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Jake Knotts 'Raghead' Comment About Nikki Haley Draws Criticism

9:16 PM, Jun 4, 2010   |    comments
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Nikki Haley, Jake Knotts

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Criticism continues to come from around the state over Lexington County State Senator Jake Knotts's comment that Republican Gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley and President Obama are "ragheads," an ethic slur.

Knotts made the comment during an appearance on "Pub Politics Live," an online talk show about South Carolina politics.

"We got a raghead in Washington [referring to Obama]," Knotts said. "We don't need another raghead in the governor's mansion." Original Story: Knotts Calls Haley, Obama Ragheads

Raghead is a slur which refers to Arabs or Indian Sikhs who wear traditional headdresses.

Knotts was directly referring to Haley, whose parents are immigrants from India. Haley, a state representative also is from Lexington County, has said numerous times that she is a practicing Methodist.

Knotts believes Haley is not Christian, and that she is saying she is for political reasons.

Wesley Donehue, a political consultant who co-hosts "Pub Politics," says he believes the comment may have been in jest, but it crossed a line. Related: Knotts Statement is the Talk of the Town

"I guess it was made as a joke," Donehue says. "He was talking about her religion and I think he took it a step too far."

"Knotts always says what's on his mind, so in that respect, he's a very honest guy and whatever comes top of mind he always says it," Donehue adds.

Donehue and the team behind "Pub Politics" originally said they would release the audio of the program, but now say they will not until at least after Tuesday's primary election.

Knotts did issue an apology of sorts after his remarks. "I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I do apologize to both for an unintended slur," Knotts says.

However, the Free-Times, a Columbia newspaper, reports that Knotts went further in his comments after the show was over. The paper published an article claiming he repeated the use of the term "raghead," and said that Haley was "programmed to run for governor of South Carolina by outside influences in foreign countries."

A second source backs up the content of that report.

WLTX repeatedly reached out to Knotts for comment Friday, but he has so far not agreed to an interview.

His remark drew a sharp rebuke from the Haley team. Haley Campaign Manager Tim Pearson issued a statement Thursday saying, "Knotts represents all that is wrong with South Carolina politics. He's an embarrassment to our state and the Republican party."

On Friday, Pearson followed up with this statement: "Nikki has said from the very first day these ridiculous allegations and sideshows started that she would not be distracted from the issues and people that matter to South Carolina."

That criticism was echoed by SC Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd, who issued a statement saying, "The South Carolina Republican party strongly condemns any use of racial or religious slurs. Senator Knotts should apologize for his inappropriate comments, so that we can put this unfortunate incident behind us."

Former South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford said she has watched what has happened over the last few weeks with "revulsion," and said she strongly supports Haley. Related Coverage: Ex-First Lady Sanford Says 'South Carolina is Better Than That'

Some, however, want more than an apology.

"It's appalling, it's disgusting, and I don't think South Carolinians appreciate that," said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler Friday. "I've called on Senator Knotts to resign for that kind of egregious talk."

Fowler said her candidates have done a better job staying on message during the campaign season.

"I've been proud of our Democratic candidates," Fowler said. "They care about South Carolina. They are talking about the issues. The Republican candidates are talking about each other."

Knotts comment was just the latest flap for Haley, who has also had claims made against her by two different men that she had an inappropriate physical relationship with them. Haley denies those claims.

The two men have not produced evidence to back up their allegations.

"The behavior of my opponents, their campaigns and their supporters over the last few weeks has not served our state well," said Gubernational Candidate Henry McMaster, " In fact, it's been embarrassing. "South Carolina is a wonderful state, blessed with talented people, abundant resources and unlimited potential.  Success is ours for the taking.  And it's time we start acting like it.  "For the sake of our state and our people, I'm calling on them to cut this nonsense out right now."

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, during a news conference Friday to discuss the 2010 legislative session, was asked about the current nasty tone of state politics.

"We're in the silly season of politics," Sanford said. "You get the last couple of weeks of a political campaign and all kinds of zany stuff goes on."

"I think it [Knott's comments] plays to some of the different stereotypes that people have in the Northeast or other parts of the country as to what South Carolina's about."

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