Update: Black Tea Partier Katrina Pierson Collected Unemployment Benefits

Republican congressional candidate Katrina Pierson

If you read my profile in The Root of African-American Tea Partier Katrina Pierson on Tuesday, you know that in her bid to unseat incumbent House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions in next week’s Texas congressional primary, she described herself as someone who “just wants the federal government to leave us alone.”

Her platform is mostly Tea Party boilerplate, but her campaign stands out, in part because—like a number of other up-and-coming black politicians on the right—she regularly “inveighs against the social safety net with her upbringing as a backdrop.”


Pierson is not favored to win in Tuesday’s upcoming vote, but a report out this week could present an additional problem for her—or set her up to be labeled a hypocrite on the issue of government assistance.

According to a story that ran Monday in the Texas Observer—linking to a post by reporter Scott Braddock on the Texas political blog Quorum Report—“Pierson received some $11,000 in unemployment benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission from January 2012 to November 2013—meaning she was receiving government support during a period in which she consulted for Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign and was planning for her own run” to represent Texas’ 32nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It’s a revelation that’s likely to put her further behind in her race against Sessions, but perhaps more significantly long-term, it’s information that could do damage to her Tea Party cred and future electoral prospects.

Pierson said she’s “not sure what the scandal is here … A single mom getting child support loses her job because of Obamacare and had unemployment”—a response that’s in line with her I’m-an-open-book explanation of her 1997 shoplifting arrest.


And she’s right—there shouldn’t be anything scandalous about unemployment benefits. They’re designed as a bridge between jobs for those who are out of work but still have bills to pay and mouths to feed. And there are many small-government conservatives who’ll make a distinction between programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—aka SNAP, or “food stamps”—and unemployment benefits, which are temporary and partly paid for via state and federal payroll taxes.

But what makes this a potential “scandal” for Pierson is that she’s positioned herself within the far-right Tea Party—as opposed to mainline Republican—political lane.


She’s aligned, then, with House Republicans who have repeatedly declined to extend benefits for the long-long-term unemployed, and who—like Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—have said that unemployment benefits provide a “disincentive” to work.

It’s treading a bit close to the good-for-me-but-not-for-thee school of governance.


Here’s Pierson on Fox News, saying that she wants to inspire folks, like her, who “didn’t run to government for the answer”—unlike, she says, Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis—whose personal story has also played prominently in her campaign:

Wednesday night, Pierson’s campaign directed me to her Facebook page, where she’s addressed the issue, explaining in part that “people who work for a living have dollars taken from their paychecks for unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security. And when a rainy day comes, the dollars we pay into these programs are supposed to be there for us.”


It sounds like a pretty reasonable position. But it’s not exactly Tea Party boilerplate.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter

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