It was a bad day for Miss USA on Tuesday.
As contestants settled in to Baton Rouge for the July 12 pageant, Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments about Mexicans that led NBC and Univision to pull the pageant from their broadcast continued to have repercussions.
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While Trump stuck to his position, sponsors, judges and entertainers associated with the show continued to drop out on Tuesday. And questions were being raised about financial incentives state and local officials offered to attract the pageant.
On Tuesday, hosts Cheryl Burke — known for her long stint on “Dancing with the Stars” — and MSNBC Live host Thomas Roberts pulled out of co-hosting the pageant.
Meanwhile, the state said it might not pay Miss USA a $65,000 incentive package if it couldn’t deliver a similar broadcast reach promised in its contract. And a Metro Council member urged city-parish leaders to stop any payments on the $280,000 it put up as an additional incentive. Visit Baton Rouge contributed another $200,000.
Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization, which puts on the Miss USA pageant, made controversial statements about Mexican and Latin American immigrants recently when announcing he was running for president. He called for building a wall around the Mexican border, and accused Mexican immigrants of bringing drugs, crime and rape into the United States.
Since then, Univision and NBC have ended their partnerships to broadcast the pageant. Trump announced Tuesday he was filing a $500 million lawsuit against Univision based on their decision to cut ties with the Miss Universe organization and to stop broadcasting Miss USA.
A news release Trump posted to his Instagram account claims Univision’s action was an attempt to suppress Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech while he campaigns for the presidency.
Trump said in the release that he respects Mexico’s leaders and loves the spirit of the country’s people, but that the United States is losing jobs and opportunities because of bad trade deals.
“These have long been my views and I have the courage, unlike many others, to express them,” Trump said in the news release. “As a consequence of their inappropriate actions, Univision and NBC have abandoned fifty one wonderful young women who have come from all over the United States to pursue their dream of being crowned Miss USA.”
Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne said the day after NBC dropped its broadcast of Miss USA that his office will not pay the pageant a $65,000 incentive package to entice it come to Baton Rouge unless it delivers a broadcast viewership similar to what the national network would have yielded.
But city-parish and Visit Baton Rouge leaders would not say on Tuesday whether they will try to recoup the additional $480,000 they put up as incentives to lure the pageant to Baton Rouge, or if they even have a legal right to back out.
The three-page contract between the city-parish and Miss USA does not specify that broadcasting the pageant is a requirement for receiving the incentive, and it makes no mention of NBC or Univision, a Spanish-language network that also dropped its partnership with the organization. However, the Visit Baton Rogue and the State Office of Tourism contracts each mention Univision and NBC several times.
Dardenne took the strongest stance of the public officials who weighed in on Tuesday.
He said the pageant “is still a good event, but it’s not the same event we anticipated when we thought NBC and Univision would be involved.” Dardenne oversees $50,000 that the Louisiana Office of Tourism committed to Miss USA as well as $15,000 more dollars from the Louisiana Seafood Board.
Dardenne said he spoke with “high ranking officials” with the Miss Universe Organization and they were “trying to see if they could come up with a broadcast alternative.” But, he said, it did not sound like they had anyone “waiting in the wings.”
Metro Councilman John Delgado, meanwhile, sent a letter to Mayor-President Kip Holden’s top aide Tuesday asking that any payments to the Miss USA pageant be stopped in light of recent developments.
“In light of the failure of Miss USA to broadcast the pageant nationally (and internationally) through NBC, I believe that it would be a misuse of tax payer funds to further subsidize this event,” Delgado wrote. “Unless Miss USA can remedy the breach of their agreement with Visit Baton Rouge, I request that you suspend any further payments to Miss USA.”
The mayor did not address whether the city-parish would try to seek back any of its money in a statement he issued Tuesday. He also did not return repeated requests for an interview.
A joint statement that was issued by Holden and Paul Arrigo, President and CEO of Visit Baton Rouge, talked generally about putting out the welcome mat for the pageant.
