Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An Honest Politician

The beleaguered governor of the state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has delivered the parting shot of 2008 by appointing the Honorable Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. It was an awesome, in-your-face move indicative of hard ball Chicago politics, but this move will have national repercussions.

The appointment was challenged even before it was made. The Senate Democratic leadership has said they would not seat Blago's appointment. IL Secretary of State Jesse White has said he would not certify the appointment. Others, including Obama, have said that any appointment by Blagojevich would be tainted. Burris himself had even asked the governor to step down, publicly.

But Blago has decided to step up his game to another level. Once the IL Supreme Court rebuffed Attorney General Lisa Madigan's attempt to remove the governor, that gave Blago the time to plan this move. And what a move he made.

Roland Burris is a friend and political mentor of mine. Burris was the first African-American to be elected to statewide office in Illinois. He served three terms as Comptroller of the State and then was elected Attorney General. He actually ran twice for governor, including in 2002 against Blagojevich. He has served as Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and has been a major fundraiser for Democratic candidates for years, including the President-elect.

He grew up in Centrailia, IL with my father. My dad's best friend growing up was Burris' Chief of Staff. Burris married a Mississippi woman and he hosts the annual Centrailia reunion. Currently, Burris, a lawyer by training and former bank vice-president, is a partner in a major Illinois lobbying firm. More importantly, Burris is one of the most honest and conscious politicians one could ever meet.

Many people who have heard me speak know that I have a number of catch phrases that define my political philosophy. One of them is, "There are two types of politicians: honest ones and rich ones. You have to decide which one you want to be." Right after I graduated from Jackson State University, I went home to Chicago to visit my parents. Burris heard that I was in town and asked me to stop by his office downtown. He was the Attorney General at that time and was contemplating his first run for governor. We talked for a half an hour in which the highlight was the aforementioned quote, his personal advice for a young man he admired from afar who had an interest in politics.

I made my choice to be an honest politician and Roland has been a strong supporter of mine in my two efforts to go to the United States Senate. Knowing Roland Burris the way I do, I know he made his choice to be an honest politician when I was in kindergarten. The last time I was in Chicago, Burris held a fundraiser for me and confided in me that he might be the one appointed to finish Obama's unexpired term. I think he is an excellent choice, probably the best choice Blago has made in his political life.

The problem now is the fact that Burris' character will not be the determining factor. He has become just the weapon of choice for Blago in his fight to retain power and those who are opposing the appointment think highly of Burris. However, Bobby Rush, the powerful Congressman from 1st District of Illinois, the district by the way that has been represented by an African-American longer than any other district in America, dropped the race gauntlet into the mix. So now Burris has the moniker of being the Black appointment that must be accepted since there are no African-Americans currently in the U.S. Senate.

This is not fair to a man of Roland's caliber and character, but he accepted the role, and that is the battleground on which he put himself on. Christians are taught that what is meant for evil turns to good for those that accept, and have, the favor of God. If Roland Burris becomes the next U.S. Senator from the State of Illinois, it will be an affirmation of our faith.

In short, an honest politician should replace an honest politician, regardless of the circumstances. Roland Burris is the right choice to replace Barack Obama.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

73 and counting

In 1992, I used to stay at the Summers Apartments, a group of townhouses next to the historic Summers Hotel, home of the legendary Subway Lounge. One morning, I woke up and one of my neighbors was standing in the parking lot. When I asked what he was doing, all he did was point and say, "I think that is a body over there." Needless to say that caught my attention.

We walked over and sure enough it was. A man balled up in the fetal position, having been stabbed. A little later in the year, a good friend of mine, having become a new father, was relaxing at my apartment, watching the Lakers play. I noticed this huge scar on his shoulder and he said that was one of four gun shots he had received in a robbery attempt a couple of years before. He was shot with a .44 Magnum and survived.

Two weeks after the conversation, he was killed by one .22 caliber bullet over a $10 watch he won in a card game. Seems the owner wanted it back. That was the most horrific year in Jackson history as we nearly approached 100 homicides that year. In a city as small as Jackson, every homicide has an impact on a number of people, but that year it seemed like death was all around us. I did not feel comfortable at parties nor in my own home, as someone had tried to break in on a Sunday morning I played hookie from church.

