Range Resources' battle with state Rep. Jesse White intensifies with Latino postings
When state Rep. Jesse White talked about Hispanics and Mexicans in Internet posts on the Marcellus shale job debate this summer, it touched a nerve among locals and drew fire from the top corporate lawyer for Range Resources Inc., Washington County's biggest gas driller.
White, D-Cecil, quoted a July 16 police report from his hometown that described “five Hispanic males who spoke broken English” riding an all-terrain vehicle on a road. The men worked for Dawson Geophysical Co., a seismic-testing firm that Range employed. The drilling company said they are legal citizens.
White's spotlighting of Latinos in the jobs debate brought rebukes from an anti-fracking group that otherwise supports White and from Range's lawyer in Texas.
The vitriol came as a public battle intensified between Range and White, a leading critic of the drilling industry, and as the country's growing Latino population garnered attention in national politics. The Latino vote played a key role in President Obama's re-election, analysts said, because of Republican attitudes on immigration.
In Washington County, where the Latino population is growing as well, some activists worried that White was “making the workers the bad guys,” said John Detwiler, a member of Marcellus Shale Protest.
Range claimed that White accused the company of hiring “illegal aliens from Mexico.”
David P. Poole, senior vice president and general counsel for Range, sent White a threatening cease-and-desist letter in August. He then sent two follow-ups, most recently on Nov. 5. Poole accused White of making “racially charged, false and to date unsubstantiated claims.”
“I never said or implied that Range was hiring someone illegal. If I did, I would have been sued by now,” White said Wednesday after the Tribune-Review reported on emails that Range released, which show the breakdown of a cozy relationship between the lawmaker and company.
White said Range is trying to deflect the issue of the impact drilling has on communities.
“Anyone who read his comments, most of which have been removed (from Facebook), could see he was making suggestive, insensitive and racially charged comments aimed at a specific minority group, and believed he may have been suggesting we were employing undocumented workers,” said Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella.
White used Latinos as an example in an online column in a way that “plays off of the racist and xenophobic notion that Latinos are taking jobs which white people deserve,” Ben Fiorillo, 23, of Lawrenceville wrote in his blog for Marcellus Shale Protest.
White made Facebook comments in July suggesting Range became a broadcast sponsor locally for the Olympics to show “support for the Mexican Olympic Team.”
White denies his comments have a racial component.
“They always make this claim that they don't hire local workers because they need specialized training,” White explained this week. “Well, what specialized training does a 17-year-old who doesn't speak English have?”
The Southwest is a big contributor of domestic migration to Washington County. Not all of the transplants are Latinos, but their numbers in the county more than doubled to 2,366 between 2000 and 2010, census counts show. The drilling industry drew so many workers from the Southwest that a grocer opened the county's first Latino supermarket this summer.
“Since we attract talent from across the globe, some of them happen to be part of the largest-growing population in our country and are Hispanic,” Pitzarella said.
White considers Poole's letters part of a smear campaign. Range says White tried to strong-arm the company, citing emails in which he expressed disappointment about campaign money from Range and requested a corporate plane ride to the 2011 Super Bowl, which the company did not grant.
White said the plane request was a “joke” and that he did nothing illegal when making fundraising requests three years ago.
Nothing about White's spat with Range diminishes his reputation among anti-Marcellus activists, Detwiler said. White responded to their concerns with fair and strong arguments about the debate over local jobs, he said.
“I think they're throwing everything they can at (White) to get what they want,” Detwiler said. “ Jesse is just one guy who speaks his mind. I think they've got a full-court press on him to try to isolate him and marginalize him.”
White is not just speaking his mind, Pitzarella said. He has an agenda that makes Range officials uncomfortable.
“We've remained silent for more than a year while he's falsely attacked a company trying to go about its business in a productive way,” Pitzarella said. “His emails and small behavior speaks for itself. We always want to work things out, but we won't be bullied, either.”