Is it being young, white or male that makes Houston Gaines unique?
The Oct. 23 Federation of Neighborhoods candidate forum was a relatively uneventful affair—or so we thought at first. But Republican House District 117 candidate Houston Gaines’ inability to cleanly field a softball question later exploded into accusations of racism.
During the forum, Gaines kept referring to the "unique perspective" he'd bring to the state House of Representatives. One would think that Gaines, who just graduated from the University of Georgia in May, was referring to his youth. When Flagpole intern Nate Harris asked him what made him unique, though, Gaines' answer was anything but clear. (Visit flagpole.com to hear the audio.) After much hemming and hawing, Gaines—who is running against Deborah Gonzalez, a woman of Puerto Rican descent—at one point said, "It's obvious just by looking at us that we have a different perspective."
Was that “unique perspective” about his youth, as Harris suggested in his line of questioning? The AJC's Greg Bluestein sought out Democratic Party of Georgia spokesman Michael Smith, who drew a different conclusion: Smith called Gaines’ remarks “disgraceful and disqualifying” and compared it to “racist filth.” “Character counts, and Houston Gaines is found wanting,” he added. (Smith is not to be confused with Athens Democrat Michael Smith, who is supporting Gaines.)
Even factoring in Gaines playing cute about his support for our race-baiting, white-supremacist-sympathizing president, and that might be a stretch. After all, as UGA student government president, Gaines was instrumental in getting Athens-Clarke County's discrimination ordinance passed.
Gaines spokesman Brian Robinson responded that the candidate was referring to himself as “the voice of a new generation of leaders.” He called it “just one more ridiculous and inane example of Democrats resorting to identity politics.” Except, if Gaines meant to call himself “the voice of a new generation of leaders,” he could've easily said as much in response to Harris’ questions. But he didn't.
Gaines' campaign also provided the AJC with remarks Gonzalez, his Democratic opponent, made to WUOG, the UGA student-run radio station. “'I know that they say he’s a nice guy and that he’s a different candidate,” she said in the WUOG radio interview. “But when I look at Houston Gaines, I see white. Male. Very wealthy. Supported by special interest groups.”
Gonzalez raised two daughters as a single mom while working and putting herself through college and night school. Gaines, meanwhile, is the grandson of a judge and was raised in affluent Oconee County.
Race, class, gender—these things are common issues in campaigns, but rarely are they brought out into the open. If Gaines’ answer was a dog whistle rather than a mere stumble, everyone has now heard it.