TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE
By Emily Wagster Pettus
The Associated Press
MACON, Miss. — Ike Brown is a legend in Mississippi politics, both loved and hated for his ability to turn out black voters and get his candidates into office.
That success has also landed him at the heart of a federal lawsuit that's about to turn the Voting Rights Act on its end. For the first time, the Justice Department is using the 1965 law to allege racial discrimination against whites.
Brown, head of the Democratic Party in Mississippi's rural Noxubee County, is accused of waging a campaign to defeat white voters and candidates with tactics including intimidation and coercion. Also named in the lawsuit is Circuit Clerk Carl Mickens, who has agreed to refrain from rejecting white voters' absentee ballots considered defective while accepting similar ballots from black voters.
Brown shakes off the allegations.
"They've been trying to target me for years, the attorney general and all them, because we're so successful," he said. "Hey, if you're a failure, nobody will mess with you. But we're successful in east Mississippi."
The Justice Department complaint says Brown, 52, and those working with him "participated in numerous racial appeals during primary and general campaigns and have criticized black citizens for supporting white candidates and for forming biracial political coalitions with white candidates."
Noxubee County — a rural area along the Alabama line named for a Choctaw word meaning "stinking water" — has a population of 12,500, 69 percent black and 30 percent white.
Whites once dominated county politics here, but now only one white person holds countywide office, and he says Brown tried to recruit an out-of-county black candidate to run against him three years ago.
The federal case against Brown, scheduled for trial this fall, represents a change in direction in the use of the Voting Rights Act, said Jon Greenbaum, director of the voting-rights project for the Washington-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The law was written to protect racial minorities in the 1960s when Mississippi and other Southern states strictly enforced segregation.
"The main concern we have in the civil-rights community isn't necessarily that DOJ brought this case," Greenbaum said. "It's that the department is not bringing meritorious cases on behalf of African-American and Native-American voters."
Justice Department records show the department's last voting-rights case alleging discrimination against black voters was filed in 2001. Since then, six cases have been brought on behalf of voters of Hispanic or Asian descent in five states — plus the case involving white voters in Mississippi.
Brown, a former tax preparer, served 21 months in prison in the 1990s on a felony conviction of preparing fraudulent federal income-tax returns. He retained his right to vote. The same federal judge who handled his earlier trial is now overseeing the Justice Department case.
"This case is real simple," Brown said. "Find me one white person that was discriminated against."
The main white person who makes the claim is Ricky Walker, the county prosecuting attorney who believes Brown recruited an opponent for him simply because he's white.
Walker says that when he qualified to run again in 2003, Brown brought in a black lawyer from another part of the state to run against him. A circuit judge found that the lawyer had not established residency and was not allowed on the ballot.