I didn’t vote for Keith Judd in yesterday’s primary. Like most voters — including those who chose Judd over President Obama — I hadn’t even heard of the man before yesterday.
For those of you who don’t know, Judd is serving a 17.5 year sentence in a Texas low-security prison for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999. He’s due for release in June, 2013. He was also the challenger in West Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary yesterday. He got 41% of the vote (72,000).
So, how exactly does a convicted felon appear on a presidential primary ballot? Well, West Virginia’s electoral policies are flimsy at best. Pay a fee, file the proper paperwork, and you’re in. Judd knows this. He earned quite a few votes in other states in 2002, 2004 and 2008.
When the results of yesterday’s primary began rolling in, it was clear that this man named Keith Judd was gaining steam in West Virginia. It didn’t take long for national news outlets to catch wind of this, and that’s when the media spin began.
The “Anyone but XXXXXX” mentality is nothing new in politics. One could not begin to count the “Anyone but Bush” bumper stickers in 2004 — including right here in West Virginia. But apparently if West Virginia, a state which houses 90% of its residents below the Mason-Dixon line, adopts this mentality against a black president, then clearly racism and only racism is to blame. Right?
Is it so unfathomable that someone could dislike Obama for something other than the color of his skin? Remember that this was on the Democratic ticket; I would assume most people that have a problem with his skin tone would be voting on the other ticket.
From what I’ve read in news sources that overlook regional stereotypes rather than enforce them, most of the people that voted for Judd had no idea who he was or where he currently “resides.” Does that make it OK? Certainly not — in my opinion, an uninformed vote is worse than no vote at all.
But for many, I think a vote for Judd was simply a no-confidence vote for Obama. It was meant as a message: “To me, the Democratic voter, Obama has nothing to offer.”
“Anyone but XXXXXX” mentality ruled the day.
No one who voted for Judd expected him to win, and I’m sure even more people who voted for him didn’t actually want him to win. And even more didn’t expect the guy in the next booth to make the same “Anyone but Obama” vote. A very liberal friend and colleague of mine admitted today to voting for Judd “just because.” It was an alternative to Obama, and it was an alternative that he knew had no chance of winning, but an alternative nonetheless. Admittedly, he was a little embarrassed having found out who Judd is and where he currently calls home.
Could racism have played a factor in some of the votes? Certainly. It’s naive to think racism doesn’t play a factor, great or small, in just about everything. But since most voters didn’t even seem to know who Judd was, how many of them could have known we has white? Argue for his name all you want, but if I have an irrational hatred for black people, I’m not going to assume a guy’s in my court just because his name is Keith.
But naturally, what happens in West Virginia becomes the butt of a national joke. And even more naturally, that joke is the result of a misconception. We’re not inbred, we’re not backwards, and we’re certainly not racist. At least not all of us, and no more than you’d find in upstate New York, or the ivory state of Vermont, or just about any other part of the country. In fact, the grand majority of us are the exact opposite of these things. But what we are is strong-willed, iron-fisted and — as history shows — unapologetically rebellious.
The joke was meant to be on Obama, but as is always the case, the joke is now on us. To be honest I have a hard time being upset over the part of this that seems to be upsetting everyone else here in the Mountain State.
I’m not angry at the West Virginians who voted for Judd; I’m angry that the words “West Virginia” spin the nation’s attention towards negativity. I’m angry that this, paired with CNN’s recent photo blog of “everyday Appalachian life,” are just more examples of the media skewing the truth and reinforcing regional stereotypes.
And I’m angry that people are focusing on this misconstrued, media-spun, completely unfounded “racial vote,” more than they are the clear, blatant and unmistakeable social bigotry that took place in North Carolina on the same day.
West Virginians voted for an unknown rather than vote for someone they did not believe in. This does not make us racist. (I say “us” because even though I didn’t vote for Judd, I stand behind my state and its people when I see age-old stereotypes rearing their ugly heads.)
North Carolina, on the other hand, knowingly voted to suppress a group of people and their rights. It was not a half-thought political gesture conjured up in the voting booth — it was premeditated oppression.
See the difference?