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With 2011 Wrapping Up, A Look At What Is To Come

December 27, 2011

As an election year, 2011 gave us plenty of interesting story lines and here are some random observations from the year that was as we prepare for a new era in state government.

1) This has been talked about a good bit already but worth mentioning here. As we enter 2012, Central Mississippi is set to be the center of political power, much to the dismay of Northeast Mississippi, which has long held disproportional political power.

Here is a look at the hometowns of the seven Republican statewide office holders: Brandon, Flowood, Jackson, Madison, Vicksburg, Laurel, and Brookhaven. And you can throw in Philip Gunn who is from Clinton. He will take the Speaker’s gavel which has been controlled by Northeast Mississippi Democrats for the past 24 years. The remaining NEMS statewide official is also the remaining Democrat: Jim Hood.

2) Prior to the Republican primaries in August there was a lot of talk about the possibility of South Mississippi, the Coast in particular, taking one or more statewide office. They didn’t win any. Dave Dennis and Billy Hewes lost in the GOP primary, while Steve Simpson and Connie Moran lost in the general election. But in all honesty, the stronger candidate won in all situations. I don’t think being from the Coast had much to do with the final results.

And take a look at the county results from the general election. Coast residents didn’t want Simpson or Moran either. This is similar to 2007 when Al Hopkins lost big on the Coast to Jim Hood. Not much changed. We will see what 2015 brings but some South Mississippi Republicans in the legislature stand to do well when chairmanships are assigned.

3) We’ve mentioned Hood a couple times here and he had another impressive showing in November as he prepares for a third term. And he will likely be here as long as he wants. If you look at recent history, save for the governor and lieutenant governor, Republicans would win statewide offices for the first time thanks to open seats, party switchers, or primary upsets- not by unseating an incumbent.

But the question will be how long will Hood want to be AG and what kind of pressure does he get to run for something else? With Republicans controlling the House and Senate now, look for some of his power, particularly when it comes to whom he hires, to be scaled back. A run for senate in three years of governor in four years would be a long shot for the Democrat (or any Democrat), but he is certainly the best bet that they have right now.

4) As we look at Democratic primaries, now and in the future, I don’t think an African-American candidate should again be referred to as the underdog. This was the label placed upon Johnny DuPree, largely because he lacked the fundraising and overall campaign structure of Bill Luckett. But DuPree would win in a runoff thanks to a strong base of support in the Pine Belt (his home region), Jackson, and the Delta. And DuPree was certainly credible and ran a strong campaign; particularly for the resources he had.

DuPree made history when he became the first African-American major party nominee for governor, but there is good amount of recent history of black candidates defeating white candidates in the primary. In 2003, Barbara Blackmon defeated Jim Roberts and Gary Anderson defeated Rob Smith. And then Anderson would win again in 2007, defeating longtime incumbent George Dale that year. Take it for what you will but going forward it would be a mistake to place the underdog label on any black Democrat in the primary. Rather, they ought to be considered the early favorite.

5) In the Republican primary, Billy Hewes enjoyed much of the campaign system and support that Phil Bryant had. But Hewes would lose the primary and a different Republican, Tate Reeves, will be the next lieutenant governor. The obvious question is how will they get along- and then you can throw Philip Gunn into that question as well. This will be something we’ll all pay attention to for much of the next four years.

When newspaper columnists reflect back on the glory days of Democratic power in Mississippi, they often talk of the independent structure in the House and Senate, and a weak to nonexistent governor. Simply put, that model of government is bad for progress and for the party. Republicans across the board in Jackson have generally been brought up in a system of party discipline and unity based around a shared belief in conservative ideology; it would be a shame to see that disappear once they have the power.

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