A Tea Party Case Study: Jacksonville’s Divisive Mayoral Race

Jacksonville’s recent mayoral election provides a perfect opportunity to explore the coded racism in tea party rhetoric.

A multi candidate election in April led to a run-off last week between Mike Hogan and Alvin Brown. In April the candidates raced to the right, so much so that Hogan, (the tea party candidate trying to be more “pro-life” than the other guy) “joked” that “while it might cross his mind” he wouldn’t bomb abortion clinics.

In the end, Brown became Jacksonville’s first Democratic Mayor in two decades and its first ever African American Mayor (about 30% of Jacksonville residents are African American).

I followed the First Coast Tea Party (FCTP) efforts throughout the campaign and they rarely focused on why Hogan was the best candidate. Instead, Billie Tucker repeatedly insisted on her tea party blog that “thugs” and” Zombies” from “Obama’s Chicago Machine” had invaded Jacksonville. Her evidence that there was a massive influx of “outsiders” was little more than bluster. She claimed she had seen a Brown bumper sticker on an out of state car and that a friend from DC had called and told her Organizing for America and Move-on were supporting Brown.

Then there was a lame attempt the day after the election when she wrote “to…those who said the Chicago Machine wasn’t in town…explain why they were writing about it this morning if it doesn’t mean anything.”

But the link she provides isn’t even from Chicago, it is a reprint of an LA Times survey of local races across the country.

In another example:

“The left has brought in their paid help to hold their signs. They have hired bus drivers to drive people to the polls. They have walked neighborhoods to sign people up to vote. They have wheeled in senior citizens to the polls to vote and helped them do so.”

Oooohh. Signs? Busses? Rides to the polls? Signing people up to vote?

So let me get this right: she, and the chorus of fawning commenters on her blog, are worried that some of our neighbors who haven’t traditionally voted because they find it difficult to do so (senior citizens? really?) will be encouraged (even helped?) by “outsiders” to exercise their rights of citizenship?

Or maybe it’s another group they are worried about and they just don’t want name them. The whole thing reeked of pre-civil rights era rhetoric in which segregationists insisted that southern “negroes” were happy and it was just those northerners agitating them that was the problem.

It was the charge of “outsider agitation” leveled against Martin Luther King that prompted him to write his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and one of the charges that led many southerners to defend and protect the murderers of Emmet Till. The resuscitation of the argument was so reminiscent of those grainy old recordings from the sixties that I find it hard to believe someone can even make the argument without seeing how it sounds.

Jacksonville is a city struggling to overcome a racial divide, and many including my colleague and friend Parvez Ahmed (who has, himself been a targetsee this election as a watershed. But we still have overwhelmingly African American neighborhoods with poor schools and high crime rates and, of course, traditionally low voter turnout.

It’s not like the tea partiers don’t bring in “outsiders” to promote their agenda: Matthew Spaulding from the Heritage Foundation is coming to launch “an exciting initiative in support of curriculum reform” and they’ve brought William Federer to stir up Islamophobia.

The racism isn’t as blatant as opposing Brown because he’s African American. And, of course, they’ll point the African Americans they do support. But the real hysteria about “outsiders” is about race. What it comes down to is the tea party doesn’t like a group facilitating (and according to her own report we are talking about walking precincts and giving rides to the polls to legitimate voters) turnout among African Americans.

A hard-fought campaign between two worthy opponents and their supporters who, in the interest of civic engagement, respect the opinions of those with whom they disagree, and after which they join together to better the community? Well, not so much. Now, with Alvin Brown as mayor elect, Tucker says, “we will not throw ourselves behind him.”