In recent weeks, Upstate conservative politico Roan Garcia-Quintana has gained a special kind of infamy. A Cuban-born Southerner with white nationalist ties, he was working on the re-election campaign of the state's first minority governor. He believes people of different races shouldn't intermarry, and yet he expresses distaste for segregation. Confused? Welcome to South Carolina.
Garcia-Quintana was one of 164 members on the steering committee for Gov. Nikki Haley's campaign, and on May 22, the Southern Poverty Law Center called him out as a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization whose statement of principles includes a call for the United States to maintain its European "composition and character." The Haley campaign responded by asking Garcia-Quintana to leave the campaign, but not until after campaign manager Tim Pearson told the Post and Courier that the whole controversy was "clearly ginned up by some outside group."
The City Paper gave Garcia-Quintana a call recently to hear him out. "I believe we each have a right to feel the way we do as long as we don't hurt anybody physically," he said by way of introduction. So here we go.
To clear up the first apparent contradiction, Garcia-Quintana claims Spanish heritage, making him a Caucasian. In fact, Garcia-Quintana believes there are three races: Caucasians, Negroids, and Mongoloids. What about Gov. Haley, whose parents emigrated from Punjab, India, to Bamberg, S.C.? She is a Caucasian by Garcia-Quintana's reckoning. "She has the features of a Caucasian: her nose, her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth. That's really how you describe it," he says. "But I'm sure she thinks of herself like I do — would like to just think of herself as an American, period. You know, it's too bad that we have segregated ourselves to death."
Garcia-Quintana confirms that he is a lifetime member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, but he says he didn't read the group's statement of principles until someone confronted him about it. "That was written by someone I've never met, and that was written a long, long time ago," he says. So, for instance, he wasn't aware until recently that the CCC opposes "all efforts by the state and other powers to weaken the structure of the American family through toleration of sexual licentiousness, homosexuality and other perversions, mixture of the races, pornography in all forms, and subversion of the authority of parents." But that's not to say he disagrees. Asked for his stance on interracial marriage, he says, "I don't condone it," but he adds, "I don't think the government has any business in this, now, let me make that perfectly clear. When it comes to private things, I tend to fall more on the libertarian side than anything else.
"I personally don't [condone it] because I have seen the damage that it does to the offspring where the two families don't like it. Let's just talk black-white. As you very well know — and you should know if you don't know this — black people don't like their kids to marry white folks, right? There have been two movies made of that." (Here he is referring to the 1965 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and its 2005 remake, neither of which was likely intended as a statement against miscegenation.)
Another passage from the CCC statement of principles reads: "We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character." This, too, is not far from Garcia-Quintana's stance. "Well, I don't want to change the way the U.S. looks today and feels today," he says. "I don't want us to become Balkanized. I don't want to have groups that don't want to become Americans ... I don't want an invasion of people that will change the nature of our culture and have no allegiance to what this nation stands for."
Garcia-Quintana is no flash in the pan in the Republican Party. Trained as a statistician, he says he worked as a pollster for famed Southern Strategy consultant Lee Atwater on 22 Congressional and Senate races. He worked on Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign and was later appointed by Reagan as deputy director of the National Institute of Education. A Savannah native, he headed back south after the Reagan years to raise children and settled in Mauldin, S.C. He found work teaching mathematics and computer science at the University of South Carolina and then at the high school level before eventually retiring. Now 62 years old, Garcia-Quintana says he gave consultation to Upstate Tea Party groups in their early stages on "how to approach legislators and how to remove them from office if that should be the case."
Oh, and he has black friends. Like Atwater, who famously played guitar in nightclubs around D.C. even when he was chairman of the Republican National Committee, Garcia-Quintana is a blues aficionado, and he says the two of them would frequent majority-black clubs together. "We would sneak out and go into ... Anacostia, and we'd find some juke joints, and we were the only two white folks in there, or whatever you want to call us, Caucasian folks, whatever. But music transcends everything, and for me to be called these names, and here I am a blues piano player, guitar player, it's sort of an oxymoron."
When it comes to the controversy over his affiliation with CCC, Garcia-Quintana echoes the Haley camp's stance: "This was all created by the Democrats," he says. Garcia-Quintana says he doesn't stay up at night worrying about the labels people put on him, even those who call him a walking contradiction. "I'm free," he says. "Once I retired, I can talk, I can say what I feel. I can write about it. Yeah, I'm controversial because I say what I feel. But I don't go around calling people names."