EMILY's List, known for funding female candidates for public office, has two main qualifications for getting their endorsement. You have to be female and you have to be pro-choice. The organization recently endorsed Nikki Tinker in her run for Congress from Tennessee.
Tinker is running against sitting Representative Steve Cohen, a fellow Democrat. Cohen is one of the most liberal members of Congress with a history of supporting pro-choice and LGBT issues. Why would EMILY's List work to defeat an incumbent Congressman with a history of working in favor of their chosen issue? The answer has to be sexism; he's a man. No other explanation can possibly make sense.
After all, Tinker's campaign has been engaging in one of the most vitriolic anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic campaigns in Tennessee history. Black Baptist ministers have publicly called for Cohen's defeat because of his race, a flier declaring "Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus" has been circulated throughout Memphis, and Tinker's campaign has refused to denounce or repudiate these tactics. EMILY's List has invested resources in this campaign - and they did in 2006 too.
"In 2006, EMILY's List endorsed Tinker and spent $500,000 on her behalf in the form of negative direct mail pieces with scores of lies about Cohen's record," Cohen campaign director Jerry Austin told me. Austin suggested that more of the same could be expected before the August 7th primary. One flier condemned Cohen for missing a few votes as a state legislator, but neglected to mention that the Congressman was in the hospital recovering from an illness.
The anti-Semitic flier
The Memphis Commercial Appeal started their editorial on the anti-Semitic flier with this scathing opening:
What does Nikki Tinker think about anti-Semitic literature being circulated that might help her unseat 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen in the Democratic primary next August?
A fair question, which Tinker declined to answer this week after a flier stating that "Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus" began circulating in Memphis.
The question goes to the character of the woman who wants to represent the 9th District, and 9th District voters deserve an answer. But Tinker declined to return a phone call about the flier.
Tinker spokesperson Cornell Belcher commented to the paper, "We'd be interested in denouncing this sort of nonsense as well but, again, we haven't seen it," and eventually Tinker did acknowledge the document. The flier's author is an African-American minister from a Tennessee town outside of her district, so she claimed that she couldn't do anything about it.
Racial politics and homophobia
The Anti-Defamation League says that the flier "attempts to incite tension" between the African-American community and Jews. A local television news report on the racial overtones to this race took Tinker to task. This election has devolved into racial politics at it's worst with another Baptist minister declaring:
"He's not black and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line," said Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. "I don't care how people try to dress it up, it always comes down to race and he can't know what it's like to be black."
African-American Baptist ministers seem to be at the bottom of most of these racial overtones. The Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association is a strong backer of the Tinker campaign. The MBMA is known for blatantly homophobic statements. The National Black Justice Coalition recently showcased one MBMA press release that reads in part:
Mr. Matthew Shepherd, as unfortunate as his death was, was not killed because he was gay, he was killed by two (2) fellow drug abusers who wanted his money for more drugs.
Less than one percent of the 800,000 thousand plus aggravated assaults took place against American citizens because of sexual orientation...
We go on record that we detest the alignment of African-Americans with homosexuals and lesbians as being equal. There is absolutely nothing immoral about being African-American.
The MBMA recently invited Representative Cohen to a gathering to address the ministers over his vote in favor of hate crimes legislation. The meeting turned so racist and volatile that the ministers apologized to Cohen for the actions of some of their members.
After the meeting Cohen told the Commercial Appeal, "I was not treated the way a congressman or an elected official or an invited guest should have been treated. It was supposed to be my time to come and address this issue. I never expected anything like this. This all about LaSimba Gray and Nikki Tinker. It's about a small group trying to find a wedge issue that they hope will get Tinker elected."
Representative Cohen's record on LGBT issues
The MBMA also opposed any recognition of same-sex relationships and opposes non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation or gender identity. Representative Cohen opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and co-sponsored the trans-inclusive version of ENDA.
"Name one bill relating to gay and lesbian issues that Congressman Steve Cohen voted wrong," challenged Austin in response to the EMILY's List endorsement of Tinker.
"The answer," Austin continued, "is zero".
"As the most liberal and supportive member in the Tennessee Senate and now as the most liberal and supportive member of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, Steve Cohen's record of fighting for gay and lesbian issues has been disrespected by EMILY's List, again," Austin stated.
He continued, "Tinker has stated that her Bible does not allow her to support certain gay and lesbian issues. She is supported by many homophobic preachers and has never denounced their outrageous statements. Many of these pastors have stated that they do not oppose Cohen because he is white or Jewish (wink, wink) but because of his stand on moral issues like choice and gay rights."
