day neo-conservative.”
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said Bauer's words "came out as condescending and insulting," but his overall message about government dependency and personal responsibility will appeal to his evangelical Republican base.
State GOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd, who is not taking sides in the race for the nomination, said the flap should be a lesson to everyone to "choose our words more carefully."
Randolph said while Bauer took aim at those who rely on some form public assistance, he apparently didn’t take into account the public benefits he receives.
“He doesn’t pay for gas. He has a state car. He receives benefits every day more than the average person in this state,” Randolph said.
“It’s a shame that he would want children to go to school and not have something to eat,” Randolph said.
“If we can go all around the world taking care of people in other countries, we ought to be able to take care of Americans,” Randolph said. “It’s a good thing he (Bauer) is not in charge of the Red Cross.”
Associated Press contributed to this story.