Metro Weekly

Mike Huckabee resigns from Country Music Association Foundation’s board following criticism of anti-gay views

Former presidential candidate's past anti-LGBTQ rhetoric sparks outrage among industry insiders

Mike Huckabee - Photo: Gage Skidmore

Mike Huckabee – Photo: Gage Skidmore

On Thursday, former GOP presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee stepped down from his position on the Country Music Association Foundation board of directors, less than a day after his appointment was announced, due to his anti-gay views.

Huckabee’s appointment generated widespread criticism, including from some members of the country music community, over his anti-LGBTQ views, reports The Tennesseean, a Nashville-area newspaper.

While Huckabee has never been supportive of LGBTQ rights, as his national profile as a Christian conservative has grown he has trafficked in harmful rhetoric based on stereotypes or generalizations about LGBTQ people.

Huckabee was also criticized for his ties to — and ardent defense of — the National Rifle Association, particularly in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

The CMA Foundation is the charitable arm of the Country Music Association, which focuses on growing and supporting music education programs. To date, the foundation has invested more than $20 million in 84 programs across the country, either as part of the regular school curriculum, or through after-school programs and summer camps.

Jason Owen, the co-president of Monument Records and owner at Sandbox Entertainment, took personal offense, calling Huckabee’s appointment to the 12-member CMA Foundation board a “grossly offensive decision” in an email to CMA CEO Sarah Trahern and CMA Foundation Executive Tiffany Kerns.

Owen, who is raising children with his husband Sam, said Huckabee’s past comments about the LGBTQ community “made it clear my family is not welcome in his America.”

He also said that due to Huckabee’s ascension to the CMA Foundation board, neither his companies nor anyone they represent — including artists like Little Big Town, Faith Hill and Midland — would continue to support the foundation. 

“Huckabee speaks of the sort of things that would suggest my family is morally beneath his and uses language that has a profoundly negative impact upon young people all across this country,” Owen wrote. “Not to mention how harmful and damaging his deep involvement with the NRA is. What a shameful choice.”

Whitney Pastorek, the manager of Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, who recently visited an elementary school in Hermitage, Tenn., with the CMA Foundation last week, also wrote to the CMA, questioning how many children in the school’s diverse population Huckabee would choose to welcome.

“What a terrible disappointment to see [the CMA Foundation’s] mission clouded by the decision to align with someone who so frequently engages in the language of racism, sexism, and bigotry,” Pastorek wrote. “While Gov. Huckabee’s tenure in Arkansas may have resulted in valuable education reform over a decade ago, I find his choice to spend the past ten years profiting off messages of exclusion and hatred (not to mention the gun lobby) to be disqualifying.”

Users on social media were no less critical, with several floating the idea to boycott the CMA, the CMA music festival, and even country music altogether.

But longtime country music executive and CMA board member Joe Galante defended the decision to bring Huckabee onto the board, saying the foundation could benefit from knowledge Huckabee gained during his years as governor.

“Gov. Huckabee led an impressive administration while serving the state of Arkansas and his policy experience with education reform is something we are fortunate to be able to learn from,” Galante said.

In tendering his resignation, Huckabee struck a defiant tone, accusing critics of “bullying” the CMA and its foundation by threatening to withhold financial support.

“I genuinely regret that some in the industry were so outraged by my appointment that they bullied the CMA and the Foundation with economic threats and vowed to withhold support for the programs for students if I remained,” Huckabee wrote in his letter of resignation. “I’m somewhat flattered to be of such consequence when all I thought I was doing was voluntarily serving on a non-profit board without pay in order to [continue] my decades of advocacy for the arts and especially music.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement thanking fans and industry leaders for speaking out against Huckabee’s election to the board.

“Mike Huckabee has staked his entire political career on undermining the rights of LGBTQ people and our families,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “His cynical political attacks and discriminatory views do not represent the diversity of country music, and we thank all of the musicians, industry leaders and fans who spoke out against his appointment to this important role.”

The flap over Huckabee is the second major controversy to befall the CMA in recent months. Fourt months ago, the association was accused of trying to censor the press by issuing guidelines to media covering the CMA Awards.

In those guidelines, the CMA asked outlets to avoid questions about the recent mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas, gun reform efforts or Second Amendment rights, or political topics. If the outlets did not follow the guidelines, they would risk losing their credentials and be escorted off site.

That move generated heavy criticism as well, including from the awards show’s co-host, Brad Paisley. As a result, the CMA was forced to backtrack, issue an apology, and remove the restrictions on media questions.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at