Mike Huckabee Resigns From CMA Foundation Board Following Outcry in Nashville

Mike Huckabee
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Mike Huckabee photographed on Jan. 26, 2016

The former Arkansas governor "did not want to be a distraction or hindrance to the CMA since the mission is about supporting music education."

Following an announcement made Wednesday that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had been elected to the Country Music Association's philanthropic CMA Foundation board of directors, the Republican pundit has now resigned. 

CMA CEO Sarah Trahern made the announcement on Thursday (March 1), releasing a statement to CMA Foundation and CMA Board of Directors, which was republished by Hits, explaining Huckabee "did not want to be a distraction or hindrance to the CMA since the mission is about supporting music education."

CMA did not responded to Billboard's request for comment. 

Huckabee, a country fan and a bass player long known for his conservative views and religious stances, served as governor of Arkansas from 1996-2007 and ran to be the Republican nominee for president in 2008 and 2016. Before that, he had been a pastor and president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1989-1991. Huckabee's conservative social views have brought significant criticism over the years, including a notable passage in his 2015 book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy where he called JAY-Z a "pimp" who was exploiting his wife, Beyonce, as a "sex object." 

Huckabee's appointment sent instant shockwaves throughout Nashville, one of the few left-leaning cities in a deeply red state, that some in Music City felt showed the country music industry's reticence to embrace the social movements gaining steam in other parts of the country. Among those speaking up was Jason Owen, head of powerhouse management firm Sandbox Entertainment (whose clients include country artists Little Big Town and Faith Hill) and Monument Records (Walker Hayes), who sent the CMA Foundation a letter Thursday declaring that neither he nor his artists would support the association in any way going forward.

Owen told Billboard: "All the labels are really supporting my stance, with the loudest being [founder of Big Machine Label Group, and CMA Board Director at Large] Scott Borchetta. He has called for an emergency meeting [of the CMA Board] to get this rectified ASAP. Props to him for sure."

Borchetta couldn't be immediately reached for comment.  

In Trahern's statement, she said the reason Huckabee was appointed was -- like with all the board members -- not based on his "personal or political affiliations" and, instead, was "very mission-centric." To explain, she highlighted his experience in government at a state level and past advocacy on music education as what would have been a valuable contribution to the foundation. 

"His nomination to the Foundation Board was made with the purest intention given his experience with music education reform policy over the course of a decade," Trahern wrote. "As you know, both the CMA Board and the Foundation Board are comprised of representatives with a wide array of experience and a breadth of varying viewpoints."

Joey Amato, a Nashville-based publicist who specializes in LGBT outreach, told Billboard the reaction he saw in response to the CMA Foundation decision to elect Huckabee was universally disapproving across all sexual and gender identities. 

"I have heard nothing but negative comments from those working in the industry on this decision," he said. "From my own personal perspective, when I moved to Nashville seven years ago, Music Row was still pretty closeted. There were LGBT people that worked on the Row, but they weren't as open about it as they are now. We've come so far in just those seven years, with people being proud of who they are now and everyone being so supportive of everyone else, it seems so contrary to what Mike Huckabee's agenda is. He's been openly vocal on being anti-LGBT throughout his entire career, and currently, so it seems like this decision is neither productive nor was given much thought [by the CMA]. I know people who identify as LGBT in every single record label on the Row -- managers, agents, producers, promoters -- and it seems like a move specifically made as a slap in the face to those people."

Austin Rick, the male country singer who brought the #MeToo movement to Nashville by alleging that Nashville publicist Kirt Webster had sexually assaulted him -- claims Webster denied -- told Billboard that "Mike Huckabee's appointment to the CMA Foundation is a direct slap in the face to all the brave victims and other voices who've been fighting so hard for social justice and equality. Huckabee is a religious fanatic and the divisive rhetoric he puts forth has no place in this industry. The CMA board hasn't found the time to release so much as a statement on sexual assault, yet apparently it's time well-spent bringing on more unqualified, inept people -- this one being a zealot who does not recognize LGBTQ rights. It's just another blatant display of the disconnected leadership in country music."

The controversy comes on the heels of another uproar that occurred when the CMA issued media guidelines to media on the red carpet the 51st CMA Awards in the weeks following the Las Vegas mass shooting last fall, asking they not ask attendees any questions about the massacre, gun rights or political affiliations. 

The association claimed the restrictions were "out of respect for the artists directly or indirectly involved" and they wanted everyone "to feel comfortable talking to press." Reporters that strayed from the guidelines, it said, could have their credentials "potentially revoked via security escort." The CMA later apologized and said reporters would not be kicked out for asking such questions. 

In response to Huckabee's resignation, singer, songwriter and producer Shane McAnally, who is on the CMA Board, said he was "glad" to hear the news and hopes "this will prevent any further distractions from the work that the CMA Foundation does in our community."

He continued, "As a member of the CMA Board, I was disheartened to learn that Huckabee was appointed to the position because his beliefs have not been representative of our country music community as a whole, which is made up of dynamic and forward-thinking creatives. The CMA is an organization that acts as an ambassador for our industry, so it is incredibly important that we are diligent in spreading a message that embraces diversity and love. I hope that the CMA will continue to be governed by progressive and empathetic individuals in the future."