Corruption stinks up local elections

Published 7:19 pm Saturday, July 23, 2011

In less than 10 days, Adams County voters will head to the polls and hopefully end a little bit of the political madness currently permeating the air.

The election insanity happens every election season. Rumors fly and crazy antics abound.

Rumors are perhaps among the most troubling and damaging of the shenanigans. Of course, the best option is simply not to believe something unless you can prove it to be true. Our newsroom staff works through some of the rumors to determine what might be true, publishable and of interest and help to voters.

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While much of the rumor-mongering can be damaging and hurtful to the individual candidates, other behavior often seen during an election year can be downright troubling not to the individual, but to large groups of our community.

A decade or so ago a former minister of a prominent Natchez church with a mostly black congregation came by the office to talk about a disturbing election practice that he’d seen for years in the community — vote buying and influencing by local church leaders.

This minister was disgusted by the practice and thought it was destructive — to the community, to the election process and to the churches.

As we sat and talked, the minister described how it was done. Money is passed down through the ranks from the vote-getting kingpin to the ministers and to others all the way down to the folks willing to lay down their vote for a meager payment.

Some ministers reportedly will even seek to lobby candidates to drop out of the race, presumably to make the way easier for the candidate whose supporters are willing to pay the highest price.

If the stakes were not so high, some of the practices would be comical. For example, a couple of years ago in a Wilkinson County voter fraud case, a person testified they were paid with a hamburger.

It’s sad that such nonsense goes on with something as important as the privilege of casting one’s vote and helping to shape our government.

Although the practice seems more open and more connected to church leaders in the black community, the same kind of vote swaying/buying may go on in the white community, too. Corruption is colorblind, though I’ve never heard a white minister openly support a local candidate.

The subject of how politics and religion mix in the South — particularly in the black community — is one that is widely known, and its causes easy to understand.

Quite simply prior to more modern, post-Civil Rights Era times, the church was among a few rare places that black citizens could speak with one another without raising suspicion and threat of violence from hate groups.

The church was a sanctuary from the oppressive, racist world outside.

Unfortunately, what began as a well-meaning practice — even a necessity — became corrupted at some point. Rather than gathering together for the sake of their own causes in a united manner, when cash was introduced into the mix, well, things got ugly fast.

The New Testament has a good lesson for us all about the moneychangers in the church and how Jesus dealt with them.

I hope and pray that one day soon we can get rid of some of the more ugly aspects of voting in our system.

Putting an end to the so-called men of God using their influence over their congregations for personal monetary and political gain would be at the top of my list.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or