Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee resigned from the CMA Foundation board of directors less than a day after the Country Music Association announced his election. Huckabee’s board appointment sparked immediate backlash from the country music community.
Most notably, Jason Owen informed the CMA that neither he, nor his companies nor any artists they represent would support the CMA Foundation in any way. “Further, we find it hard to support the organization as a whole as a result,” Owen said in an email to CEO Sarah Trahern.
Owen owns Sandbox Entertainment and is co-president of Monument Records alongside Shane McAnally. Sandbox counts Little Big Town, Faith Hill, Kacey Musgraves and Dan + Shay among its clients.
Red Light Management’s Whitney Pastorek also expressed serious concern in an email to the CMA. “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 said in the email.
For Owen, the issue is a very personal one. He and his husband Sam have a son and are expecting twins. Mike Huckabee has long opposed civil rights for the LGBTQ community. “This man has made it clear that my family is not welcome in his America,” Owen says.
In announcing his resignation, Huckabee took a particularly catty approach. “If the industry doesn’t want people of faith or who hold conservative and traditional political views to buy tickets and music, they should be forthcoming and say it,” Huckabee says.
This, of course, is a “straw man” fallacy, in which one person assigns a false argument to another in order to more easily attack it. The backlash has nothing to do with being religious or conservative, but instead stems from various comments Huckabee has made about the LGBTQ community.
Huckabee also suggests that not serving on the CMA Foundation board will hurt the organization’s goal of providing music education. “I hope that the music and entertainment industry will become more tolerant and inclusive and recognize that a true love for kids having access to the arts is more important than a dislike for someone or a group of people because of who they are or what they believe,” he says.
He also tweeted an article linking to his resignation letter with the caption “Hate wins.” The phrase was an apparent a jab at the “Love Wins” rallying cry of the LGBTQ community.
In announcing Huckabee’s resignation, CMA CEO Sarah Trahern defended his initial appointment. “The reason he was appointed was very mission-centric,” Trahern says. “His nomination…was made with the purest intention given his experience with music education reform policy over the course of a decade.”
Former Sony Nashville CEO Joe Galante offered a similar take at the time of his appointment. “His policy experience with education reform is something we are fortunate to be able to learn from,” Galante said.
Huckabee made retooling Arkansas’ public education a mission during his governorship. He speaks often about his love for music and how music education affected him as a child. But many of his broader views on education are controversial, including abolishing the Department of Education.
The swift reaction to Mike Huckabee’s appointment might indicate a shift in the perception of the “good old boy” network in Nashville, where people attain positions of stature regardless of their transgressions. The reaction from Owen and others is a positive step forward to making country music a more inclusive genre by making it clear there’s no place for people who seek to disenfranchise others, regardless of the political or strategic clout they may bring.