Next year's Democratic primary will see a return match of Steve Cohen vs. Nikki Tinker for the right to represent the 9th District (an area which dovetails, more or less, with Memphis) in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 2008 version of that race will be different in several particulars, to be sure. A plus for Tinker is the fact that she is unlikely to be, as she was last year, one of a dozen or so African-American candidates, most of them reasonably credentialed to serve in Congress, all of them competing for the same presumed voter base. To Cohen's benefit is the fact that he will be running as the incumbent, with a record of achievement -- and certainly of effort -- that his constituents can judge him on. Give the congressman this: He stays busy, amazingly so for a first-termer. Merely attempting to keep up with what he's keeping up with and then reporting it puts any media outlet in risk of accusations of partiality. What are we to do? Tell him to take more vacations?
We have generally favored Cohen's positions -- and certainly his style -- since we started observing him years ago as a state legislator. But the fact remains that we, like most local observers, were decidedly impressed by several figures in last year's congressional race and would have been content if any of half a dozen of them had been elected.
Frankly, we never quite put Nikki Tinker in that category, though we certainly understood her appeal to many people -- enough of them, along with formidable sources of financial support, to make her runner-up to Cohen in last year's primary. Our basic problem with her was that she declined, early or late, to stake out positions on the major issues. The sentimental story she kept telling about her grandmother was all well and good, but her prospective constituents deserved to know more about her views on the major issues of war and peace and governmental policy. For better and for worse, we know where Cohen stands on things.
Unhappily, Tinker has shown no more inclination than she did last year to convey her thoughts on the issues. Specifically, when her views about the currently (and, we think, unnecessarily) controversial Hate Crimes Bill (see "Politics: Mayoral Shuffling") have been sought, she has not only been uncommunicative, she has been unreachable -- leaving it to a spokesperson in far-off Washington to say that she is concentrating on "voters," not issues. Whatever that means. The implication was that to discuss the things that matter most to her would-be constituents would somehow be a disservice to them!
The fact is, we think the current attack on Cohen's vote for the Hate Crimes bill -- identical to the positions taken by his predecessor, Harold Ford Jr., and by every member of the Congressional Black Caucus in the current session -- is a sham argument orchestrated by ad hoc partisans of Tinker for whom Cohen's race is the real issue.
For her own credibility, we think it is incumbent that Tinker herself address for the record the Hate Crimes Bill -- and other issues of the day, for that matter. That's how she'll win our respect.