I won't use the word. I think sometimes when liberal white people use it (as in this article), they are using the word to say "I'm so not-racist I can quote other people using the word and it's OK". I understand that sometimes people are quoting others, and might actually not be racist, but it's not just the sayer, it's also the listener, or reader, who is affected.
This may be generational, some things we don't grow out of. For some, it's the shock value, sort of like a 5-year-old I once knew who so enjoyed saying "fuckface" that he said it everywhere, all of the time. He had no idea what it might mean, but it was sort of "forbidden" therefore fun. Similarly, getting to quote other people saying these words, or quoting the place names, can give white people a chance to say a forbidden term.
Where I grew up, rural Illinois and Missouri, there were stones called "N*****Heads". I didn't even know what to call them at the time. Break them open, and they were filled with quartz crystals, very beautiful The proper term is "geode". There is no reason for calling them anything else. There's no reason they couldn't rename the Ranch "Geode Ranch", if that's what it's named for.
Until he was at least into his late 80s, my dad always referred to Brazil nuts as "N****-toes" even though he knew the right word. He would take great offence at being called racist, but use of that term, even if it has "folksy-cred", is racist.
Here is the Daily Show take on the issue.
I suspect this is a win for Perry. People who were against him wont be changed by this. I imagine he gets off, a little, on the "liberal shock value" of the term. People who were for him will be even more for him.
It wouldn't hurt to change those place names though.