Tales of Face-Eating Leopards

Turning good deeds into dirty politics.

I noted this story via AL.com last week, Lawmaker says photo of him wearing tutu to raise money for cancer research is misused in campaign.

Mississippi Republican state Sen. Jeremy England says he intentionally wore what he considers a “very embarrassing” Halloween costume to raise money for breast cancer research — a shiny pink bodysuit with a short pink skirt.

Now, England says a photo of him in the outfit has been misused, with a slur directed at him, in an increasingly divisive GOP primary as he supports Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann for reelection.

A person backing one of Hosemann’s opponents posted an image of the tutu-clad England on Twitter along with a comment: “Hosemann and his groomer weirdos.”


“Groomer” is commonly used to describe how sex offenders initiate contact with their victims. The word has become ubiquitous in American politics as certain conservatives try to equate certain educational materials with pornography or pedophilia.

Here’s the photo:

England was participating at the time in the “Real Mean Wear Pink” breast cancer awareness fundraiser that the American Cancer Society used to put on (and perhaps still does). Rather clearly, this has nothing to do with being a “groomer.”

This underscores the utterly cynical nature of the whole “groomer” meme within GOP circles, including recent obsessions with drag queens and the like. It is all about exploiting homophobia and trying to connect any deviation from traditional gender norms as somehow linked to pedophilia. It is based in nothing but bigotry and fearmongering.

I have no idea about England’s own campaign or governance rhetoric, but I can’t help but see this as a case of I didn’t think the leopard would eat my face.

To England’s credit, he has leaned into the situation, including re-sharing one of the photos, to raise more money for breast cancer research: Sen. England raises over $6,000 for cancer fundraiser after photo misused in campaign.

Side note: this scenario also illustrates that when only one party is competitive at the state level, the real political contest is intra-party at the primary level. This further illustrates my ongoing argument that primaries as used in the US undercut new party development because it is easier, cheaper, and the rewards are higher, to keep fights contained at the primary level. There is no incentive for new groups to emerge and compete at the state level because it can all just happen in the primary, especially when there is a run-off. I would further note that the presence of run-off primaries in the deep south were mechanisms to dilute Black voting power.

In deeply red states like Mississippi there probably ought to be parties that represent the right and the far-right in the general election, instead, the various right-wing factions fight it out in the primary, and then the Democrats do things like running no one in the general (as was the case in England’s 2019 win).

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My first thought is, “No good deed shall go unpunished.”

    My 2nd thought is

    and then the Democrats do things like running no one in the general

    You can’t blame the DEMs for this, at least not wholly. Candidate recruitment is hard, especially when your pitch is,

    “If you do this it will consume your every waking moment from now until the election. You will raise at best 1/4 of the money you need and afterwards your friends will never talk to you again. You will be yelled at and verbally abused at every campaign stop. Chances are good you will have some rotten eggs thrown at you, your tires slashed or maybe some glass broken. You will be attacked on line, constantly vilified as a pedophile or worse. People will photoshop you into compromising situations, your spouse will hate you and your children will be embarrassed by you. And to top it all off, you are guaranteed to lose. Whaddya say?”

    Our last election the woman who was running as DEM for the state rep in my district was a really nice middle aged lady who’s heart was in the right place and wanted to do good for people. At the Crawford County DEM meet and greet she talked about… Homelessness. She gave the standard DEM lines about solutions to the problem, affordable housing, etc etc.

    Her candidacy was already toast.

    Out here, the only thing folks want to do with the homeless* is round them up and ship them out. Failing that, line them up and mow them down.

  2. Modulo Myself says:

    I don’t know if it’s only Republicans who are terrified of groomers/pedophiles. I had a conversation yesterday with a friend and she was talking about taking her kid somewhere and how she had to turn her back on him for like 20 seconds in a crowded place and in that time, apparently, a ‘pedo’ came up to him, which I found very implausible.

    She’s an educated and urbane person, who did a ton of wild things when she was younger. She’s also terrified of everything and has not really come back from Covid re: paranoia. I think she has a group message circle of parents who are probably as terrified as her, and they sit around and text and the result more paranoia, more terror. I don’t think she would have sounded like that, or said that about a pedophile, before Covid.

  3. becca says:

    Living in Memphis and routinely accessing local TV channels, I get to see a lot of MS political ads. Tate Reeves, current governor, is running ads on keeping boys out of girls soccer and Hosemann is running on keeping your personal information out of Joe Biden’s garage and safe from rampant voter fraud. Brandon Presley, democrat and actually related to Elvis, is running on his record as an actual small town mayor and promising to cut the grocery and wheel taxes that truly affect most Mississippians. I report, you decide on the more substantial candidate.

  4. @OzarkHillbilly:

    You can’t blame the DEMs for this,

    To be clear, I am not blaming the Dems, I am noting what kind of incentive structure exists.

  5. @Modulo Myself: There is lot of irrational paranoia, to be sure.

    But think it is pretty clear that “groomer” thing has a special place in the current rightwing narrative, and is linked to the QAnon stuff.

  6. Jen says:

    The “groomer” crap makes me SO, SO angry. For many reasons, but top of the list is that by calling things that *aren’t* grooming, grooming, they are redefining a word that has a very specific meaning. AND, they are de-legitimizing the pain of people who were actually subjected to this behavior. Which is done by adults placed in positions of trust: priests/clergy, coaches, family friends, and family members.

    It’s really appalling. And, frankly, dangerous.

  7. al Ameda says:

    The current Republican Party is trying to export Third World Mississippi to the rest of America.

  8. Argon says:

    I am caught up in the outrage of wondering which bathrooms he used while dressed that way. We gotta keep our daughters safe doncha know! They should use the appropriate bathrooms as God intended, i.e. Men, Women and Politicians With Wide Foot Stances.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Steven, to repeat what you said:

    “and then the Democrats do things like running no one in the general”

    Sure sounds like you are blaming Democrats.

  10. Tony W says:

    Politicizing terms like “groomer” and “pedophile,” by the party that still fights for child marriage, is an attempt to weaken their true meaning and reduce them to insults.

  11. @OzarkHillbilly: It is simply a statement of fact, mostly intended to underscore that all of the competition is in the primary.

  12. @Steven L. Taylor: BTW, it isn’t unreasonable for the Dems to behave this way.