“While we are disappointed with recent events, we want to make sure the Miss USA contestants, their families and visitors from all over experience Baton Rouge in the best way possible,” the statement reads. “We know all of our locals will roll out the red carpet for our guests as they visit the unique attractions throughout the region. We want them to be welcomed with the warm southern hospitality that Baton Rouge is known for.”
Arrigo said in a phone interview that his legal counsel is reviewing whether his agency is obligated to fulfill the financial incentives in its contract.
Asked if this was still a good deal for tax payers who are footing the bill of the incentives, Arrigo said he couldn’t say until after the pageant was finished.
“The return on investment hasn’t been determined yet, until the event is held and until we can determine what exposure the city has had,” he said. “I’m hopeful that as many people get to see Baton Rouge shown in a positive light as possible.”
Miss USA officials demurred when asked to respond to concerns about public financial commitments that had been obligated to the pageant.
“Our immediate concern is to ensure the success of the upcoming pageant and doing what is right for the great people of Baton Rouge who have been nothing but gracious to our Miss USA contestants, our staff and crew,” reads the statement from Miss USA.
“There will certainly be some adapting moving forward but please be assured that the Miss Universe Organization honors its relationship with Lieutenant Governor Dardenne, Mayor Holden and all the local sponsors. We look forward to the next few weeks and a successful pageant.”
In addition to the sponsors, judges and co-hosts who are dropping from the Miss USA pageant, former Miss Universe Lupita Jones, who represented Mexico, said Tuesday her country will not participate in Miss Universe this year.
The Miss USA organization said six of the women competing for this year’s crown are Latina, and four of those are of Mexican descent.
Miss California Natasha Martinez posted on her Facebook page that her father is Mexican-American and her mother immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua when she was 12 years old.
In an interview with CBS Los Angeles, Martinez called Trump’s comments “hurtful” and “a little bit tough to hear.” She added that both of her parents are college-educated professionals.
However she stood by her decision to compete in the pageant, saying it gave her a platform to advocate for immigrant families.
“On my journey to Miss USA I hope to encourage all immigrant families, especially children of immigrants, to take this opportunity to shed light on the matter,” she wrote on Facebook. “As Latinos we need to respond with strength, dignity, and most importantly love.”
Reigning Miss USA Nia Sanchez pleaded with fans on Facebook to tune in to the pageant despite Trump’s comments.
“While I do not agree with many of the things that were said, especially in regards to immigration — I mean, I’m part Mexican after all — what I do believe in is the pageant,” she said in a video posted to her page.
Some pageant contestants and supporters shared the link to a petition Tuesday to keep the pageant on NBC. The hashtag #SavetheSash is being used on Twitter by many pageant insiders, and the official Miss USA Facebook page used the hashtag with a video clip of many of the contestants speaking in different languages.
The petition calls those affected by Trump’s statements “innocent bystanders” and says the women competing the pageant have been dreaming of the opportunity for years.
“And Baton Rouge deserves the opportunity to once again showcase Louisiana hospitality on national TV,” the petition reads. “Don’t let this tradition be disrupted by The Donald.”
Despite the controversy, the Miss USA contestants who have already arrived in Baton Rouge have filled their social media accounts with glowing reviews and pictures of their pageant experience thus-far.
They posted pictures of personalized gift baskets that L’Auberge Casino and Hotel left for them, including “Share a Coke”cans with the women’s names and states they represented on them. Others gushed over photo shoots, fittings and the cosmetics lines.
Dardenne said he doesn’t believe the national attention is tarnishing Baton Rouge.
“It’s Trump’s statements that are under fire, not the pageant itself,” he said. “Miss Universe is still a credible organization and the pageant is of worldwide significance.”
Dardenne said the pageant is still a benefit to Baton Rouge because it’s filling up hotel rooms and restaurants locally.
The lieutenant governor said he thought Trump’s choice of words was inappropriate.
“But by the same token, every utterance these days is placing someone to be criticized on the altar of political correctness, and people have a right to speak their minds,” he added. “But what he said was unfortunate and inappropriate.”
The contestants’ official Baton Rouge activities kick off on Wednesday, when the women are scheduled to go rock climbing and bike riding at BREC’s Extreme Sports and Skate Park on Perkins Road.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.