It was a terrible feeling. I felt overwhelmed and powerless. I was on my way to serve in the Marine Corps full-time and I had left politics in the past, having lost an election the year before. But these personal events plus the movement to elect an African-American mayor of Jackson led me back to the cause that God put me on earth to fulfill. I thought about how the prophet Jonah had tried to abdicate his responsibility and ended up in the belly of the whale. It seemed as though my "whale" was Jackson, and its deteriorating status.

I got back involved, managing Henry Kirksey's campaign the following year and being a voice for change, especially through activities serving on the local NAACP board. Up until this November, I had never looked back. Now as I contemplate what role to take in the future of Mississippi politics, as well as prioritizing my personal life, 73 people have been murdered in my adopted hometown.

Michael Corleone once said, "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in." I understand.

Human beings are going to be base creatures, especially when enlightenment is an ideal and not a lifestyle, but why do we feel that we have to resolve disagreements, especially with loved ones, in such a destructive manner? The police cannot attend every family get-together in the city, therefore it is up to people to show restraint. A better financed, better educated police force can deal with the true criminal element, but it is up to us to make sure family disputes don't escalate to deadly violence.

I don't have a quick fix solution to this dilemma. I have children I am responsible for and I pray that no harm comes to them. I have to teach them how to resolve conflicts without violence. But I cannot do that for every child in Mississippi, let alone Jackson. That is a responsibility EVERY citizen must take upon themselves for their own family members. One woman got on TV and said that she would pray for a safer city. However, while pray changes things, the Bible also says, "Faith without works is dead."

It is time to get off our knees. It is time to stop turning our heads away from the problem. It is time to get involved, one household at a time. As expressed in an earlier blog, many people are concerned about President Obama's safety. Well, he has the Secret Service 24-7. What do we have? Hopefully in 2009, I can safely say, "each other."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Futility defined

As the fans of the Detroit Lions wake up this morning, they are reminded in every way possible about the accomplishment of their hometown team. The 2008 version of one of the original franchises in the National Football League managed to go a whole season without winning a game. They had opportunities, more notably a two touchdown lead on the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter of their second match up over a month ago, but like the industry that defines The Motor City, they managed to squander it with devastating consequences.

This was an achievement that took years to develop, like drafting a wide receiver several years in a row in the first round. Matt Millan, the designer of the current squad as the team's general manager, was given his walking papers earlier in the season, and there may be more shake-ups before the Super Bowl takes place this February.

But at least their futility did not cost nearly $2 billion. That distinction goes to the abstinence-only movement, of which I was a participant of for two years. A thorough study released this morning showed that teens who took an abstinence pledge were as likely to lose their virginity as a teen who did not. Even more disturbing is that the majority of those that took the pledge, when they engaged in sexual activity, they did it without protection.

This is troubling because of the federal restrictions of the program, which cost the American taxpayers $200 million a year for the last seven years, the mention of contraception as an alternative is forbidden. As an instructor, I got that, but as a public servant who grew up in the home of a health educator, the numbers now show that was not the best approach.

Many in the abstinence movement say that to mention contraception would send mixed messages, but it is the federal government that is sending that mixed message. While spending $200 million on abstinence-only programs, the same government is spending an equal amount on providing condoms to health departments and other related organizations.

The solution is a comprehensive sex education program that makes abstinence the first option, but also teaches teens strategies to deal with sex responsibly, like how to properly use a condom and how to talk your way out of situations. The program I was in used scientific data to make the case for abstinence and I believe that is still effective in a comprehensive strategy. If one wants to use a moral approach, good luck, because you cannot legislate or mandate morality, especially in the developing mind of a teenager.

Peer pressure may make a teen take a pledge and that same peer pressure will make them break it.

The new Obama administration has promised to address this issue and I hope that a rational discussion will ensue to develop a strategy to address teen sexual behavior in a realistic, but effective way. The administration cannot solve the problem of the Detroit Lions however.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Are you serious?

Chip Saltsman, a former Tennessee GOP chair, has put his credentials to be the next national GOP chair into question by standing up for something that really should have gone without comment.

