Over the past couple of weeks, Republican candidate for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has shown an alarming lack of judgment in how to handle bad press. Case in point, in response to the story about a racist email sent from her Department of Human Services email account in 2007 Rutledge could have[foot]And, were she armed with competent advisors, would have[/foot] minimized the damage by simply owning up to it and saying something like, “I realize that the email that I passed along could be viewed is inappropriate or possibly offensive, and it was not something that I should have sent from a state-owned email account, no matter what my intentions in sending it were. I apologize.” Had she gone that route, the whole story is probably a non-issue right now.
Instead, Ms. Rutledge opted for a different approach. To recap, she first argued that she “merely forwarded it without comment,” which is doubly false; claimed that this was just an attempt of “liberals” (or whomever) to smear her, as if she was the victim when her own email was being discussed; and embraced the somewhat insane explanation of the original author of the email, who argued that the email was not racist, but was a “literary technique.”
Then, in response to the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus’ holding a press conference on Monday, in which they asked Rutledge to apologize for the email, Rutledge sent a written statement to certain media, in which she asserted that she “forwarded, without comment, this story to four fellow attorneys and my assistant at DHS because the domestic violence was similar to the sort of cases we dealt with every day in our efforts to protect Arkansas children.”[foot]No. That is absolutely NOT why she sent the email, as her subject line makes clear. Also, if you were sending that email along to show parallels between the email and your work, I’d imagine that you would also explain (a) why it was written in such an insane dialect and (b) how, aside from the dialect, it is relevant to your work. Rutledge is either a liar or an idiot.[/foot]
That’s when things got really weird.
In a brief interview with Paige Preusse at 40/29, Rutledge denied seeing anything racial about the email, claiming:
“I’ve even had, uh, black…individuals come up to me and say, ‘Leslie, I read that, and it sounds like country talk to me.'”
Which you might recognize as the political equivalent of “I can’t be racist; I have black friends.”
ANYWAY…I mention all of this as prologue, because it brings everyone up to speed on the backstory that led to this great post from Southern Progress yesterday, in which Amanda Crumley took Rutledge to task not only for the racist email, but for other emails in the stack of communications from Rutledge’s time at DHS. Writes Crumley:
The emails are chock full of partially nude photos of men, dismissive and unflattering comments about coworkers, foul language, multiple examples of sexual innuendo, getting drunk, planning wild parties and grown up sleepovers, taking young people to parties, references to herself being a “cougar,” her dating life, dressing “slutty” in “f-me pumps” and showing her cleavage. One email includes a particularly shocking comment about a colleague’s much younger brother in which Rutledge uses a phrase best left in the gutter (where her brain clearly was much of the time she should have been working): if there is “Grass on the field…play ball!” We’ll refer you to Urban Dictionary for the definition of this offensive term about children barely in puberty.
Here are the emails in question, in redacted form to protect other people as much as possible. While none of the emails, standing alone, is likely a huge deal (aside from the racist email, obviously), taken as a whole, the messages — along with Rutledge’s handling of the negative press of late — paint a picture of someone who lacked the judgment necessary:
- to realize that registering to vote in Washington D.C. and then requesting an Arkansas absentee ballot weeks later was improper;
- to own up to her own failure to properly register to vote in 2013, instead blaming it on the Pulaski County Clerk and his staff;
- to understand that coordinating with a 527 on a campaign ad was illegal and improper, as well as to admit her mistake when called on it;
- to simply apologize for passing along an email that was, at best, racially insensitive;
- not to send emails with pictures of male strippers, degrading comments about coworkers, and pedophile jokes from her state email account in the first place;
- to either release her DHS personnel file or explain why she would not in manner that made sense;[foot]Saying that she doesn’t trust the accuracy of what is in the file is insultingly stupid, since she could get the file herself and find out exactly what it says[/foot]and, more generally
- to ever own up to anything, choosing instead to paint everything as a liberal/media attack on her because she is a woman, a Republican, or any other demographic that she thinks she can hide behind.
There’s that old saying that character is what you do when no one is looking. Based on what we see when we look at Leslie Rutledge — and how she reacts to an ounce of self-reflection — one shudders at the thought of what she might do if she thought no one was paying attention.
I can only hope that, unlike Rutledge, Arkansans generally will demonstrate the kind of good judgment that doesn’t reward deceit, ignorance, and faux martyrdom with a constitutional office.