Once Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., admitted he had “segregationist feelings” in an interview with The Charlotte Observer, he immersed chief of staff Dan Gurley into perhaps his worst nightmare.
The Dec. 20 story captured several North Carolina politicians’ views about Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, whose remarks at the 100th birthday party for South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond caused a national uproar. Lott said the country would have been better off had Thurmond, who ran for president on a Dixiecrat Party platform that included segregation, been elected in 1948.
Apparently in a confessional mood, Ballenger told The Observer that when it came to former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., “If I had to listen to her, I probably would have developed a little bit of a segregationist feeling.” He also said, “But I think everybody can look at my life and what I’ve done and say that’s not true…I mean, she was such a bitch.”
The Associated Press published a follow-up story before 6 a.m. the same morning, as The Observer was hitting the streets. For the AP story, Gurley had Ballenger’s words sprung on him in the middle of the night. Comment, Dan?
“There’s no question in my mind that the comment there is not a reflection of his general view, it’s only a reaction to the pushiness of somebody like McKinney,” Gurley told the AP.
My guess is that after Gurley hung up with AP, he was immediately on the phone to Bayer ordering a case of Alka-Seltzer.
Capitol Hill staffers, especially those who deal with the media like Gurley, shudder about scenarios like this. They look at situations like the one Lott’s staff had to deal with and say, “Glad that’s not me.”
Friday morning, the nightmare tapped Gurley on the shoulder and said, “your turn.”
Ballenger was on Charlotte radio station WBT later that morning with his mea culpa, but at this writing, the nightmare continues.
Chesser is assistant editor of Carolina Journal.