|Southern Political Report|
"Just a Good Ole Boy, Never Meanin' No Harm"
Oct. 4, 2002 -- A bright orange 1969 Dodge Charger is driving Virginia Democrats apart. The car has become the subject of controversy in the race for Virginia's 7th District U.S. House seat.
The "General Lee," as the car is known to fans of the popular 1980's television show "The Dukes of Hazzard," has been pressed into use as a campaign prop by actor-turned-politician Ben Jones, a Democrat who played the good-natured mechanic and tow truck driver "Cooter Davenport" on the show.
The car, an orange racer, named for the commander of Confederate forces during the Civil War, sports an "01" racing number on its doors and -- the cause of the controversy -- a confederate battle flag on the roof.
Jones has long used the car as to attract attention to both his political campaigns and his business, a "Dukes of Hazzard"-themed restaurant and tourist attraction located near his childhood home in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Jones is a veteran of congressional politics, having served as a representative from Georgia in the U.S. House from 1989 to 1993. Now he wants to represent his native state and has once again used his celebrity to attract attention to his campaign.
But some have criticized his use of the car and its Confederate imagery. Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, an African-American, sent a letter of protest to state party leaders and publicly criticized Jones for using an image of the flag. Wilder pointed out in his letter that he prohibited the use of the flag as a public symbol while he was governor.
Both Wilder and Jones' opponent in the 7th District race, incumbent Republican Eric Cantor, have accused the Jones campaign of using the car and flag to appeal to racist tendencies in some white rural voters.
Jones defended himself in a Sept. 29 op-ed in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper:
"Well, certainly I am making an appeal to rural voters, but there is nothing racial about it," Jones wrote. "And I'm making that same appeal to urban and suburban voters, and there is nothing sinister about that, either. Out of hundreds of campaign events, the old General has appeared, by request, at maybe a half-dozen parades. The car always upstages me. It is popular with all ages, all races, all religions and all nationalities. And it is an icon in the American heartland."
Jones has further explained his association with the car and the flag by saying that Confederate history is a part of the southern culture. To that end, Jones has petitioned current Virginia Gov. Mark Warner to create a Confederate history month.
Pride for the Confederacy among southern whites has long rankled many African- Americans who associate the Old South with the brutality of slavery.
In recent years the NAACP and other civil rights groups have led campaigns to ban the use of the Confederate battle flag by state governments.
A conflict is currently brewing in Biloxi, Mississippi, where protesters have objected to the flying of the Confederate flag along with other historic banners at a Harrison County beach called "Eight Flags." Protesters and supporters of the flag, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, have sounded off during the debate. The county took down the flag display in preparation for Tropical Storm Isidore and has yet to put it back up.
On Sept. 30, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a rehearing of a case brought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans requesting that the group be allowed to use an emblem of the Confederate flag on its specialized Virginia license plates. The Virginia legislature had denied the group's use of the flag on the plates because they said it constitutes, in part, "government speech" and is not a personal form of expression.
In 2001 the issue was put to a vote in Mississippi, where the state flag includes an image of the Confederate flag. Voters where asked to choose between keeping the old flag or replacing it with a new design. They voted overwhelmingly to keep the flag with the distinctively Confederate blue St. Andrews Cross and white stars.
Beginning in 1999, the NAACP led a successful national campaign to have the Confederate flag removed from atop the statehouse in South Carolina where it had flown since the 1950s with the U.S. flag and the South Carolina state flag. The flag has been moved to a new location on the state capitol grounds, which the NAACP says is also unacceptable.
In 2001, the Georgia legislature passed a bill that did away with its state flag, which also included the Confederate battle cross. The replacement flag is a large rendition of the state seal over a banner displaying small replicas of historic flags, including the flag featuring the Confederate emblem.
Those opposing changes to flags that included Confederate imagery have often been accused of being racially insensitive, a label that is difficult to place on Jones. Jones was reportedly a civil rights activist and considered something of a radical at the University of North Carolina in the 1960s. He marched and protested on behalf of black Americans -- and was once even arrested for his activities.
"Now believe me, I know racism when I see it. I once got sucker-punched by a white supremacist and I have the dental work to prove it," Jones wrote in his Virginian-Pilot editorial. "Another time, back in the 'peace and love' 1960s, I was engaged in a gunfight against the Klan. Once I had ammonia thrown in my eyes at a 'whites only' grocery store, no less. And I spent my share of time in jail for 'sitting-in.' I grew up in the segregated South and I fought against it. I still fight against it."