Seems as though some ingenious Repubs sent out a "holiday" CD entitled "Barack the Magic Negro" (yes, it is set to "Puff the Magic Dragon") to members under the guise of political satire. Saltsman, who probably would have been better served not being heard of outside of Nashville, decided to defend the CD, saying he would not pander to double-standards of the national media. He also stated in the same breath that the GOP should be a party of unity and inclusion.

Give me a break.

If you want to be a unifying factor in American politics, let's evolve from this fracturing style of politics and start promoting issues and policies that will define us. But unfortunately, that is asking too much from those that offer so little. Numbers don't lie, and the numbers from the Southern states proves that this style of satire is acceptable in political dialogue, especially from the GOP.

In other words, Dennis Green was right, "they are who we thought they were."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I think Obama will be ok....

...and here is why. Yesterday, the whole island of Oahu went black. A major power outage took the island by surprise, except for a certain family that happens to be vacationing there. Can we say the next First Family?

The Obama residence had full power within minutes of the outage, according to reports. If the President-elect can have full power if an entire island has a blackout, that also happens to be the capital of a state, just imagine if something happened in Washington, DC.

The President, as well as the Federal Government, has fail-safes in place for any type of attack to allow the government to function. Yesterday was a test on one of those fail-safes if the President was not in DC. Thanks Oahu for playing. Your slight inconvenience proved that the government can still function in a crisis and that the fears of many in this nation should be at ease.

There were people during the election that were concerned about Obama's safety. One should be more concerned about theirs, considering 70 people have been murdered in Jackson, MS alone, most by friends and acquaintances, with a few days left in 2008.

In a few days, Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. He will be the most protected human being in the United States. Our concerns should be directed in how he governs, our faith should dictate that he will be allowed to govern.

Now I know my little opinion cannot ease all of the fears of millions of Americans, but I would hope that sound arguments like this one will help reassure folks that the people have spoken and their wishes will be protected at all costs.

I have faith, do you?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Repairing and Renewing

Habari Gani! I greet you in the traditional Swahili greeting that commemorates the beginning of the 2008 Kwanzaa season. Kwanzaa is the seven day celebration that is to allow time for reflection and a new focus the upcoming year. Unlike what the ultra-conservatives characterize it, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American culture that was created four decades ago in the hope to assist in the development of our self-determination.

This year's theme is "Repairing and Renewing the World". It is a most appropriate theme in these trying days. It is also appropriate as we anticipate the new Obama administration taking office. Over the next seven days, based on the principles of Kwanzaa: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith, let us figure out how to repair and renew our world, individually and collectively.

The times demand our full participation in this exercise.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Even though spending may be down 23 percent for Christmas shopping, remember the reason for the season. Therefore, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas on tomorrow. Enjoy time with your family and be thankful as we approach another year of hope and optimism. May God continue to bless you, be with you and keep you in His favor always.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi

There are a lot of people that are running for the position of the next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Just for those that do not know, Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, named after President Andrew Jackson (its original name was Lefleur's Bluff). It has a population of nearly 200,000 and a Metropolitan Statistical Area of around 500,000. Thirty years ago, Jackson was considered one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Today, it has stagnant economic growth compared to cities of similar size such as Richmond, Virginia, Birmingham, Alabama and Orlando, Florida.

It is a majority African-American city (73%) with a strong mayor-council form of government. It has seen new development in the downtown area and a rise in the murder rate for the first time in four years (68 homicides as of this writing). The infrastructure is crumbling and job opportunities are diminishing, while Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center are expanding.

There are accusations of financial mismanagement during a national recession and a period of dwindling tax revenues. And if that does not whet your appetite, the current Mayor is under federal indictment for civil rights violations committed in his unorthodox effort to fight crime.

This is the environment that the next mayor faces. So who would want to take on this challenge? Following the rumblings, it seems like everyone that has political ambitions in Jackson. The list is as follows:

Robert Johnson, a former Jackson Police Chief and former director of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. He is currently a private security consultant.

The Honorable John Horhn, a veteran member of the Mississippi Senate, representing the Northwest Jackson area, and a former Mabus administration appointee.

