Since I live in Tennessee's Ninth District, I received an interesting piece of mail today from the Nikki Tinker for Congress Campaign, co-sponsored by Emily's List. Since Ms. Tinker is a political novice running for an important representational office, I would think any slick mailers would be for the purpose of introducing the candidate and enunciating her views on local and national issues. But the picture on the cover was that of State Senator Steve Cohen. They used to say that any publicity is good publicity, but this desperate attack from Ms. Tinker borders on the scurrilous. This shows that any organization such as Emily's List, that ordinarily does good work, in their zeal to promote an attractive woman candidate, can sometimes overlook the best candidate.
Ms. Tinker's flyer attacks the attendance record of Senator Cohen between 1998 and 2004, conveniently overlooking the fact that those of us who put him in the State Senate know that he has been there for 24 years. There was corporate money spent to say in her ad that "Senator Cohen led efforts to allow sex shops to stay open on Sunday." To make such a bizarre accusation, regardless of which postscript of obscure legislation that you pulled it from, reeks of desperation. In fact, it seems like a campaign engineered by Karl Rove. To attempt to somehow link Steve Cohen with sex shops is laughable, but the brochure contains a lurid color photograph of a eerie green, neon sign that says "Sex Shop; Projections," and questions Senator Cohen's ability to fight for "our families" in Congress. Ms. Tinker also combed through Cohen's votes and found he declined to grant money above that budgeted for some unnamed "K-12 Education Funding." In fact, every college student who benefits from the Hope Scholarship, be they male or female, black, white or Asian, and whether the institution is a state university or a community college, should say, "Thank you, Steve Cohen, for your years of persistence in creating the Tennessee lottery." I know I do. My stepson attends Christian Brothers University and receives a grant from the Hope Scholarship which is projected to produce a billion dollars in four years. So what is Ms. Tinker really trying to say?
I think that "content of their character" speech by Dr. King in 1963 didn't sink in with some people. A July 5 edition of the Tri-State Defender ran a banner headline asking, "White Chocolate, or opportunist; can Sen. Steve Cohen represent Black people?" The article points out that since 1974 the Ninth Congressional District has elected an African-American to represent them and proceeds to chronicle the struggle of Black people through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Rev. Benjamin Hooks is quoted as saying a Cohen victory would be devastating for Memphis' majority population. Of course Steve Cohen can represent Black people. The problem is the Ford family dynasty has controlled the seat for so long that they believe they own it. In the crowded race to succeed Harold Ford, Jr. in Congress, there is a Ford brother, a Ford cousin, and Ms. Tinker, widely known to be Harold, Jr.'s campaign manager, advisor and protege. Judging from Junior's Congressional record, where he voted to ban same-sex civil unions and against raising the minimum wage, it often appeared as if he were positioning himself with conservative Republicans to make himself more palatable to a national audience. Ms. Tinker's campaign slogan was "Running for the right reasons." If her voting attitude reflects that of her mentor's, those are the very "right reasons" that I'm afraid of.
From Julian Bolton's comments about Mr. Cohen's "complexion," to the hysterical ravings of TaJuan Stout Mitchell, the African American political community has launched a "Stop Cohen" campaign filled with the same sort of racist arguments that white candidates used to make in the bad old days. Consider this excerpt from a letter to the Memphis Commercial Appeal; "The candidate's ideology should represent the majority of residents in the district rather than the majority of the votes in an overcrowded race. Most Ninth District residents do not support same-sex marriage, the legalization of drugs, Sunday liquor sales and restricted prayer, and some citizens do not support the lottery. Most of the district's constituents are of the Christian faith and would be offended by an elected official who would vote to curtail their free expression of religion or suggest that a pastor be told not to say, 'In the name of Jesus.'" If you read that comment on it's own without knowing the author or the context, you might think it was someone in league with Jerry Falwell or Tom DeLay. But it's old fashioned fear-mongering by Councilwoman Stout Mitchell. Only Ms. Mitchell ads the touch of reminding voters that Sen. Cohen is not Christian. In fact, it will be refreshing to vote for someone who will be a genuine liberal Democrat in Washington, and not someone who tempers his votes with an ambitious eye toward national office. I am one of the Ninth's constituents Ms. Mitchell speaks of that doesn't support the lottery. Only, I just don't buy a ticket. But you go ahead, and thank you for the revenue.
This sort of inflammatory rhetoric should be insulting to thinking people of all races. If Congressman Ford wishes to be a Senator he must court the white vote, why then, should African-American politicians encourage Black people to only vote for a Black candidate? It has been a long time since the mid-seventies and Harold Ford, Sr.'s infamous "white devils" quote. I believed the election and re-election of Willie Herenton and A C Wharton showed progress on behalf of Memphis' electorate that promised to reach beyond the politics of race. It may have been more accurate to say that moderate white voters made progress by voting for African-American candidates based on their abilities. But judging from the level of vitriol coming from the Black community toward Sen. Cohen, there are still some old-time Memphis politicians, and some new ones, too, that still just don't get it.