John Louis, the famed civil rights activist and Georgia congressman, has come to Jones' defense, saying that he considers Jones a friend and had always known him to be caring and sensitive.
"That car is a part of his early life as an actor, and it will help bring him attention. That's OK. We should not be making too big a deal of it," Lewis told the Washington Times on Sept. 29.
Jones says that former civil rights leader and ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, is also a supporter. According to him, association of racism with confederate history is incongruous.
"I think Stonewall Jackson was a heroic figure. I think Martin Luther King was the greatest man I ever met. I don't see any conflict in having those thoughts, frankly," Jones told the Washington Post on Sept. 22.
Sept. 16, 2002 -- With their Senate nominations secured, former Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole (R) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D) have begun debating debates and self-imposed ad limits.
Bowles has asked Dole to face off at least six times before the general election this fall. He has proposed the first debate be held the week of Sept. 16 and the audience be allowed to ask the questions.
Dole responded by making the same offer she did the night of the primary election -- that the two candidates forego advertising and pool their money to televise longer debates.
The Bowles campaign has rejected that offer, saying President Clinton's former chief of staff needs the commercials to counter Dole's high name recognition.
Some newspapers has warned Bowles could be in trouble if the advertising campaign becomes nasty.
"Although he'll heave millions of dollars to pour into TV spots, Dole still will have the resources to outspend him. He has a chance to negate Dole's advantage. Furthermore, if voters become disgusted with a barrage of TV attacks, they'll remember that Bowles could have agreed to stop them," the High Point Enterprise editorialized Sept. 12. "Bowles should accept Dole's challenge and join her in running a positive campaign that lifts the level of political discourse in North Carolina."
American Prospect magazine reports one of Bowles' first concerns focuses on garnering the support of state Rep. Dan Blue. Blue, who challenged Bowles in the primary, is a key political leader in the African-American community.
"Everyone agrees that if Bowles is to have a shot at beating Dole, he has to have the black community in his corner all the way. But Blue, while losing graciously, has not come forward with a full endorsement of Bowles. Instead, he's taking a wait-and-see, let's-meet-and-discuss-things approach," the Washington Prowler column reported Sept. 13.
Recent reports have tied Kevin Geddings, a key media consultant in Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges' campaign, to a series of third-party ads critical of Hodges' Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.
Hodges campaign said there was no coordination between their group and
the third party organizations running the other spots.
The close ties between Hodges and Geddings has drawn fire from Republicans and, according to the Columbia State, Sanford has hinted at something comically "diabolical" about the pairing.
"They're like Austin Powers' Dr. Evil and Mini Me," Sanford told the reporter.
When asked whether Hodges or Geddings was Dr. Evil, Sanford reportedly "demurred," saying, "I'll let you figure that out."
The Geddings flap comes as Sanford continues to crisscross the state stumping for votes among traditionally Democratic groups, including African-Americans, environmentalists and union members.
"The question is, can you grow the tent? Unfortunately, Republicans oftentimes will give lip service to growing the tent but don't bother to go to a black church or union picnic," Sanford told the Columbia State on Sept. 13. "The first step toward growing the tent is to understand where someone else is coming from. That means going out there to different spots."
Democrats said they were not concerned about Sanford's efforts.
"I want him to go to these events. The more people get to meet Sanford, the easier my job gets," state Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian said in the same report. "I would say he's an empty suit, but he never wears one."
In the Volunteer State, GOP nominee Lamar Alexander has targeted Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Clement's voting record, saying he is too liberal to be Tennessee's next U.S. Senator.
Alexander, a former Education Secretary and Tennessee governor, has recently taken to citing Congressional Quarterly analysis that indicates Clement, a Democrat, votes with President Bush only 52 percent of the time -- less often than liberal Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)
"Bob Clement's roll call votes don't lie. However you slice it, 52 percent is an 'F.' Clement's lack of support for President Bush is an Achilles heel and they know it," Alexander campaign spokesman Kevin Phillips told the Memphis Commercial Appeal Sept. 10.
Clement fired back.
"While [Alexander] has been repeating a rather meaningless statistic about my voting record, an examination of the actual issues beneath the statistic shows that I have voted with Tennesseans 100 percent of the time throughout my career in Congress. I've never been a rubber stamp for a president and I'm not going to start now," Clement said.
The dispute comes as a the Clement campaign rolled out a radio ad featuring noted conservative Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia commenting on how both men support gun owners and school vouchers.
"I'm not here campaigning for Bob Clement because he's a Democrat. I'm here campaigning for Bob Clement because I believe in his values," Miller says in the ads.