The Honorable Eddie Fair, the current Hinds County Tax Collector and successful businessman.

The Honorable Marshand Crisler, the current Councilman for Ward 6, which encompasses most of south Jackson. He is a Iraqi War Veteran, a Hinds County Deputy Sheriff and the former police chief of Utica, MS

The Honorable Harvey Johnson, Jr., the previous mayor of Jackson (the first African-American ever elected to the post). He is a college professor and a former director of the Mississippi Institute for Small Towns.

David Archie, a community activist and the co-host of a radio talk show, "What's Going On" on WMPR-FM.

And finally, The Honorable Frank Melton, the current embattled mayor as aforementioned. Melton is a former television executive and the former director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

Many of the candidates are running to prove that they are a more responsible leader than Melton and Melton himself is running on a campaign of vindication, even though his trial is pending next month. What I am not hearing is any vision from the candidates.

Now grant it it is early, the election is in May 2009 and the filing deadline is in March, so there may be more aspirants. But from what is being conveyed so far, this is nothing more than a typical Jackson election, which means it is really a power play for control of the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce. Different factions have emerged under the leadership of Socrates Garrett, the current chairman of the chamber board, thus the plethora of candidates raising monies and vying for the position.

Yard signs are already being posted, and radio spots are running, but the lack of a vision for Jackson is telling. It will be interesting who will emerge as the true visionary leader, not just a temporary steward to guide Jackson through the immediate tough times. I personally would like to know what each candidate perceives Jackson should look like in the next ten years.

I look at a city like Orlando, which has become a major tourist stop, thanks to DisneyWorld, and has a professional sports team. It is growing at a steady pace, expected to reach 300,000 by the next census. The major infrastructure commitments made by the city leaders showed that they had a vision of growth in years past. Will we have a leader that will exemplify that same vision?

As the campaign heats up after the new year arrives, it is imperative to see how the voters of Jackson respond to this onslaught of candidates, and will their decision be based on substance or style. I hope that the voters in Jackson hold the candidates accountable in forcing them to express their long-term vision for the city they wish to lead.

This is not a beauty contest. This is the most significant election to determine the viability of Jackson as a major U.S. city. Politicians may fail to meet the expectations, but the citizens of must demand the highest of standards in this time of Jackson's history. Time to separate the wheat from the chafe.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quick Thought

As the craziness of the holiday season raises to another level, and people that you think are poison are reaching toxic levels, just remember why this celebration exists. The birth of Jesus is a celebration of our salvation and a renewal of hope.

When those who want to bring you down continue to push your buttons, remember the ridicule Mary must have endured when she was pregnant with Jesus before her marriage to Joseph.

When you feel as though you means are modest, just remember the Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords was born in a stable with animals residing in it.

Don't let the foolishness of others control your destiny. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Grateful

As I get ready to play Santa for some adopted children today, I have to reflect on how grateful I am for where I am now. I am first grateful for my new wife, who with her creative spirit, gentle soul and settled nature, she has given me a security and a friendship that I truly need in this transitional time in my life. She is what a soul mate should be and I am glad she is a part of my life.

I am grateful for my son, who with his brilliance that is daily developing and his gentle, yet adventurous nature, has given me the joy of being a father that just a decade ago I did not think I was going to experience. Now that my political career has taken a less active turn, it is time now to spend more time with him and develop an even stronger bond with him.

I am grateful for my parents, who despite financial and health challenges that many middle class families are experiencing, especially in their later years, they are active and loving and as optimistic as ever. They have been supportive to me as only parents can be and have been my conscience when things were muddled.

I am grateful for my friends who truly know me as I am, not the public persona that I have to convey in my professional life. They have been my coach when I was down, and have been my best cheerleaders when I was up. They have even made things move when I think I have hit a dead end. I can never thank you enough and my loyalty toward you all will never waver.

Finally, I am grateful to God for being my protector and provider, especially now. My faith has been my strength throughout my life, even in its darkest moments. It was Dr. King that said only in the darkness can one see the stars. Well, it was God that put those stars there and those stars remind me of goals to continue to reach and causes that need to be still fought.

