(note: this post has been updated below to reflect Keith’s decision to step aside as Chair-elect of the HCRP)
Keith Nielsen, chair-elect of the Harris County Republican Party, is facing calls for resignation for what many Texas leaders are calling a racist post on Facebook. His defenders are calling it nothing more than a gaffe for which he has apologized and he need not step aside. For those unaware of the controversy, here you go:
Again for those unaware, that quote is from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The banana is, of course, a long time symbol of racism towards blacks by comparing them to monkeys.
Keith apologized, then deleted the apology. In this Houston Chronicle article by Jasper Scherer, Nielsen is quoted as reposting the image with the banana because in his childhood home, they used the word “bananas” instead of curse words and he was trying to differentiate between protesters and rioters.
Tone deaf much, yes but should he decline to accept the position for which he was duly elected? Many Texas Republicans certainly think so.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick:
“I have called on the chair of Bexar County and the chair-elect of Harris County to step down because of their recent outrageous and racist statements on social media. The Texas Republican Party represents the majority of Texans — conservatives who are united by principles of freedom, faith and equality for every Texan. There is no room for racism or hatred, in our party — let alone in a leadership position.
“Going forward, we know that some Democrats and their allies in the media will continue to throw out charges of “racism” anytime they disagree with us on any issue. Without taking that bait, we should continue to unequivocally condemn racism where we see it in our party and in their party.
“As have said before, in times of crisis all Texans come together. During this past week Texas has seen primarily peaceful protests including a march of over 60,000 people in Houston. During Hurricane Harvey we were one Texas — nobody cared who was on the roof or who was in the boat. Our state has one of the most diverse populations in the world. We know there is more work to be done in bringing us all together and ensuring that every Texan is respected, treated equally and prospers.
“But we cannot do this alone. Scripture commands us to love one another as we love ourselves. We can’t do that unless we love God and put him first in all that we do. He is the answer to healing our nation.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw:
Keith Nielsen has no place in our party. Not now. Not ever. It is a sad reminder that such blatant ignorance and bigotry still exists. When we see it, it’s our duty to unequivocally condemn it and make sure that people like him have no place in our politics.
Rep. Michael McCaul:
The Facebook post made by the Harris County GOP Chair-elect was racist and unacceptable. Keith Nielsen should tender his resignation immediately. Racism has no place in the Republican Party, the state of Texas or the United States of America.
I have known Keith Neilsen of several years, and my wife and I have worked with him and his wife in Republican organizations. I like them both, have hoped that Keith would succeed as the new HCRP Chair, and have been prepared to help him in any way I could to succeed. Moreover, I have no doubt that about his the sincerity of his beliefs and motives, or his desire to improve relations between our party and those African-American neighbors who currently support the Democrats but who agree with us on so many issues.
Based on all of this, I was shocked to see the post Keith uploaded to social media quoting MLK with the picture of a banana.
Regardless of his intent, the message seen and perceived of putting these two images together does nothing but reinforce the distrust of our party among many of our neighbors. Although I like Keith and wish him well, this is not the message or perception the party of Lincoln should be making at any time—let alone in the midst of the ordeal we now face as a country. Although Keith removed the post and has apologized, this is a bell that cannot be un-rung in this age of social media, and it will impede our efforts to try to re-build trust with our neighbors. Frankly, it will haunt us and our candidates this fall.
It is for these reasons, that I join so many leaders of our party, including Senator Cruz, Commissioner Bush, and Congressmen Crenshaw, Hurd and Roy, in condemning the gross lack of judgment behind this post, and the perception it reinforced among our neighbors; and I sadly join them in asking Keith to resign his position as HCRP Chair-elect to allow the HCRP Executive Committee to elect a new chair this summer.
You get the gist of their complaints.
And I get it. The job of the HCRP Chair is to bring people to the party, not keep them away. Does this racist post/gaffe help in that regard? No. Does it hurt? Not really.
What? Not really, I say? Yep. Not a single person is going to stay away from voting Republican because of this Facebook post. Not one. The fact is that yes, Democrats will use it to tell votes that Republicans are racist. Guess what? If Keith declines to take the role, they will STILL use it against Republicans. So really, what is to be gained by Keith stepping aside?
Now, I’m not saying he should or shouldn’t step aside. I’ll leave that up to Keith. I’m simply saying that it isn’t going to help or hurt the HCRP regardless of his decision. He probably should stay and fight if he wants to reclaim the good name he has had in the party for many years but again, I’ll leave that up to him.
From a purely political perspective, I think he should stay. Harris County Republicans are going to be crushed in November. It would be nice to have a sacrificial lamb as the head of the party and then choose someone to lead the party back to some success in 2022 when we don’t have the stigma of Donald Trump at the head of the ballot. Besides, if he declines to accept the post, the HCRP Executive Committee will choose the new chair – talk about a disaster. This group is now led by the most radical of radicals in the party. On second thought, maybe it would be fun to see whom they would choose.
I reached out to Dr. Steven Hotze for his thoughts on Keith. After all, if it weren’t for Dr. Hotze’s support, Keith would never have been elected in the first place. This is what he had to say:
I cannot imagine that Keith intended to disrespect blacks with his post.
If I were him, then I would just ignore the cries to resign.
UPDATE: Keith Nielsen has decided to step aside and will not be Chair of the HCRP. Via his Facebook post:
I have spent my entire adult life supporting conservative candidates and causes and I am grateful for the thousands of supporters who have reached out to me over the last several days. I regret that I must step aside as Chairman-elect of the Harris County Republican Party and will not be taking office on Aug. 3rd. I will continue to stand up for the values that have made our country great…“Faith, family and freedom.” Dr. King’s quote is as relevant today as when it was delivered. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Concerning Keith’s statement, Senator Paul Bettencourt said, “The true measure of a person is what they do in the face of adversity. I respect Keith for his decision and thank him for his years of service to the HCRP.”