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Puerto Rico, Congressman Sam Graves, dirty campaigning and the politics of race

Sam Graves Urinates on Puerto Rico
Sam Graves Urinates on Puerto RicoCartoon by Kyle Wilson

According to an article released by Reuters today, Governor Luis Fortuno (R-PR), has announced a two-step referendum that will take place next year. Under his proposal, Puerto Ricans will be asked if they want to maintain their current relationship with the United States, on an August, 2012 ballot, where they will have the opportunity to vote yes or no.

In this regard, the bill is similar to the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010, which died with the adjournment of the 111th Congress.

About a year and a half ago, local Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO) proved he was no friend to Puerto Rico, when he voted against the Puerto Rico Democracy Act. Like many people opposed to Puerto Rican self-determination, he discredited the bill suggesting that it was a veiled attempt to force statehood on the island community from above.

Supporters of the Popular Democratic Party, a local Puerto Rican party in favor of maintaining the status quo, called Governor Fortuno’s proposal “a ‘smoke screen’ aimed at hiding [his] record on crime and the economy, while whipping up statehood support” in an effort to boost his reelection prospects, says Reuters.

Perhaps the PDP is right about Fortuno’s political agenda. But, in the case of Congressman Graves, the episode last year reveals, as one blogger asserts, his willingness to stir up racial tensions in the Missouri Sixth Congressional District, an area that—post-redistricting—now includes a region of the state called Little Dixie.

Of course, this is not to say that Sam Graves is a racist (though others have, see here, and here). In fact, his record makes him appear to be an equal opportunity offender, by and large, for political purposes.

Consider his previous support for easing the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Congressman Graves voted 7 times between 2003 and 2005 to ease trade sanctions against Cuba. However, after receiving substantial campaign contributions from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee—an anti-Castro, pro-embargo group—Graves and 17 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives switched their positions.

So, given this, it’s not likely that Congressman Graves opposes Puerto Rican self-determination because he wants to continue the island’s 500 year legacy of colonialism. It’s probably more likely that he fears the creation of a new “blue state” in presidential electoral math. Or maybe his party fears statehood will undermine their ability to use the “English-as-the-national-language” debate as a political wedge issue. Or maybe, Congressman Graves, like many other conservatives, is simply attempting to spin Puerto Rican statehood into the illegal immigration debate. After all, Graves did sponsor legislation that would remove birth-right citizenship for children born in the United States to non-citizen parents.

But to call Sam Graves a racist is hyperbole, isn’t it?

If we were to adopt the standard employed by his own party, a "McCarthyite" guilt-by-association attack strategy, then that question becomes harder to answer. After all, presidential candidate Rick Perry (R-TX) has been fighting allegations of racism and racial insensitivity since Saturday, when The Washington Post ran a story revealing that his family’s hunting camp has been known for years as “Niggerhead,” a name given to the acreage by ranchers long ago. Incidentally, back in August, just two days after the Texas governor announced his candidacy, Congressman Graves became the first major politician from Missouri to endorse a Republican candidate for president: he endorsed Perry.

More alarmingly, Jeff Roe, Sam Graves’ infamous campaign manager known for his sleazy, dirty tactics, attacked Kansas City area Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) for inventing a “racial incident to promote his political agenda," in the heat of the health-care debate last year. A local blogger, The KC Blue Dog, demanded an apology from Congressman Graves, and insisted that Graves fire his mudslinger-in-chief.

Of course, Graves would never fire Roe. These old pals together have come up with some of the dirtiest campaigns on record. In 2006, they slandered Graves’ Democratic opponent in the congressional race, tying her to the porn industry, simply because she had worked for a science magazine with ties to Penthouse.

Graves and Roe are famous for taking “the low road even against weak opponents.” In 2008, when Graves faced his biggest challenge, he launched his ill-reputed “San Francisco Values” ads, targeting former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes. One these ads was called “sleazy” by Northwest Missouri State University political science professor Rich Fulton. Fulton went on criticize the ad as “homophobic” and bordering “on the racist” (due to the fact that it appeared critical of interracial romance).

Is Sam Graves a racist? Probably not. Is he homophobic? Who knows? Jeff Roe says Emmanuel Cleaver exploits race for politics. He would know, because one thing for sure, Roe and Graves certainly have lots of experience doing the same thing.

The Democratic Party has apparently given up on Missouri’s 6th Congressional District. After facing empty-shirt congressional candidate, Clint Hylton (D-Polo, MO), in 2010, Graves appears to have solidified his grip on the district. It has been suggested that former state representative Ed Wildberger (D-St. Joseph, MO) could present a viable challenge to Congressman Graves. Whether or not Wildberger throws his name into the 2012 congressional race (as unlikely as that may be) remains to be seen. But the people of Puerto Rico, the people of Cuba, and most importantly, the people of Missouri’s 6th district deserve better. Hopefully someone will stand up against his political machine.

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