Because it was not worth the blood and treasure to really fight this runoff to the end as a possible 2015 statewide election-year proxy war between Education-minded Democrats and Business-ended Republicans, the Democrat was supposed to go down fighting the good fight against the last Republican standing, and then both sides were supposed to shake hands and go home.
But then, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, a great movie with more than one connection to Mississippi's First Congressional District, "Zinn happens."
Or, if Zinn is not to be blamed for the latest twist in this story (read on for the twist), you could say that Starner happened… again. Either way, some weird stuff has gone down a couple times now in this special election cycle, and that pungent smell throughout the campaign seems to primarily originate from Pontotoc County.
Pontotoc County had two prodigal sons return to the First Congressional District in time to run in the Special Election on May 12th: Republican Starner Jones "moved" his residency back to Pontotoc County from Memphis where he still works as an emergency room physician; and Democrat Attorney Walter Howard Zinn, Jr. returned to his native Pontotoc County after working as a political consultant and policy aide to Democratic mayors in Jackson, Mississippi.
It would be difficult to imagine two more different candidates among those running in the May 12th Special Election. Their home county is about the only thing Zinn and Jones share. Zinn is African American and epitomizes the well-dressed, cosmopolitan candidate with wonkish knowledge of the issues, a set of traits that fit the cliche for which some Democrats are derogatorily labeled "latte liberals." On the other hand, Starner Jones is "a white guy's white guy" who shows up for political events in his doctor's coat and oozes both awkwardness and Tea Party anti-intellectualism.
So that's why I was shocked to read rumors over the holiday weekend that Walter Zinn started out in this same Special Election as a political consultant for Starner Jones. The consultant went rogue and became a candidate himself, the rumors suggested. I was even more shocked when the rumors were confirmed by more than one source, including (to some degree) Zinn himself.
Democrat Walter Howard Zinn, Jr. Hired To Consult For Tea Bagger Campaign of Dr. Starner Jones?
My initial source for reports that Zinn worked for Starner Jones was a Tweet from Grant Fox, an attorney, Trent Kelly supporter, and political consultant at Hill Country Strategies.
Fox, no stranger to North Mississippi politics (as he made it to the runoff in a Special Election in 1994 for the same congressional seat that Zinn is now running for), Tweeted in the standard form for lawyerly plausible deniability when sharing political scuttlebutt: an interest-piquing question.
After reading Fox's Tweet, I probed sources, including asking Fox himself if the question was anything more than a rumor posed as a question.
I then confirmed from those sources that Zinn had, in fact, worked for Jones. Just as Fox initially reported it, sources detailed that Zinn worked about three weeks for Jones' congressional campaign. According to these reports, Zinn only quit the Starner Jones campaign because of some payment dispute.
After reading these reports, I saw that Zinn himself provided a confirmation of sorts that admits little but denies nothing in response to Fox's Tweet.
So…. The reports combined with Zinn's own "sort-of-confirmation" brings to mind several questions that Zinn should answer, if he wants to avoid any deterioration to his political and/or consulting brand in this part of the state.
1. Business is business, but did Zinn really work as a paid consultant for three weeks to deliver the district he now claims to care so much about to the arch-Tea Bagger anti-poor candidacy of Starner Jones (a rapey fiction author, mocker of the poor, and arguably the worst candidate in #MS01 from both a moral standpoint and a progressive policy standpoint)?
2. For which "candidates" was Zinn consulting in #MS01? Zinn seemed to suggest in his response that Starner Jones was a candidate for whom Zinn consulted, but making the statement plural he unequivocally suggests there was more than one #MS01 candidate for whom he worked. And for each of these candidates, what exactly was Zinn doing? Political messaging consulting? Get out the vote consulting? African American demographic micro-targeting consulting?
3. What about the potential ethical problems of Zinn directly competing against a former consulting client? And if Zinn really quit and then ran against Jones because of a payment dispute rather than an ideological dispute with the Jones campaign, does that circumstance suggest even more of a lack of integrity?
4. What about the political problems of not sharing Zinn's dual role as a consultant-turned-candidate with #MS01 voters prior to the May 12th election? Does that show a lack of candor?
5. Why is Zinn's financial disclosure statement so barebones? As the screenshots below show, Zinn lists his income only as a cryptic disclosure of "consulting" for Jackson political candidates. Decidedly missing from his report is any income whatsoever for the reporting period from January 1st of 2015 through April 10th. This failure to list his consulting income for #MS01 suggests again a lack of candor (and even a lack of honesty) by Zinn.
Some will argue that I should not write this damaging post about a candidate that at the end of the day may believe in a better healthcare and education system for North Mississippians -- or at least a candidate who grandstands about a more progressive vision than his Republican opponent.
Those critics have a point. But it's not my intent to hurt Zinn or help Kelly. My intent is for Mississippians to have better public servants in Washington. As a political consultant who helped Starner Jones and then competed directly against Jones when (reports suggest) he became upset about a payment issue, who does Zinn even serve? Who does Zinn serve when he won't even list his sources of income in a candid manner on his financial disclosure statements?
And who does Zinn serve when he is burning bridges with the National Democratic Party because they refused to exhaust a lot of resources in a deep-red district? I ask that last question, because I noticed that Zinn seems to be going rogue not only on his former clients but also on his own political party (as the screenshots below of Zinn's Tweet from a few days ago show).
This is not the sort of campaign I had hoped Zinn would run. Even if he lost, I wanted him to speak truth to power. But his secretive conduct throughout the campaign now suggests he is not speaking truth to anyone. If anything, Zinn is not speaking truth to power but is only seeking money from power.
I think most voters would agree that it is fine to work for candidates of another political party if you are a political strategist, but I suspect those same voters will agree that working for candidates and then running against those same candidates just weeks later is not ok, regardless of how much we all love freedom, free speech, capitalism, apple pie, and the Fourth of July.
Democrats knew this was not going to be the happiest election when power players with Name ID, good reputations, and the right mixture of populist and progressive politics decided not to run. (Looking at you, Brandon Presley.)
But with yet another congressional candidate disappointing Democrats for the second year in a row in #MS01 thanks to a lack of candor (remember in 2014 when Democrat Ron Dickey lied about his service record and lost the state party's support?), Democrats will have to count their blessings and move forward.
At least the Mississippi House of Representatives is in play this year, and there will be a chance to run a candidate with clearer intentions and more candor against Trent Kelly in 2016. But as an incumbent, Kelly will be twice as hard to beat by that point. Still, #MS01 voters deserve a real choice in every election, and the people of Mississippi deserve a two-party system that is as robust as the system is in swing states like Colorado and Ohio.