Sevier County officials moved swiftly Tuesday to distance themselves from a county commissioner who used a homophobic slur. Angela Gosnell, Knoxville News Sentinel
Travis Dorman, Knoxville News Sentinel
KNOXVILLE – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has weighed in on an anti-gay comment made by a Sevier County official at a public meeting earlier this week.
Commissioner Warren Hurst launched into an unprompted rant at a county commission meeting in Sevierville on Monday, using a slur to describe Buttigieg and saying the fact that a gay man is running for president is "about as ugly as you can get."
A video of his comments, captured by Knoxville TV station WVLT, went viral, sparked backlash against the tourism hot spot and prompted local officials to quickly disavow Hurst's comments.
Reporter Sharman Sacchetti of Boston TV station WHDH asked Buttigieg, the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, about the video as his campaign passed through New Hampshire on Thursday.
"Well, he was right about one thing," said Buttigieg, a U.S. Navy veteran and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. "He's right that there is a gay man running for president. He doesn't seem to be right about much else."
"Have you run into this kind of discrimination and prejudice on the campaign trail?" Sacchetti asked.
"Sure," Buttigieg said, "but it doesn't speak for most people. And I think the most important thing is to approach with compassion."
Hurst, who has held his seat for 33 years, delivered his inflammatory comments with a toothpick in his mouth shortly before the commission voted unanimously to approve a symbolic resolution declaring the county's support of gun ownership and opposition to red flag laws.
He decried the danger posed by Democrats and liberals and said better presidential candidates could be found in the local jail.
Hurst went on to say, "I'm not prejudiced, but by golly a white male in this country has very few rights, and they're getting took more every day."
Although a local Democratic official stormed out of the meeting, many in the audience applauded Hurst's remarks, and some said, "Amen."
Not one county commissioner spoke out against him at the time.
The county — one of the nation's most popular travel destinations as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the home of attractions like Dollywood and restaurants owned by celebrities Paula Deen and Blake Shelton — received a flood of criticism after the video drew national headlines, with some calling for a tourism boycott of the area.
A slew of local officials condemned Hurst's remarks, but it seems unlikely he will face disciplinary action