PERRY/Thompson pulls race card
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 1:00 AM
Mississippi has scheduled six special legislative elections this year so far, with up to four more likely if legislators win in municipal elections.
Missing from these legislative and municipal elections are public endorsements or assistance by members of the Mississippi federal delegation.
Republican Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, and Reps. Alan Nunnelee, Gregg Harper and Steven Palazzo have not publicly engaged in Republican versus Republican campaigns. That isn't surprising; they tend to avoid getting involved in local primaries where they would upset some of their base. Even in nonpartisan special elections, it is not particularly beneficial to pick sides involving more than one of your own party members.
The exception is Mississippi's lone Democrat in the delegation, Second District Congressman Bennie Thompson. Thompson - a former mayor and supervisor whose campaign network has fended off every challenge in his more than twenty year congressional career - has picked Democrats to support against other Democrats.
Rep. Lataisha Jackson (D-11) used a letter of support from Thompson as a newspaper advertisement in her April special election against fellow Democrat Anderson Boothe. Thompson sponsored a fundraiser and appeared in ads for Melvin Priester, Jr. in his successful Democratic primary bid for Jackson City Council, Ward 2.
And in Canton's mayor race, Thompson cut a radio advertisement that played on WMGO in support of and paid for by the Committee to Re-elect Mayor William Truly.
Thompson says in the radio spot, "This is Congressman Bennie Thompson endorsing mayor William Truly for re-election as mayor of Canton, Mississippi. I've worked with Mayor Truly to bring change to Canton, Mississippi. Now the Republicans have hand-picked candidates in every race. They can't win out-right, so they picked people who look like US to run. Don't fall for the Republican tricks. On May 7, vote to reelect Mayor William Truly: mayor of Canton, Mississippi."
Thompson's emphasis on the word "us" begs the question of whom is he speaking. Perhaps he means Republicans who look like Democrats (odd because people don't change how they look by marking a party affiliation on their qualifying papers). He can't mean actual Republicans because while there are Republicans running for mayor and one alderman seat, there are not Republicans in every race. There are a number of independents running, perhaps he means them. Whoever he means, they apparently look like Thompson in some way.
Civil right lawyer Robert McDuff, who has contributed to Thompson's campaign in the past and has served as attorney for Democrats in redistricting issues, wrote a law review article on the importance of the Voting Rights Act on Mississippi and discussed the term "us." In it he writes, "The phrase 'one of us' implies there is a 'them.'...The use of this in black-white campaigns-suggesting that 'us' is one race and 'them' is the other-is particularly unfortunate since it exploits racial divisions. Regrettably, this is not a thing of the past...Racial campaign appeals still surface in elections in the state....the white candidate in a black-white election adopted the campaign slogan, 'one of us,' which had been characterized as a racist appeal by a federal court when it was used by a white candidate in a black-white congressional race over twenty years earlier...The three-judge federal district court, in its subsequent 1984 decision, pointed out that this was an obvious racial appeal to the white majority: 'Evidence of racial campaign tactics used during the 1982 election in the Second District supports the conclusion that Mississippi voters are urged to cast their ballots according to race. This inducement to racially polarized voting operated to further diminish the already unrealistic chance for blacks to be elected in majority white voting population districts.'"
I don't think "one of us" necessarily refers to race, although it certainly can. "Us" could mean conservative or liberal; in populist terms it could mean a common man or someone voters relate to; it could mean not a politician, or a businessman, or a religious view or any number of ways to define "us" or "them." I do think saying a candidate "looks like us" suggests something in their appearance, possibly race. Canton's population is 75 percent black; a racial appeal against a white minority summons comparisons to the case of Ike Brown in Noxubee County where the federal courts found the Voting Rights Act protected whites in the minority in the Democratic Primary.
If that were the message of the Thompson's radio spot, it would be disturbing indeed. Another possibility would be Thompson saying there are Democrats who look like "us" but really are not. If "us" is race, maybe he means a black conservative or a black candidate not in line with Thompson is not actually one of "us." That, too, would be troubling, but ultimately a decision for Democratic primary voters, Thompson supporters and Thompson opponents.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.