During his recent swing through New Hampshire for CNN’s presidential debate, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty courted more than a hundred Republicans at a house party in the town of North Conway. But the Pawlenty campaign’s choice of a host for the event, which was arranged by the candidate’s regional field manager in the Granite State, was nothing if not controversial. The party took place at the home of Ray Shakir, a local Republican activist and retired construction executive, who calls President Obama a “jungle alien,” Hillary Clinton “Osama’s dream girl,” and once labeled certain disabled children “uneducatable” and thus undeserving of taxpayer-funded schooling.
In an interview, Shakir says Pawlenty addressed tough issues at the house party, such as cutting subsidies for corn ethanol and implementing right-to-work legislation, which would allow employees to opt out of union membership but still receive union-won benefits. Shakir praises Pawlenty as “a real nice guy, very gregarious,” adding, “at this point in the game, Tim Pawlenty is my choice for president.”
But why did the Pawlenty campaign, running on a “Time for Truth” message, turn to Shakir, an activist whose eyebrow-raising comments on a range of topics fly in the face of that theme? Pawlenty, for instance, has repeatedly dismissed the unfounded rumors questioning President Obama’s US citizenship. Shakir, however, says Obama is “a jungle alien. Because that’s what he is—he’s not an American. You can call me a birther if you want.” Shakir claims the long-form birth certificate recently released by the Obama administration is merely a clever forgery. (The Pawlenty campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
Moving to other issues, Shakir called human-caused climate change “bullshit” and accused liberals of “trying to destroy this country.”
“They’re brainwashing people,” he says.
Shakir has a history of rhetorical flamethrowing. He’s referred to President Obama as “Borat Hussein O’Bummer” and suggested he is “a radical, subversive, con-artist fraud.” His repertoire also includes referring to Democrats as “Democ-Rats,” Bill Clinton as a “charlatan,” and former vice president Al Gore as “vice circus barker.” In 2007, he called then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “Osama’s dream girl.” And he once derided people who support a sales or income tax in New Hampshire as “pathetic individuals [who] are obviously deaf, dumb, and blind (oops…audibly, mentally, and visually challenged).”
In March, Shakir sparked outrage during a meeting of the Conway budget committee, of which he’s a member. At the time, citizens were enmeshed in debate over a proposed 11-percent budget cut to school spending (which was ultimately voted down). In response to a special education official who said there was “no such thing as an uneducatable person,” Shakir told a gym full of citizens: “I would dispute that fact. There are certainly individuals that are uneducateable. I am simply suggesting to you and everybody else that there should be a line drawn where the taxpayer is responsible to educate certain people.”
Shakir’s statement drew a chorus of boos, calls to resign, and even a comparison to Hitler. To which Shakir responded, “If you don’t like it, that’s the way it is. You people are divorced from reality.”
To boisterous cheering, a local pediatrician, Rich Laracy, thundered back that Shakir was “physically making me sick right now. What you are saying, Mr. Shakir, is immoral, unethical, and illegal. I demand your immediate resignation from this budget committee.” At that point Shakir got up and left the meeting, to even louder cheers. “Ignorance,” Laracy called after him, “is the worst disability.” (You can watch the exchange here; it’s the second, smaller video.)
Yet despite Shakir’s track record of radioactive remarks, he is apparently in high demand by some of the GOP’s 2012 contenders. Shakir tells Mother Jones that Mitt Romney’s campaign has contacted him to inquire about holding their own event at his house. That’s news to Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, who wrote in an email that he’s “not aware of anything.”