Even in deepest East Texas, one city is wary of rocker-turned-campaigner Ted Nugent.
Nugent called Longview Mayor Jay Dean “racist,” “clueless” and “dishonest” Saturday, after the city paid $16,000 to ditch the idea of Nugent headlining the city 4th of July Fireworks and Freedom Celebration.
Nugent, a maniacal 1970s guitarist in the news lately as a campaigner for Texas Republicans and for calling President Barack Obama a “ subhuman mongrel,” defended his show as family-friendly for “positive-energy Americans.”
Nugent’s New York agency had agreed on the date, but the city paid a cancellation fee because “we’re a diverse community and we’re trying to find a group or act that people throughout the community feel good about,” Dean said by phone Friday.
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“Not a lot of people know who Ted is,” Dean said. “Younger people here don’t know him.”
Nugent, 65, a former Detroit rocker turned McLennan County rancher, campaigned last month for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, and is co-chairman of Stephenville Republican Sid Miller’s campaign for state agriculture commissioner.
He has been the focus of Democrats’ complaints over his 1970s involvement with a teenage girl in Hawaii, with talk of others.
Fort Worth Democrat Terri Moore, a former federal and state prosecutor, has called for Abbott to investigate any involvement with Texas teenagers.
The Rev. Keith A. Rothra, a Southern Baptist pastor and chairman of Gregg County Republicans, defended the booking.
“How many other entertainers who came to Longview had those same problems in their past?” Rothra asked.
“To have Ted Nugent come here for the Fourth of July — what a coup! I find it amazing that we’re going to censor him.”
Longview spokesman Shawn Hara said city officials never formally secured the date but paid the $16,000 to settle any implied contract with New York-based Artist Group International. No headline act has been chosen, he said.
Nugent has been recovering from double knee replacement surgery and will return to the stage June 7 in Sweden, he wrote in an email.
“I hear from reliable sources that the mayor is a racist and was offended that my band performs mostly African-American-influenced music,” he wrote, reprising a familiar defense of rock.
“Sounds like a sad case of anti-Texas in Texas,” Nugent wrote.
“Everyone knows ol’ Uncle Ted is the ultimate Independence Day rockout with the ultimate all-American, soul music, rockin’ soundtrack of defiance, liberty and freedom. We shall carry on. We are the good guys. Clueless, dishonest people like the mayor are the bad guys.”
County Democratic Chairman Jim Cogar said most residents didn’t know that Nugent was being considered.
“I don’t think Ted Nugent is appropriate for Longview, and I don’t think Ted Nugent is appropriate for America,” Cogar said.
Nugent is making appearances and raising money for Miller “every day” going into the May 27 Republican Party runoff, Miller’s spokesman Todd M. Smith of Austin said.
“He is working hard to promote Sid Miller as our next commissioner of agriculture and Greg Abbott as our next governor,” Smith said.
Miller’s opponent is Republican Tommy Merritt of Longview.
“I guarantee you, that’s what this is about,” Smith said.
Merritt’s spokesman, Mark Sanders, laughed and said his candidate didn’t know that Nugent was considered.
Through Sanders, Merritt sent a reply:
“Ted Nugent does not reflect the standards of transparency, values and ethics we are running on.
“I stand by the city not having him. I’m just sorry it’s going to cost them $16,000 to do the right thing.”
Call it the price of freedom.