Before this past election cycle has disappeared in history’s rearview mirror, I’d like to note with that oversized Lone Star pride with which some of you can identify, the number of Texans who have served elective national offices and brought honor to our state. Just to mention a few, I salute President Lyndon B. Johnson, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Speaker Sam Rayburn, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan, and President of the Republic-U.S. Senator-Governor Sam Houston.
Unfortunately, we are not always blessed by leaders of that caliber. In fact, I want to tell you about someone at the opposite end of the spectrum, Congressman Louie Gohmert, who was sent back to Washington, D.C. to embarrass us further, thanks to the folks in the First Congressional District of Texas (that’s EAST Texas, folks). Representative Gohmert believes that Middle Eastern women are coming to the U.S. to have babies to obtain citizenship for the children in order to return to the Middle East, be inculcated with anti-American fervor, and then sent back to the U.S. as terrorists. He said that there was intelligence to support this claim, but when interviewed by Anderson Cooper, he began shouting with indignation when A.C. began asking him to substantiate that claim and whether it was being shared with the F.B. I. In fact, Tom Fuentes, the former assistant director of FBI’s Office of International Operations from 2004-2008 was also interviewed and described the whole thing “ludicrous.”
But there’s more to this congressman than his membership in the lunatic fringe that seeks to fan the flames of hatred, xenophobia, and intolerance. He’s also a _____________. Fill in the blank after you’ve read the rest of this story.
Christian Cutler is a young man, 35 years of age, who had moved three years ago with his wife and twin daughters to Nacogdoches to take a “dream job,” Director of Art Galleries at Stephen F. Austin State University. In early August of this year, Cutler said he was contacted by a Gohmert aide, requesting that Cutler be a jury member for a high school art show in Tyler hosted by Rep. Gohmert. Cutler expressed interest and asked the aide to send him some additional information regarding the event. No such information ever arrived.
As Cutler was relatively unfamiliar with Congressman Gohmert, he did some research on the internet and discovered the videos of Gohmert speaking about the so-called “terror babies.” So informed, Cutler worried that judging the Congressman’s art contest might lead to others associating him with the man’s political positions. When Gohmert’s aide called again about the art contest jury, Cutler declined, saying that he didn’t want to be associated with the Congressman. When pressed for a reason, he told the aide that he thought the Congressman was a “sensationalist and fear monger.” He reportedly thanked the aide for the invite, but nevertheless declined.
Ten days later, Cutler received a letter from Gohmert himself who wrote that he “disagreed” with Cutler’s view that he is a fear monger, “but will defend to the death your right to be misinformed.”
But more significantly, the high school art show was not quite what the aide had represented to Cutler according to Gohmert himself, who wrote: “I apologize for my misunderstanding that your outstanding institution wished to be included in our efforts at providing students with exposure to different campuses around our east Texas district. We will not bother you in the future, even though I do hope to continue moving the host school from campus to campus in the years to come.”
The coup de grace was Gohmert’s notation showing a copy was sent to the university president, Dr. Baker Pattillo.
Eight days later, on Sept. 28, 2010, Cutler was forced to resign from his position as director of art galleries, despite “outstanding” performance reviews. He asked for reasons, but was simply told that he is an “at will” employee.
Cutler’s situation did not go unnoticed. Keith Olbermann named Rep. Gohmert a “Worst Person in the World” over this incident and Anderson Cooper interviewed Cutler on Anderson Cooper 360. Asking whether Cutler had misunderstood the invitation to judge an art show, Cutler assured him that the event that was described in Gohmert’s letter would have been something above his pay grade to accept or reject. That simply was not the invitation that was communicated to him.
Now, Cutler is one of many men with a family, desperately searching for employment in this bad economy. It is my understanding that he is willing to re-locate. Unfortunately, East Texas desperately needs more men like him.
In discussing the situation with my friend who is a close friend of Christian’s parents, she noted that those of us who regularly work in and around state government are “accustomed to biting our tongues when dealing with politicians or others in control, and it is rare that we speak our minds and hearts to them.” The same holds true with their aides.
But Christian Cutler was not a habitué of government circles and unaware that speaking truth to power (even in the person of an aide) is not a good idea, unless you are, for some reason, bullet-proof. And it is even more unwise when the person with power has shown his colors by trying to shout down – rather than responding with rational answers – a journalist’s reasonable questions during a nationally-televised interview.
The truth is in limited supply these days, and Christian Cutler suffered the consequence of following his conscience and refusing to associate with a person whose positions were “ludicrous” and, undoubtedly, harmful in the national debate on immigration. Had he known that his conversation was going to be a part of that national debate along with an abuse of power discussion, he might have been less blunt. But he had no idea that he was speaking to someone with the power to destroy his livelihood, reputation, and future, and, in fact, would chose to do so.
It’s a sad day in this country when such destruction is leveled by an elected official against a person making an honest statement of his opinion and desire to participate – or not – in a high school art show. Such a representative of the people brings no honor to his office or the voters who elected him.