Politics & Government

Sen. Rand Paul confirms departure of staffer who spoke fondly of Lincoln's assassin

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul spoke with reporters at the 114th annual VFW National Convention on Monday, July 22, 2013, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul spoke with reporters at the 114th annual VFW National Convention on Monday, July 22, 2013, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky. AP

LOUISVILLE — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul confirmed Monday that a controversial staffer known as the "Southern Avenger," a former radio shock jock who spoke fondly of the Confederacy, had resigned.

Paul said the resignation was a mutual decision, noting that the national controversy in recent weeks about Jack Hunter's past had become a distraction.

Paul, a Bowling Green Republican who is considering a bid for president in 2016, has been urging the Republican Party to try to add more minorities.

"I think because of the views he had expressed before my employment, it had become a distraction and it just wasn't going to work," Paul said of Hunter during a news conference after speaking at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in downtown Louisville.

Paul also said that he did not know what Hunter would be doing now and that he had not helped him try to land another job. Hunter was Paul's director of new media and was paid $40,000 from Aug. 1 through March 31.

Hunter, who helped Paul write the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington, could not be reached for comment.

The Daily Caller, a news and opinion website based in Washington, reported that Hunter said in an email that he now wants to avenge his honor and will resume his career as a political pundit.

Hunter, as a former radio talk show host in South Carolina, made several controversial comments about race. He once compared President Abraham Lincoln to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, said he observed the birthday of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and lamented America's shrinking white majority.

When Hunter's past was reported this month by Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online publication, Hunter said he was not a racist and did not believe everything he had said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon called on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, to condemn Paul's hiring of Hunter and to "take steps to rid his party of this extremist bigotry." McConnell is seeking re-election next year and has drawn opposition from Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, replied that Paul had done more to reach out to blacks and other minorities "in the past six months than Logsdon has done his entire career."

Benton also said it was disappointing that Grimes did not condemn a liberal Super PAC's racist tweets this year about McConnell's wife. He was referring to tweets from Progress Kentucky about the ethnicity of former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

In April, before she announced her bid for the Senate, Grimes said she had no association with Progress Kentucky and did not condone racial or ethnic denigration.

Logsdon said Monday that he thought it "shameful that Sen. Paul would hire a person such as Mr. Hunter. What is more shameful is Sen. McConnell's unwillingness to condemn this kind of fringe hate speech."

Shortly after Hunter's controversial past was reported by the Washington publication, Paul told The Huffington Post he would have fired Hunter immediately if he thought Hunter was a white supremacist and treated people differently based on skin color.

But several news commentators said Paul needed to separate himself from Hunter if he had aspirations for the White House.

Kentucky Republican consultant Ted Jackson of Louisville said Monday that Paul's political opponents would try to use Hunter against him.

"In politics, everything gets used against you," said Jackson. "But I think this will be very minimal against Paul on a long-term basis as he continues to call for more inclusion of minorities in the party."

Brannon Dunn, vice president of the NAACP in Lexington, said Hunter "certainly will come up in any elections for Paul."

"I don't approve of what Hunter has said, and this could cost Paul votes in an election," Dunn said. "I do believe in freedom of speech, even if it is wrong and hateful."

Does Paul think his association with Hunter will hurt his chances should he run for president?

"Everybody occasionally has people working for them who has a background that damages what you are trying to do. So we'll see; only time will tell," he said.

"But I think people should try to judge me on who I am and what I'm trying to do rather than trying to go after one of my employees and say this is all about you. If it's about me, let's talk about things I'm trying to do."

Paul said he had been to Louisville's West End, home to many blacks, three times this year and was planning to go back, and had spoken at several historically black colleges this year.

"I'm doing outreach for the Republican Party because we want to attract more African-American voters and I'm a senator who represents all of Kentucky," he said. "I want to make sure they know I'm trying to represent them whether they voted for me or not. I'm trying to make things better for all Kentuckians."

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