The Arkansas Attorney General’s contest centered on race Thursday after a report of a seven-year old email from the GOP nominee was made public.
The Blue Hog Report reported Thursday that Republican Attorney General candidate Leslie Rutledge sent an email in October 2007 that blogger Matt Campbell said was “written in an overtly racist patois.” The email, sent when Rutledge was an employee of the Department of Human Services, said it was a “true story and email from a friend of mine… she works d’town with battered women, etc.”
The person or persons who received the email from Rutledge was redacted.
Rutledge, who faces Democrat Nate Steel in November, said she did not write the original email and did not add to the email she received from a woman named Judith Gardner. Rutledge did say she forwarded it. The email outlines a story of a young man and his mother who came for protective services to a state agency not identified. The story outlined by the original presenter appears to have resolved the problem of an “order of protection.” It closes by describing prayers and singing.
The email Rutledge says she forwarded is from someone identified as “Miz Judith” (Judith Garner) and is written in a manner that implies a racial dialect and overtones, but that observation is disputed by the alleged author. In an email provided to Talk Business & Politics by the Rutledge campaign, Judith Gardner says:
I, Judith Gardner, am the author of the email entitled “Prayer for Miz Judith,” not Leslie Rutledge.
Anybody who infers that this story is racist is on shaky ground. Nowhere does it describe the individual’s ethnicity or identity. Any implication of racism comes not from the story but from the reader’s unfamiliarity with literary technique, as I explain in the following paragraph.
In 2005, I moved to Arkansas from California and immediately fell in love with Arkansans and southerners in general. I started to write about all the people and experiences I’ve had acclimating to southern culture. I have read three of my stories on Tales from the South, the popular NPR radio show, that reflect how the southern soul imprinted itself on me and changed my life. (Google YouTube Tales from the South Judith Gardner).
In each of these stories, I use the southern vernacular as a literary device to more deeply capture the nature of the characters. “Miz Judith” is a true story that was one of the most spiritually powerful, humbling experiences of my life. Never intended as a literary work, and not one of the NPR selections, I simply sent it out to all my friends to share with them God’s love, power and grace that these people brought to me.
In the email, which you can read at the bottom of this post, Gardner, who is apparently active in Democratic Party politics, describes several instances in her life of participating in civil rights activities. She later says Rutledge befriended her after she moved to Arkansas from California.
Leslie Rutledge was one of the first people who embraced and welcomed me into a diverse circle of wonderful Arkansas friends. We have spent many hours in prayer and fellowship together. Although our political views differ on many fronts, I have always found her to be a woman of courage, loyalty, and a brilliant creative mind who can cut through deception faster and more precisely than anyone I know.
I am now calling upon God’s guidance for the same grace and justice that the people in the story of Miz Judith gave me and pray that this same spirit of healing will touch everyone who has been affected by these horrible misinterpretations of each others’ motives.
RUTLEDGE, STEEL RESPOND
Rutledge has been at the center of controversy over several revelations in recent weeks, including her coordination of a TV ad with the Republican Attorneys General Association – which she claims was done legally – and her voter registration being revoked by Democratic Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane. She later re-registered with Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin, but protested being kicked off the voter rolls.
Last month, a release of partial records from Rutledge’s work with DHS indicated that after she left the agency in December 2007, a supervisor had a “do not rehire” notice added to her personnel file. Rutledge complained this was done after her departure and she has “no confidence” in releasing additional files from the agency that she contends may have been tampered with.
She also blamed the latest controversy on Democratic political enemies.
“This is just another desperate attempt by leftist bloggers to attempt to misattribute someone else’s words to me. As was obvious from reading the email, I simply forwarded without any comment something written by Judith (Gardner). Any questions about the content of the email should be directed to the author,” said Rutledge in a statement provided to Talk Business & Politics blogger Jason Tolbert.
“These same liberal bloggers have attempted to paint me as, among other things, secretly pro-choice, not eligible to vote in Arkansas and now a racist. I would expect these kinds of silly attacks to continue from the Democrats desperate to hold onto this seat,” Rutledge added. “In spite of these baseless attacks, I remain focused on my message of protecting Arkansans from those who seek to do them harm.”
Three weeks ago, the Associated Press mistakenly reported that Rutledge had written an email while working at DHS advocating for abortion rights. Rutledge, who is pro-life, denied writing the email and said she was forwarding the comments to another person. AP quickly retracted the story after verifying the information.
Rutledge’s Democratic rival Nate Steel weighed in with a short statement on Thursday evening. He has previously said he has not conducted opposition research on Rutledge and is not responsible for the release of the information at the center of the controversy.
“I will leave it to others to investigate the veracity of these emails, but I do know that the only reason they are at issue is due to Ms. Rutledge’s refusal to release her DHS personnel file. Doing so would either explain the ‘gross misconduct’ reported on earlier or expose an unfair attack against her as she has suggested,” Steel said.
“My record is wide open – thousands of legislative votes and hundreds of felony cases that I prosecuted have been combed through. I understand that this is a part of the process. No matter who the alleged author of this email is, Ms. Rutledge and I, as candidates for Attorney General, should be held to a higher standard,” Steel added.