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Bell Joins Tollison In GOP- More Likely

November 11, 2011

Yesterday Gray Tollison made headlines when it was announced that he was switching parties two days after being re-elected, without opposition, as a Democrat. A member of the legislature since 1996, Tollison served as Chair of Judiciary, Division B and Vice-Chair of Education over the last legislative term.

Over the past two decades, scores of Democrats have changed parties so this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. In the lead up to the qualifying deadline earlier this year we kept track of switchers. Following Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, we have counted 42 Democrats in Mississippi who have joined the Republican Party. This includes representatives and senators, but the Tollison switch may have signaled a bigger change.

For one, the ex-Democrats generally voted with the Republicans nearly all the time, if not all the time. That isn’t exactly the case with Tollison. Over the last four years, his grades from BIPEC have been D, B, C, and D. Among Democrats who are coming back, Nickey Browning, Haskins Montgomery, and J.P. Wilemon all would likely be considered more conservative. But the GOP is happy to have Tollison on their team. For one, Republicans now have 31 members, which is 60 percent of 52, a key number to be at.

The man who will soon lead the Senate, Tate Reeves, was happy to have Tollison on board: “I welcome Gray Tollison to the Republican Party and will rely on his experience next year in the Mississippi Senate. I look forward to working with Gray to try to make Mississippi the best place in America to do business and to keep it the best place to raise a family. Together we will work on bold solutions to help improve the education attainment level in our state and bring in more jobs and economic development. The election results on Tuesday and the news today that Gray Tollison will be joining the Republican Party speaks to the appeal of our conservative values and vision for moving Mississippi forward. Gray will be a great addition to our team.”

And Tollison said this about the switch: “As a Republican, I can still hold firm to my core political beliefs of making Mississippi a better place to live by supporting education, encouraging jobs and economic development, working for efficient and effective government, and improving our criminal laws. I am committed to moving Mississippi up and – going forward – it will be done with the help of the Republican Party.”

We know some Republicans, or conservatives to be more exact, aren’t exactly thrilled with this news. Before the new legislature is sworn in, and during the course of the next four years, I expect that we will see more Democrats change parties. This is what happens when Democrats finally lose their grip on the South. Look at the party switches in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia as the GOP took control in those formerly Democratic states.

On one side you can argue that they are opportunists, but at the same time you can say they are joining the party of their true beliefs rather having to run as a Democrat for political reason. What we have seen in states like Georgia and Alabama, two states that have demographics very similar to Mississippi, is that few white Democrats exist anymore after the tide changes. Right now 22 21 remain in the House and 8 in the Senate. This is just what happens with the transition. For better or worse, the Republican Party is now where decisions get made and there is one very good way to be involved in the process- be a Republican.

Democrats have liked to write off the loss of previous party switchers as no big deal. Whatever they may publicly say about Tollison, they understand this represents something bigger.

Update: Almost on cue, we have our first switcher in the House. Donnie Bell, again certainly no conservative, has joined the Republican Party. Bell’s story is slightly different than Tollison’s. While Tollison received a free pass on Tuesday, Bell had to fight off a hard charging Republican opponent. As I said on Twitter, when people like Bell are switching parties, the floodgates have fully opened. This move also takes away that glimmer of absentee ballot hope that Democrats may have had of being in the majority.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Charlie Stogner permalink
    November 11, 2011 6:56 am

    In the formative years of the Mississippi GOP moderates as they’re referred to would have been the type to be leaders where they in the legislature. Many of today’s best known GOP activists more than likely don’t know the last true conservative to seek the presidency as a Republican was Barry Goldwater and his libertarian views would not have set well with today’s controlling factions, “social conservatives” and “religious right” zealots that hold sway in the Mississippi GOP.

    Let’s hope the very right wingers in the party welcome and accept those that may be considered ‘fiscal conservatives’.

    Maybe next year it’s time the grassroots followers of GOP fiscal conservatism gather at the GOP precinct meetings and insure enough get elected up through the state executive commitee to have the Mississippi GOP return to being a “party” rather than a “club” controlled by a select few.

  2. Travis Rose permalink
    November 11, 2011 10:12 am

    Brett, what exactly does majority in Mississippi mean? Republican, conservative, conservative republican? Or something else?