His grace and mercy has given me a chance to continue my work and His plan for me is still unfolding. No weapon that is formed against me, nor any person that stands against me, shall prosper or prevail. The prophet Micah reminds those that define themselves as enemies not to rejoice, for I will rise again.

Gratefulness is almost a lost human element in this disposable society we live in. I encourage those who read this to take the time to acknowledge what they are grateful for and to continue to fight for what they love and believe in.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Cause

If the members of Congress want to give a real tax break to 70 million working citizens, then the tax on working overtime must be eliminated. Ending the tax on overtime pay would be a better plan than periodic economic stimulus packages. In this time of recession, I can think of no better way to allow working families to survive these tough economic times than ending the penalty for working overtime.

Based on calculations using Bureau of Labor Standards data, the average American worker works 3.33 hours of overtime weekly, makes around $91.80 in weekly overtime wages, and pays $11.10 in federal taxes.Those taxes bring in an estimated $40.4 billion annually. However, if those workers kept that extra money, that would create an estimated $282.8 billion in spending power for this economy.

To put it in perspective, the average American worker would bring home an extra $577.20 annually, compared to the average stimulus package award of $600.

It is time now to start a movement to bring real tax relief to the working men and women of this nation. During my tenure in the Mississippi House of Representatives, I pushed for years to make this the law in Mississippi, initially inspired by Mississippi workers. The effects of Hurricane Katrina made it more clear to me that this tax needed to be abolished. I even had a resolution passed by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators in 2005 in support of this cause.

So I am making a personal appeal for you reading this blog to join this cause, as we set forth to make America more productive and prosperous in the months and years to come. If you are interested in helping make this happen, feel free to contact me using the info on my profile.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Blog's first WTF moment

Did I hear the news right today when they said that Drew Peterson was engaged to be married again? Now I know I caught some of my friends off guard when I said I was engaged and re-married, but I am not under investigation for killing a third wife and the fourth wife is missing!

WTF is this girl thinking? Is she suicidal? Is her self-esteem that low? You mean to tell me that in the Chicago area, they were no other bachelors that had a little less baggage? Why would a 23-year-old female date a guy who has been through four wives and he is not Donald Trump?

Congratulations to Congresswoman Solis on her appointment to Labor Secretary, as that is the big real news story of the day and let me give an honorable WTF mention to Ole Miss Basketball Coach Adam Kennedy on his alleged assault of a cab driver in Cincinnati early this morning.

However, it is really a Springer moment when any woman in her right mind would date Drew Peterson, let alone commit to marry him, when his current wife is still missing! Word is that her parents are trying to talk her out of it. If they succeed, they should be considered early contenders for parents of the year.

Now if I was a prosecutor, and I saw my main suspect, the husband, in a missing person/possible homicide investigation was trying to marry someone else when his current wife has not been found, would you blame me if my suspicion was raised to red alert?

Again, WTF!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Plans for the new year

Now that I have recovered from the 2008 election and have re-settled into married life again, I look at 2009 as the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I will always keep my eye out for political opportunities, but as for now, it is time for me to do some things I have set out to do for some time.

First, I am going to re-learn Spanish. My work at the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance proved to me that it is essential to improve on my Spanish-speaking skills. If I can master Spanish before the end of the year I may try my hand learning another language, either Arabic, Hebrew or Chinese.

Second, I am going to finish my book. It started out as just written versions of my speeches but I think I want to delve into that a little more and let people know a little more about me. Not a total autobiography but a review about a significant part of my adult life. It won't be a long tome but I hope it will be a good short read that will offer some inspiration.

Third, as I seek out permanent employment in this recession, I will be on the speaking circuit throughout the year. If you would like to book me as a speaker, you can call 601-783-0173 to make the arrangements. I will also do more blog and column writing (look in the Jackson Advocate and the Jackson Free Press). If everything goes right, I also plan to put together a radio talk show before the end of the year. My web site, http://www.erikfleming.org/, will still be up but look for changes as we move from politician mode to concerned citizen of the world.

I hope everyone has a joyous holiday season and I wish that your 2009 will be as rewarding and productive as I intend mine to be.