RNC Member Defends SC GOP Chair Katon Dawson Against Racism Charges

This is a cross-post of the Minority Report exclusive that absentee linked to in RedHot the other day.

Katon Dawson is the Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. He is one of several announced candidates for the Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. There is much to like about Chairman Dawson. He has ably run the South Carolina Party for the last seven years and has enjoyed much success in doing so (as those of you who pay attention to our Live Wire would have seen last week). No candidate is without their own bit of controversy though. I wanted to search for more information on Chairman Dawson as part of another upcoming post highlighting who the players were in the race. In the course of my research I came across some information that I had to further check out.

A few days ago, Jim Gerghaty did a quick highlight of Chairman Dawson. He raised the issue of Katon’s recent association with a all-white country club in Columbia, SC.

Dawson does come to the table with a unique challenge, though. He was a member for 12 years at the all-white Forest Lake Country Club in Columbia, S.C., and quit his membership in September after a local newspaper raised the issue. Liberal blogs have noticed, and are likely to push the matter relentlessly if Dawson becomes one of the GOP’s most prominent faces. The full measure of a man requires more than his country club membership, but could the media resist harping on an RNC chair who once belonged to a club that wouldn’t admit the 44th President of the United States?

It is very true. Liberal blogs have noticed this. A Google search for Katon Dawson will return pages of hits that discuss this very story. With all stories, however, there is more than meets the eye. The sensationalist question that Geraghty finishes with (and I’ve seen echoed across the blogosphere) about how Dawson belonged to a country club that wouldn’t even admit our President-elect misses the whole picture.

In an exclusive document obtained by The Minority Report, RNC committeeman Glenn McCall fires back at the critics.

Dear ##########:

I am a black Republican, and I am supporting Katon Dawson for Republican National Committee Chairman.

My support for Katon is not based solely on the fact we both come from South Carolina. I’m supporting Katon because I know first-hand what he’s done as state chairman to make the South Carolina Republican Party more inclusive, and what he’s done as a private citizen to oppose racism in our state.

A few years ago, my wife, Linda, and I were volunteering for the York County Republican Party. We were doing all the things that make the party run – the little things that often go unnoticed – like putting up yard signs, making get-out-the-vote calls, and going door-to-door for local Republican candidates.

One night, Katon stopped in at our regular county party meeting. We got to talking and he told me that our county needed strong representation at the ’04 National Convention, and he urged Linda and me to run to serve as delegates. We did, and we won.

Time went by, and Katon kept in touch. He saw talent in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. He constantly encouraged me, and encouraged me to step up and take on leadership roles in the Party. In 2004, I ran for 2nd Vice Chairman of the State Party and won. Then, in 2007, I ran for York County GOP Chairman and became the first African-American to hold the position.

Katon knows that growing a party begins at the grassroots level. He knew that if we were going to be a strong state party, we had to have strong local organizations as our foundation. (And he knows that to have a strong national party, we must have strong state parties in place.) I believe what separates Katon from the other candidates for chairman is that he has done the day-to-day work of growing a party. He knows what it takes to win, and is fully aware of the personal investment and sacrifice required to build a party from the ground up.

Katon left no stone unturned on his way to building a stronger state party. Under his leadership, minority involvement increased dramatically. Katon sent a clear signal when he chose Ron Thomas, an African-American, to work as his first Political Director, and his commitment to an inclusive party has paid off.

In 2004, Republicans in Lexington County elected an Indian-American woman, Nikki Haley, to serve in the State House, making her one of only two Indian-American Republicans in any State House in the country at the time. This year, South Carolina elected its first black Republican, Tim Scott, to the State House since Reconstruction, and in May, my peers honored me by electing me to serve on the Republican National Committee.

Katon’s success in making the South Carolina Republican Party stronger by making it more inclusive is clear. Unfortunately, what may not be as clear is Katon’s commitment to inclusion and his opposition to racism as a private citizen. Allow me to set the record straight on something you may have heard about.

A few months ago, a local newspaper wrote an article about a country club where Katon was a member. The article pointed out that the club did not have any minority members. There was some confusion about whether or not it was club policy or a longstanding deed that prohibited minority members — none of that really matters. What matters is this: Katon Dawson tried to change the club’s practices to allow minority members. When he realized that things were not likely to change, Katon resigned his membership.

Sadly, Katon’s opponents are trying to use the fact that he was a member of this country club to disqualify him from serving as RNC Chair.

It shouldn’t. I believe it won’t.

I see what Katon did as evidence of his commitment to including and involving people from all walks of life and all races. Katon took a stand for what was right. He stood up in front of his friends at the club and told them what they were doing was wrong, and when they refused to change, he decided to leave. I’m not saying that Katon deserves a medal for the courage he showed that day, but I do think this one incident revealed the depths of Katon’s personal commitment to inclusion.

What our Party needs to move forward is principled leadership, and I can tell you from personal experience that Katon has the character, integrity, and vision to move our Party in the right direction.

I sincerely appreciate your time, and I encourage you to join me in supporting Katon Dawson for RNC Chairman.


Glenn McCall

[Emphais mine]

As you can see from the letter, not only is it absurd to believe that Dawson is a bigot (as evidenced by his friendship with McCall), but the story as reported in blogs (and even by Geraghty) only hints at the whole picture. South Carolina newspaper The State published the original report about the story. Evidence in that story backs up what McCall was saying about how Dawson attempted to change the policy.

Dawson said he began working to change the club’s admissions practices in mid-August after reading about the deed in an article in The State.

“I understand the deed is unconstitutional,” Dawson said. And, on a personal level, “that deed is unacceptable.”

In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned similar land restrictions as a violation of the equal protection clause. But no one has challenged the deed restriction in court.

Dawson wrote a letter to club leaders Aug. 20, urging them to allow people of color.

“It is with only the best interests of our club’s proud tradition at heart that I inform you of my intent to work to change the club practice that would exclude membership for anyone based on any specific ethnicity,” he wrote in the letter obtained by The State.

This should be touted as a lesson in how to act as a responsible adult. When you are made aware of a policy that you find morally objectionable, your first reaction should be to attempt to change the policy. When, and only when, it appears that your actions will be unsuccessful, you must leave the organization. That is exactly what Chairman Dawson did. Because of that he has earned the trust and support of Glenn McCall and many others that know him.

Do not let this issue weigh against Dawson when you are considering your support for the candidates for RNC Chairman.