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Did Pyles initiate the conversation on religion?

“I did not initiate the call nor the question.” That comment might lead you to think that Tracy Pyles was simply responding to a question from News Leader reporter Trevor Brown on the issue that Pyles had raised privately with 20th District Democratic Party nominee Erik Curren three months ago about how Curren’s mix of Buddhist and Christian religious beliefs would go over with voters in the 20th.

The truth there is a bit more complicated.

“Your source is right that Tracy initiated the conversation on that specific topic,” Brown wrote in an e-mail to me Tuesday evening, responding to a question on the sequence of events relative to the Pyles comments that were the focus of a front-page story in the Tuesday Leader.

I got in touch with Brown with a question after a reader reported to me after reading our story on the political controversy that the word on the streets was that Pyles had brought the religion issue up with Brown 45 minutes after a phone interview that Brown had initiated for a story that he was working on looking at the 20th District race in the context of last week’s stunning news that Republican incumbent Chris Saxman was dropping out of the race.

Brown said he called Pyles Monday afternoon to get his view on the race and also ask Pyles about a rumor going around that he was unhappy with Curren as the Democratic nominee.

“He told me when Chris Saxman made his announcement Friday that he initially raised the question with one other person if Erik was the right man for the job, but came to the conclusion that he was. He then told me he supports Erik as the candidate,” Brown said in his e-mail to me.

“A little while later,” Brown said, Pyles called him back. “He said he was thinking about the subject more and told me about a 2 and 1/2 hour talk he had earlier with Erik. Tracy then brought up on his own, without any prompting from myself, that during their talk they discussed Erik’s religious beliefs and that it was an issue for him and that people might not vote for him because of it.

“After Tracy brought up the topic of Erik’s religion, I questioned him for several minutes more about it and how he thought it would impact the race,” Brown said.

I was in contact with Pyles earlier today to solicit comment about the interview with Brown. Pyles e-mailed me a set of comments, and I followed up with a question based on the premise that perhaps it could be viewed that Pyles was angling to maneuver Curren off the ballot so that the way would be clear for Pyles to be the Democratic Party nominee in the 20th District.

The question was based on speculation that had gotten to me back in April when I was first made aware of the Pyles-Curren rift and referenced what I’d been hearing in an April 30 column.

“Ask Trevor where he got his information, then maybe you can find someone that is angling for something. Because I did not initiate the call nor the question,” Pyles responded by e-mail. “You know that this has been a reservation of mine since April, and I have said nothing about it. Not in casual political conversation or in any way. Nor would I have. But when asked if I had asked him to step down, the answer was ‘yes,’ and if I had not said why it would have been assumed only that I was angling for it myself or there was something else not good.”

Something isn’t adding up here. From what Brown related to me, he had already gotten the answer to his question about the rumor going around that Pyles was unhappy with Curren as the Democratic nominee. Brown had been left with the impression that Pyles had come to the conclusion that Curren was “the right man for the job,” in Brown’s words, and that Pyles supported Curren as the party candidate.

It appears to me that Brown didn’t have the background on the specifics of Pyles’ earlier concerns about Curren’s religious beliefs. As he said to me in his e-mail, he only got to questions on the topic of religion after Pyles initiated a conversation on the matter in his followup phone call.

So despite what Pyles has said, he did effectively initiate the discussion of religion in relation to Curren’s candidacy by picking up the phone and calling Trevor Brown to tell him about that 2 and 1/2 hour conversation.

Looking back through Pyles’ comments to me on the topic today, I realize that he admitted as much to me in his reference to the number of comments on Brown’s story on the Leader website.

“In looking at the News Leader comments, while most would seemingly like to take and burn me at the stake, I think they prove my point. If it doesn’t matter, why get upset that I raised the issue,” Pyles said in his first e-mail to me on the issue today.

“If people want to have a debate on whether it should or not, that is one thing. And an important one worth vetting. But anyone who denies that it is a factor is simply out of touch with the people of the District,” Pyles said.


– Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press