South Carolina governor says he was ‘joking’ when he said he wanted to hunt Democrats with dogs

A Republican governor is walking back a comment he made about hunting Democrats with dogs, saying it was all just a joke.

South Carolia's Govenor Henry McMasters was attending a state GOP convention when he made the comment on Saturday.

"I look forward to the day that Democrats are so rare, we have to hunt them with dogs," he said.

Henry McMasters (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Henry McMasters (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The comment was made in front of hundreds of delegates in attendance, and made its way to social media after a reporter, Joseph Bustos, live-tweeted the comment, according to the Washington Post.

The next day, Anderson County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Salley, who is Black, asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the comments pending the governor's refusal to retract and apologise for the statement.

Mr Salley called the governor's comment a "racially-tinged dog whistle" and an "incitement of political violence."

"Black, Gay man in America. I've had to be on guard for people trying to 'hunt me down' most of my life," he wrote in a statement on Sunday.

Christale Spain, who is also Black and chairs South Carolina's Democratic Party, called the comments "absolutely chilling."

"The majority of the Dem electorate in SC is Black and our governor is saying out loud he can't wait to hunt us down with dogs," she wrote.

Dogs were used by slavers to hunt down escaped slaves prior to emancipation, and police have been criticised in the past for the use of dogs specifically against Black individuals, according to VICE.

"There is a very coded language there," Mr Salley said on Monday.

On Monday a spokesperson for the governor issued a statement claiming he had been making the comment for years, and said that "everyday South Carolinians understand that it's a joke."

It was not the first time the governor used dogs while issuing political invective; in 2018 he called Democrats "dogs" during a Faith and Freedom BBQ hosted by a Republican congressman, according to the State. More than 1,200 people were at the event.

Mr McMasters’ spokesman, Brandon Charochak, said people who took issue with the comments were "whining," and described the idea of hunting political opponents down with dogs as a "light-hearted joke."

"If South Carolina Democrat partisans can no longer bear light-hearted jokes made at their expense, then maybe they should focus their energy on winning and whining," he wrote.

Mr Salley was not impressed by the explanation that the comments were just a joke.

"People are standing up and saying 'This is not okay. I don't care how may times you've been making this tired joke,'" he said. "While he may think we're sitting over here whining, we're working."