WASHINGTON — In a surprise move, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., tried to get a House vote Thursday on a resolution condemning Texas Gov. Rick Perry for failing to remove an offensive racial slur on his family's leased West Texas hunting ranch.
Jackson, who earlier in the week had spoken to the House Democratic Caucus about a resolution critical of Perry, was unsuccessful. But he said on the House floor that the West Texas ranch's name, "Niggerhead," was offensive.
The African-American lawmaker, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said, "Nigger is offensive."
"Niggerhead is offensive. And for a governor of one of our great states to hunt at Niggerhead Ranch, it's offensive," Jackson said.
Jackson was unable to get a vote for procedural reasons, and his appeal to obtain a floor vote failed mostly along party lines, 231-173.
The only exception was Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who voted with the Republicans to deny a vote on the resolution. Perry, a Republican since switching parties in the late 1980s, appointed Cuellar his secretary of state after he succeeded George W. Bush as governor in 2000.
The name of the ranch became an explosive issue in Perry's presidential campaign after a Washington Post story on Sunday. The newspaper reported it had seven people who said the racial slur written on a large rock at the camp entrance was legible for years, while Perry said his family had it painted over in the early 1980s.
Perry's campaign office issued two strongly worded statements Sunday, and in a Fox News interview Thursday Perry for the first time spoke directly about the controversy.
"All of us agree that the word that was on that rock was a very offensive rock — very offensive word," said Perry, who was in California.
"The moment we had to paint over that rock, we did," he said.
"There were very much and some strong inconsistencies and just infactual information that was in that story," Perry said. "I know for a fact in 1984 that rock was painted over. It was painted over very soon. My family did that; we painted over that rock and it stayed that way. I have no idea where or why people would say they had seen that rock, because that's just not the fact."
Cuellar, in an interview, strongly supported Perry, with whom he served in the Texas Legislature when the governor was a Democrat.
"I've known him since 1987," Cuellar said. "His first appointment as governor in 2001 was me. I know Perry. He's no racist. Would a racist appoint a Hispanic as his first, most important appointment? I don't think so."
Jackson's resolution calls for Perry to apologize and for other GOP candidates who have not spoken out to speak out against the offensive word. One candidate, businessman Herman Cain, said in several Sunday television appearances that the name on the rock was "insensitive."
Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said Thursday: "With our nation's economy faltering and the American people desperate for recovery, surely Congress has better things to do. This issue was thoroughly and appropriately resolved nearly 30 years ago, and in recent days Gov. Perry's strong record of inclusion, diversity and job creation has been touted by Democrats and Republicans alike."
Jackson's press secretary said the Illinois lawmaker will press forward with the privileged resolution and attempt a vote on the House floor next week.
"He has the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and some others," said spokesman Frank Watkins. "We're going to continue pressing the issue."
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