Warren Hurst is a politician and Commissioner in Sevier County, Tennessee. The small-town politician made headlines on Tuesday after referring to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg with a homophobic slur during a commission meeting.
The commission meeting was held to discuss a gun rights resolution but the conversation ran off the rails when Commissioner Warren Hurst launched into an unprompted diatribe.
“We got a queer running for president, if that ain’t about as ugly as you can get,” Hurst ranted. “Look what we got running for president in the Democratic party. We can go over here to Hoss’s jail [Sevier County Sheriff] and get better people out of there than those running for democratic, to be President of the United States.”
Hurst also echoed the words of Donald Trump as he shifted his rant to immigration, “We’re letting people come in here…You can hate Trump or like him it don’t make no difference…When he tells you they’re only sending you their thugs, and a few good people might be following, he’s telling the truth…We’re being run by thugs from these other countries.”
Hurst concluded, “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.”
The audience, comprised of government officials and county residents, clapped and cheered during Hurst’s tirade and gave him a long round of applause as he finished.
Sara Thompson, the chair for the Sevier County democrats, was offended at Hurst referring to Buttigieg as a “Queer” and walked out of the meeting. “Excuse me” she said. “This is not professional. This is [expletive].”
“County commissioners need to remember that when they’re elected they need to represent everyone.” She said in an interview with local news outlet WVLT, This should serve as a reminder to all county commissioners to have more respect for each other and their constituents.”
Sevier County is a deep red republican county. In the 2016 election, 79.1% of the county voted for Donald Trump and 17.4% voted for Hillary Clinton.
The county makes a significant amount of tax money from tourism. It’s the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and right next door to the popular theme park “Dollywood”. Sevier County and the cities of Sevierville and adjacent Pigeon Forge, home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park, all released statements that denounced Hurst’s comments within hours.
Hurst has not responded to the backlash over his comments.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Warren Hurst Has Been a County Commissioner for 33 Years
Warren Hurst has held his county Commissioner seat in the 1st district of Sevierville, Tennessee for the past 33 years.
He was re-elected in August after running unopposed, receiving 847 votes. He previously ran against Republican primary challenger Jerry McGill in May 2018 and narrowly beat his challenger 592 to 352 votes.
2. He Owns a Construction Company
According to postings online, Warren Hurst is the owner of Warren Hurst Construction, a general contracting firm based in Sevierville, Tennessee.
His business page on Porch has been flooded with 1-star reviews from his critics since news broke of his homophobic rant.
3. Multiple Groups and Hundreds of Users on Social Media Have Called for Hurst to Apologize and Resign
Warren Hurst’s comments went viral on Monday and Tuesday and caused a universal backlash on social media. Users were upset at his rant and called for him to resign and apologize for his remarks.
GLAAD commented on the issue in a statement, “These statements from Sevier County Commissioner Hurst are completely unacceptable and ridiculous, especially coming from a county official.” They also posted the commissioner’s office phone number and told concerned citizens to call and demand he apologize.
Users on social media also called for the Hurst to resign and apologize for what he said.
The video received national attention and forced government officials and local businesses to respond immediately.
4. Hurst’s Comments May Affect Tourism in Sevier County
Some people who were upset with Hurst’s rant have decided to protest by boycotting Sevier County. User “travisaskers” on Twitter said he canceled his family’s trip to Gatlinburg after hearing Hurst and “For a family of four, this is approximately $2,700 in lost tourism revenue.”
According to local news outlet WVLT, another family canceled their vacation to Pigeon Forge after they heard the commissioner’s comments.
“I woke up this morning and saw this video and I was horrified,” said Tami Winterton, a Franklin, Tennessee resident. “I got online to make sure this was real and just kept getting upset. By 10 a.m., I was on the phone with my sister and other relatives.”
“My family has interracial marriage. One family member is a lesbian. How could we all travel to Pigeon Forge to attend Thanksgiving with such hate for our family members?” She said.
Several other users on Twitter joined the boycott and called on others to do the same.
Sevier County and the surrounding cities have tried to distance themselves from the hateful comments but users are calling for more.
5. Hurst’s Comments Were Universally Condemned by Local Government Officials
Although the commissioners and other officials at the meeting cheered and clapped during Hurst’s bigoted rant, government officials have been quick to condemn his comments following the widespread backlash.
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying, “Commissioner Hurst’s comments were his and his alone and I disapprove of those comments. They do not reflect my beliefs or opinions. I have lived in Sevier County my whole life and know it as a place that is welcoming to everyone, as evidenced by the more than 12 million people who visit annually.”
Sevier County Assistant County Mayor for Governmental Affairs Perrin Anderson also issued a statement reiterating that Sevier County is an “Equal Opportunity Employer”.
“The statements made by Commissioner Hurst at the Sevier County Commission meeting of October 21, 2019, do not reflect the opinion or position of Sevier County administration. Sevier County is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or status in any other group protected by law.”
Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster commented on the incident, “On behalf of the city of Pigeon Forge, we in no way condone Sevier County Commissioner Hurst’s disturbing comments. His statements made during the Sevier County commission meeting do not represent the views and feelings of the city of Pigeon Forge.”
The city of Gatlinburg issued a statement distancing themselves from Hurst, “We are shocked and disappointed by the offensive comments made by Sevier County Commissioner Hurst during Monday’s commission meeting. The City of Gatlinburg certainly does not share Mr. Hurst’s views.”
The city of Sevierville, worried about a hit to tourism, quickly released a statement denouncing his remarks, “The City of Sevierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen and City administration reject bigotry and prejudice towards any and all persons. As such, we strongly condemn the remarks of Commissioner Hurst. Mr. Hurst’s remarks do not reflect the feelings of our residents, who are friendly, caring people and neighbors. The City of Sevierville and the entire Smoky Mountain community is a welcoming place for the millions that visit our region and the thousands who live here.”
Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens said Hurst’s comments “do not reflect the Dollywood experience in any way. Dollywood is open and welcoming to everyone, every day.”