McKinney Rises Again
by Sam Muwakkil
In These Times magazine,
Cynthia McKinney's March 29 announcement
that she would run for her old congressional seat gave a shot
of electoral adrenalin to the body politic. McKinney represented
Georgia's 4th Congressional District for five terms before being
ousted in the controversial 2002 primary election. The prospect
that genuine progressives like McKinney and soon-to-be U.S. Senator
Barack Obama from Illinois will be members of the 109th Congress
adds considerable cheer to this rather bleak political season.
McKinney became infamous for suggesting
that members of the Bush administration might have known more
about pre-9/11 intelligence than they previously admitted. That
suggestion now seems a bit underwhelming in the wake of revelations
from the 9/l1 hearings and the book Against All Enemies by Richard
Clarke. At the time, however, McKinney's comments were seen as
irresponsible and unpatriotic. She was excoriated and shunned,
even within her own party.
McKinney's opponents in the far right
skillfully used this controversy to build a national movement
against her candidacy and-with the help of GOP voters in Georgia-she
was defeated in the Democratic primary by a political neophyte,
former state judge Denise Majette.
Majette's victory was secured by Republican
voters who crossed political lines to vote in the Democratic primary:
McKinney's opponents knew no Republican could win the general
election in the Democratic district, so they openly promoted the
crossover tactic to ensure her defeat. Crossover voting is allowed
in Georgia's open primary system.
Following the election, State Rep. Tyrone
Brooks of Atlanta introduced legislation to end cross-party voting.
He argued it was unethical to have Republicans provide the margin
of victory in a Democratic race.
David Bositis, senior analyst for the
D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, agrees
the system is unfair. The voting rights of AfricanAmericans in
that district were harmed, he said, because post-election analysis
made clear that McKinney was the overwhelming choice of the black
electorate. Five voters in McKinney's district have filed a suit
in U.S. District Court challenging the legality of the crossover
vote under the Voting Rights Act.
Despite her defeat (perhaps because of
it), McKinney, 49, has become even more popular among African-Americans
and progressives in her district and beyond. Many now consider
her a heroic figure, and revelations in the 9/11 hearings make
her previous comments prophetic. The Green Party even mounted
an attempt to draft her as its presidential candidate, an I offer
McKinney reportedly was considering.
During her nine-year tenure, she served
on a number of important committees. More important, she was an
active member of the Congressional Black and Progressive caucuses,
consistently speaking out against excessive military spending
and inattention to domestic ills. She had a perfect labor and
civil rights voting record, and during her last run she had endorsements
of the National Political Women's Caucus, NOW-PAC, the League
of Conservation Voters, Tikkun magazine and Jews for Peace, among
others. Even Ralph Nader, who often argues that Democrats and
Republicans represent a false dichotomy, speaks well of McKinney.
Her chances of regaining the district's
congressional seat look so good they apparently have scared away
its current occupant. The day after McKinney declared her candidacy,
Rep. Denise Majette announced she would not seek reelection to
run instead for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring
Several Democratic candidates have announced
their candidacies for the 4th District post and others reportedly
are on the verge of joining the fray. Whoever emerges as McKinney's
strongest rival likely will attract considerable attention and
resources. But her longstanding popularity and subsequent notoriety
will be hard to beat.
And that's a good thing. According to
a number of media sources (including the Washington Post, the
Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Forward), much if not most
of Majette's financial support was facilitated by the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, which long opposed McKinney for
her criticism of Israeli policy.
Many of those groups reportedly were caught
off-guard when Majette announced she would not seek reelection.
Consequently, "Jewish fundraisers are looking for ways to
prevent former Rep. Cynthia McKinney from returning to Congress,'
Matthew E. Berger wrote in the March 30 edition of JTA-Global
News Service of the Jewish People.
Thankfully, those attempts are likely
to fail this time. McKinney's and other progressives' voices are
urgently needed in a Congress strangely mute while the Bush administration
pursues imperial policies that sow the seeds of endless animosity.