Left of Left 

Protest candidate Jim Maynard offers an alternative to Harold Ford Jr.

Democratic-socialist Jim Maynard knows he won't win his write-in campaign against Harold Ford Jr. for the Democratic spot in the U.S. Senate race. Just like he knew he wouldn't win the last time he ran against Ford, in the 2004 congressional election.

"It's simply a protest," says Maynard, the unassuming activist responsible for starting the now-defunct gay-rights groups Equality Tennessee and the Memphis Lesbian and Gay Coalition for Justice.

"I want to stand for progressive liberal values, to give people who feel like I do someone to vote for," says Maynard. "Why should we support a Democrat running as a Republican?"

That's how he describes Ford Jr., who he says has shown a conservative voting record. Maynard points out that Ford supported Bush's invasion of Iraq, the bankruptcy bill, the federal marriage amendment, and tax cuts for the wealthy.

"When I talk to people that claim to be progressive or liberal, none of them supports Harold Ford Jr.'s campaign," says Maynard. "But they say they have to vote for him to take back the Senate [from the Republicans]. If the price of winning the Senate is abandoning social equality, is it worth it?"

Maynard ran as a write-in candidate in 2004 for the same reasons. He received 166 votes. He says he wasn't planning on trying again until Clarksville Democrat Rosalind Kurita dropped out of the Senate race, leaving Ford as the only Democrat on the primary ballot.

Maynard may have further political ambitions down the road.

"I'm trying to first decide if I want to stay a Democrat or give up and focus on the socialist or Green Party," he says. "In Tennessee, the Democratic Party is almost indistinguishable from the Republican Party. I'm embarrassed to be a part of the Tennessee Democratic Party right now."

Though he says he won't win, he still thinks about what he would do if elected. His first priority would be the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

"They lied to Congress. They led unconstitutional spying. They illegally invaded Iraq, and now we're making matters worse there and in Lebanon. Justice demands that George Bush be impeached," says Maynard.

Other priorities: an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, a universal health-care system similar to Canada's, and taxing people with high incomes. He'd also like to see cuts in military spending. He's "totally opposed" to privatizing Social Security, and he'd like to reduce tuition for secondary education or develop a debt-forgiveness program for low-income individuals with student-loan debt.

But for Maynard, the most important issue is social equality, specifically equal rights for gays and lesbians. He says neither party has a good report card in this area.

For years, Maynard was the outspoken local gay rights activist. These days, he says, he's retired from leading activist groups, but he's still very involved in the Stonewall Democrats, a gay Democratic organization.

Another issue dear to Maynard's heart is separation of church and state.

"Our Constitution doesn't say anything about God," he says. "We have freedom of religion, but we also have freedom from religion. Democrats are not standing up for that."

For someone so opposed to religion, Maynard's background is a little surprising. He attended the deeply religious Harding Academy in Searcy, Arkansas, as a Bible major. He had dreams of becoming a preacher, and he was a staunchly conservative Republican.

But in his sophomore year, he began to question his beliefs and struggled with his sexual identity. When Maynard finally realized he was gay, he'd also come to terms with evolving religious beliefs and political opinions. He switched his major to sociology, came out of the closet, and got involved with the Democratic Socialists of America.

These days, Maynard's still true to those beliefs, and while some may view him as left of left, Maynard believes he's simply steering the Democratic Party back where it belongs.

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