- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

MACON, Miss. (AP) — Ike Brown is a legend in Mississippi politics, a fast-talking operative who is 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 U.S. Justice Department is using the 1965 law to charge racial discrimination against whites.

Mr. 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 such as 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.

“They’ve been trying to target me for years, the attorney general and all them, because we’re so successful,” Mr. Brown says. “Hey, if you’re a failure, nobody will mess with you. But we’re successful in east Mississippi.”

The Justice Department complaint says Mr. 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 — has a population of 12,500, about 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 Mr. Brown tried to recruit an out-of-county black candidate to run against him three years ago.

The federal case against Mr. Brown, scheduled for trial this fall, represents a change in direction in the use of the Voting Rights Act, says Jon Greenbaum, director of the voting rights project for the Washington-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“The main concern we have in the civil rights community isn’t necessarily that the DOJ brought this case,” Mr. Greenbaum says. “It’s that the department is not bringing meritorious cases on behalf of African-American and Native American voters.”

Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland would not comment on the case, but provided stacks of documents, including the consent decree signed by Mr. Mickens, Noxubee County’s chief elections officer.

Mr. 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.

“This case is real simple,” Mr. Brown says. “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 thinks Mr. Brown recruited an opponent for him simply because he’s white, an action Mr. Walker called “racist.”

Mr. Walker says that when he qualified to run again in 2003, Mr. Brown brought in a black lawyer from another part of the state to run against him. A circuit judge found that the lawyer, Winston James Thompson III, had not established residency, and was not allowed on the ballot.

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