    • Ron ( comp fraud ) williams permalink
      November 11, 2011 4:38 pm

      Hey Travis, I hope yopu guys are doing well. Call us sometime we’ll go out to dinner, We need to talk to you about that 4th district.

      I,m gonna soap box a little biy but this is important.

      A year ago, while on the oil spill, somwe of our workers were riding a personnel carrier that bumped into another carrier. The speed of travel was less than three miles and hour, slower than walking speed. We sent all the workers tlo the Hospital ER, where they were diagnosed as OK. As a confirmation we also sent them to anothjer physician to make sure they were OK.

      Everyone was paid and nobody lost any wages.

      One of the workers never showed up for the second Dr.

      We did not involve our workers comp carrier and paid all medical bills ouit of pocket.

      Now I get a letter from an attorney / ambulance chaser in Gulfport. ( Shane Whitfield ) demanding that I provide information about our Workmens comp carrier to him so his Client ( the employee who was diagnosed as OK by the Hospiital and refused to see a second DR. ) can file a claim.

      By law I have to give them the information.

      What will hapeen is the employee and his lawyer will demand medical treastment and a weekly check for his ( made up ) injury. This will creat a relationshhip of conflict between the comp carrier and the employee. And how do we resolve conflict: lawsuits..

      The employee will file suit and the comp carriere will settle, because it is cheaper to settle than to fight and wiin.

      Our EMR will go up and possibly because of that our other employees will lose their jobs, as we lose contracts due to a higher EMR.

      This crap that HAley called tort reform, really just opened an express lane for settlements.
      It’s funny that dloctors are protected but nobody else ids protected from Dr’s who will ride fake workers comp claims.

      True tort Reform would create a financial liability for those who file false claims and participate in legal extortion. If the claimant has no assets then the liability of a false claim should rest with this Attorney.

      There have been instances where I have had to demand that our comp carrier pay claims to employees of ours that have been legitimately injured. Thats’ wahat comp is for. But the system has been perverted to the point that it is a free ride to a settlement for these crooked attorneys.

      This is one of the many reasons why jobs are going out of the Country.

      As we begin the next legislative term, the business community ( owners and employees) must demand true tort reform. That is the first step to bringing jobs back to America.

      And in case you nissed my last blog, ( Congratulations to Phil and the other winners, I wish them success )

  3. Rankinlawyer permalink
    November 11, 2011 10:17 am

    The Republicans just need to be sure and elect a true conservative and not someone who has a moderate history.

  4. Mikoma permalink
    November 11, 2011 10:43 am

    This is almost unbelievable. Here, we have a liberal, trial lawyer democrat who, for some mysterious reason has an epiphany and switches to the Republican party. Apparently, he sees an opportunity to USE the Republican party which will, no doubt, will be obvious as time goes by. Meantime, here are two possible reasons:

    – He feels the threat of political opposition will greatly diminish in future races.

    – He is feathering his nest to position himself for an appointment for a judgeship
    somewhere down the road which would result in a liberal judge for Mississippi, just what
    we need!

    I can’t believe that Haley and our leadership are welcoming this guy with open arms. I will never understand politics.

  5. Jean Crosswhite permalink
    November 11, 2011 11:17 am

    All they are interested in is getting as many R’s as possible. Of course their not gonna turn him away, would you give back your birthday presents?

  6. jason permalink
    November 11, 2011 11:32 am

    People like Bell and Tollison will end up hurting the party. They are opportunist and not true Republicans. They are not switching because of philosophy, but for political expediency. If they were true Republicans, they would have qualified and run that way just a few months ago. In fact, very recently, Tollison was being mentioned as a candidate for state wide office on the Democrat ticket. Since Bell and Tollison’s views have not changed, we will see the party become more liberal as these RINO’s try to influence policy. I hope Lieutenant Governor Reeves and the new Republican speaker will reward those that have fought in the Republican trenches for years, and not the late comers to the party.

  7. Charlie Stogner permalink
    November 11, 2011 12:15 pm

    You may be right but there are a lot of present ‘supposed’ GOP office holders who are far from ‘fiscal’ conservatives that serve to either perpetuate themselves in the role for pay, power or assumed prestige, or to promote a radical social or religious right agenda rather than a fiscal conservative, limited government.

