So, we're not the only ones who find the ongoing feud between Diane Black and Lou Ann Zelenik ... interesting. Both Politico and Mother Jones are out with pieces on Thursday's rematch.
With what may well be the lede of the year, Mother Jones writer Tim Murphy dives deep into the race that "has it all." His piece is a whistlestop tour through the whole catty saga, hitting Zelenik's obsession with the Murfreesboro mosque, the lawsuit that followed the last Black-Zelenik showdown, and former Zelenik staffer, fellow Shariah-spotter, and proud owner of a new super-PAC Andrew Miller's financial carpet bombing of the race on Zelenik's behalf.
The Politico piece is more focused on Miller, his money, and the effect it has had on a race that was last won by less than 300 votes. That and, of course, his obvious interest in the threat of Shariah.
A sample, from both, after the jump:
Miller and Zelenik developed a bond as leaders of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, formed last year to “educate Tennesseans” about “Islamic radicalization,” among its other stated causes. He served as Zelenik’s campaign finance chairman prior to resigning from the position in late May, just weeks before he began funding TV ads against Black.
“I’ve gotten to know Lou Ann, and I know she cares about a lot of the things I care about,” Miller said.
A spokeswoman for Black dismissed Miller as “an angry multimillionaire with a personal grudge who is trying to influence a congressional election” and contended that Black had been vocal about her concerns with the construction of the Murfreesboro mosque. The spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker, said Black had recently signed on to a Republican-sponsored anti-Sharia law bill in the House.
Baker also argued that Miller’s close ties with Zelenik raise questions about whether he was coordinating his TV ads with her campaign, which would be a potential violation of federal campaign finance laws.
Zelenik’s campaign manager, Jay Heine, denied any coordination with Miller and said he knew little about the investor’s super PAC efforts.
“I don’t know what he’s doing, and I’m a little surprised by it all,” Heine said.
Republicans say Miller’s spending has altered the race. While Black has outraised Zelenik $2.8 million to $95,000 — with much of the congresswoman’s funds coming from herself — Miller’s spending has thrust Zelenik, once regarded as a long shot, into contention.
From Mother Jones:
On Tuesday, Zelenik is out for revenge—and this time it's personal. In Tennessee's 6th district, an area so conservative local Democrats aren't even fielding a candidate this November, Zelenik and Black are quietly waging one of the nastiest campaigns of the 2012 cycle, complete with a lawsuit, a super-PAC sugar daddy, and allegations of federal crimes.
Since losing to Black in 2010, Zelenik has ratcheted up the anti-Islam rhetoric that defined her first campaign. After the election, she founded the Tennessee Freedom Council, a conservative Christian organization dedicated to, among other things, educating "citizens on the realities of Sharia" and stopping "the growth of Radical Islam." Last November, TFC held its inaugural "Constitution or Sharia?" conference, which featured luminaries like David Yerushalmi (the architect of the national movement to ban Islamic law from being applied in state courts) and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, who has accused anti-tax activist Grover Norquist of being allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. In May, Zelenik hosted the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is most famous for saying "there is no such thing as 'moderate Islam'" and arguing Muhammad was a "terrorist."
Murphy also points out that Black's past support for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has turned to skepticism, noting that she criticized the Department of Justice earlier this month for "meddling in a local zoning matter to promote Islam." He quotes Zelenik campaign manager Jay Heine speculating that Black's change of heart was inspired by the fact that, after redistricting, the mosque is not in her district.
Anti-Islamic paranoia because it's convenient? We're dubious.
Update: The Black camp passes along several quotes to refute the MoJo claim of a Shariah flip-flop. In fact, they say, Black has been suspicious of the Murfreesboro mosque for some time. If you've never seen a race to the bottom, this is what it looks like.
June 26, 2010: "I'm very concerned that violent Jihadism is becoming the norm, not the exception in too much of Islam today and American communities have a right to be vigilant in insuring that Islamic institutions in this country do not aid the Jihadist viewpoint."
July 16, 2010: "I think this is an issue we are all concerned about when we see there is radical Islamic fundamentalist activity not just across the U.S., but across the world, however brilliant men… wrote our constitution, and it provided for freedom of worship."