Cohen's Fundraising Director, Bryce Timmons, went even further.
"The Congressman has an A+ record on every issue EMILY's List is concerned with. He's been out front and won awards from Planned Parenthood. Congressman Cohen is responsible for including sexual orientation in every peice of LGBT legislation introduced in TN. He did that. As a state senator he was the guy who made sure sexual orientation was included in every piece of Tennessee anti-discimination legislation. Steve Cohen put it there - and continued proposing it when it was shot down," he said.
"He's made numerous speeches where he's repeatedly said he doesn't understand how anyone could be a Democrat and not stand up for everyone's civil libertieis. Steve is the guy for these issues in Tennessee."
Timmons recalled attending a 2006 house party for Tinker's campaign where he asked her specifically about her stance on Proposition 1, Tennessee's proposed marriage amendment. The amendment passed. Timmons paraphrased Tinker's response: "As an attorney I fully respect people's contract rights. I'll draw up a contract for any two people with regard to property rights. But as a Christian I believe marriage is between a man and woman."
"Half of her supporters are running a racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic campaign. The rumor has been floated that Steve is 'too gay' to represent them. He's good on gay issues and has never been married so they had to start rumors about his sexuality. He's been taking the heat for it. That's the campaign she's running. She's allowing her proxies to go out and say things that are defamatory and absurd and then attacking us for taking positions. At election time that's going to shine through," Timmons stated.
Does gender trump race, religion and sexual orientation?
The Black Agenda Report editorialized in a piece entitled "When NOT to Vote Black (at least in Memphis),":
The unfinished African American journey out of Jim Crow and its narrow political mindset has reached a critical juncture in Memphis, Tennessee. There, in the city's 60 percent Black Ninth Congressional District, a first-term white incumbent whose voting record would place him solidly in the political bosom of the Congressional Black Caucus, is challenged by a young Black female corporate operative - an acolyte of Harold Ford, Jr., the worst Black congressman in modern history.
It is a perfect storm of corruption: Nikki Tinker, a physically attractive but intellectually vapid lawyer for regional boss-man Northwest Airlink/Pinnacle Airlines - whose principal duty is to keep unions in check - backed by a gang of gay-baiting preachers who never saw a Republican Faith-Based Initiative check they wouldn't cash. If elected, Tinker can be expected to act as a surrogate for her sponsor, Harold Ford, Jr., the Bush-loving former representative of the district, unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate, and now nominal chairman of the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
Since his swearing-in in January of this year, Cohen has voted his Black district's interests as diligently as 23 of the 40 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, earning an 80 percent grade (a "B") on the CBC Monitor's latest Report Card. Six Black congresspersons scored lower than Cohen, eleven higher. In contrast, the CBC Monitor named Harold Ford, Jr. "Lawn Jockey Emeritus" for consistently ranking at the bottom of every Black congressional class he attended since the watchdog group began tracking votes in September, 2005. In fact, Ford veered sharply to the right in his second term, in 1998, which means Cohen is the best - and "Blackest" - congressman the Ninth District has had in nearly a decade, and as progressive a representative as most Blacks on Capitol Hill.
However, literally nobody but the CBC Monitor keeps methodical track of such things, so Cohen must resort to behavior that some might consider, pandering. He has issued a document called "Steve Cohen's Position on the Covenant with Black America"; applied to join the Congressional Black Caucus but withdrew after noting the resulting discomfort among CBC members; and takes every opportunity to ceremonially show allegiance to the majority of his constituents. But most importantly, he votes correctly most of the time, and is careful to display a range of issues-positions on his web site, to prove it.
If racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism are the hallmarks of Tinker's campaign, why is EMILY's List endorsing her? The answer can't be simply that she's pro-choice. Cohen is the incumbent who already votes in favor of a woman's right to choose. He has built up experience and connections that are more valuable than a freshman Congresswoman wouldn't have. This isn't a primary where there is no incumbent so they would automatically endorse the female candidate.
The answer has to lie in Tinker's gender. That amounts to sexism and, supposedly, EMILY's List was created to help end gender inequality. Perhaps someone needs to remind the org that they also represent lesbians and Jewish women. After all, they seem to have overlooked that minor detail.
EMILY's List should retract their endorsement immediately and ask for the return of any money contributed to Tinker's campaign. Instead of providing funding and attacking the Congressman on her behalf, they should denounce a campaign besmirched with anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia.
If you'd like to help offset EMILY's List's endorsement, you can donate to Representative Cohen's campaign.
Calls to the Tinker campaign and EMILY's List about this issue were not returned.