    The party needs to be reborn from the grassroots beginning with next year’s precinct meetings where delegates to the county, then on to the state convention are chosen.

  8. Sid permalink
    November 11, 2011 12:37 pm

    Well Bell’s defection to the GOP sure mucks up the works and puts the Associated Press in a difficult bind. The AP might have to “uncall” Bell’s +1300 (net) vote victory and restate the election results for HD 20 as ‘too close to call’. Just sayin’.

  9. Bill Billingsley permalink
    November 11, 2011 2:33 pm

    I share everyone’s concern that the thrust of the Republican Party might ease toward the center if too many former Democrats are among us, but I also am confident that voting against the caucus will be political suicide. I also agree wholeheartedly with Charlie in that the grassroots supporters of the party need to be selecting the leadership next summer, not the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor. The party should remain as a separate entity from the elected officials who carry its designation, and the only way to make sure that happens is to elect an independent executive committee and chair.

  10. Linda Hollingshed permalink
    November 11, 2011 6:16 pm

    I’m tired of sorry underhanded politicians using voters namely black voters to get into office then changing sides. It is time to put a law in place to prevent liers, and deceivers from using the trust of the voters to get what they want. My question is did the republicians have knowledge of what this man was going to do? Was this planned. If we can’t trust him i wonder can you?

  11. Vanguard of Democracy permalink
    November 13, 2011 10:11 am


    Donnie Bell is graded by both the Tea Party and separately by BIPEC (2011) as a “D”. No other Republican in the House is rated below a C. Why then does Donnie Bell get to vote in the Republican caucus for speaker of the House? Given his voting record, wouldn’t he be more comfortable voting for Bobby Moak than for Mark Formby or Philip Gunn? And wasn’t Donnie trashing his Republican opponent (Deborah Tierce) only a week ago?

    Should there be a probationary period before party switchers are allowed full Republican caucus privileges? Alternately, perhaps no party switcher should be recognized between an election and the first day of the session. Also, is there any evidence that the more liberal Republican candidates for Speaker of the House helped engineer this switch? Doesn’t this switch benefit Jeff Smith and/or Herb Frierson in the speakers race?

    • Bill Billingsley permalink
      November 13, 2011 3:39 pm

      An elected official can switch parties anytime he wants. It’s up to the Speaker or Lieutenant Governor whether or not he’s granted equal status in the form of committee assignments and chairs. As far as the Speaker’s race goes, the caucus is going to fight it out between now and then, but the first candidate who’s nominated when the House convenes will receive all the Republican votes. They’ll unite behind someone, and it probably won’t be Smith or Frierson. I’m looking for it to come down to Gunn and Formby, with Gunn the victor because it will be hard for Formby to get the votes he needs in the northeast part of the state. Geography works in Gunn’s favor on one hand but might work against him if they decide that it’s a bad idea for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker all to be from the metro area. Hope not…Gunn will be a very good Speaker.

      • Coast Rat 4ever permalink
        November 13, 2011 3:47 pm

        If I were a man to wager my $$$ would be on Gunn. Relatively safe bet from what I’m hearing…

  12. Chrisman permalink
    November 13, 2011 9:17 pm

    “State Democratic Party Executive Director Rickey Cole said he found the switch odd considering Tollison’s history as a trial lawyer and Democratic donor.

    “It will certainly be interesting to see how Sen. Tollison reconciles his newfound partisan identity with his lifelong advocacy of liberal causes,” Cole said in a news release.”

    If tate assigns tollison to a committee chair it will say a lot about which way the Republican paty is headed.

    The idea that they even let tollison into the party makes me sick.

    • MSDawg permalink
      November 19, 2011 9:14 pm

      Phil appointed Gray as a committee chair…. when he was a D…. what does that say?

  13. dwayne permalink
    December 21, 2011 3:42 pm

    Tollison should resign immediately from the State Senate and run in a special election. People voted for him with the anticipation that they were electing a Democratic who had at least some progressive views.

    He deceived them and they should have a chance to selct him again or vote someone else in.

    Not to do that will show that he has typical Republican ethics, characteristic of a Tallahatchie River water moccasin.

  14. Republican Dawg permalink
    December 21, 2011 5:27 pm

    Who else were people going to vote for? He was the only person on the ballot.

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