Thursday, May 20, 2010


I was pleased, recently, to attend the Second Annual Pioneer Dinner of the Mississippi Republican Party in Jackson. It was a grand affair and was attended by in excess of 700 members of the Party faithful, as well as the family and friends of those being honored that evening. The Honorees were the seven men who had received the Republican nomination for Governor of Mississippi in the modern era (since the 1950's, during which the modern two party system in Mississippi began to emerge with the formation of "Democrats for Eisenhower"). Former nominees Gil Carmichael (1975, 1979); Leon Bramlette (1983); Jack Reed (1983; and present Governor Haley Barbour (2003, 2007) were in attendance. Only Rubel Phillips (1963, 1967); the late Governor Kirk Fordice (1991, 1995); and Congressman Mike Parker (1999), were unable to attend.

My wife and I were privileged to sit between Gil Carmichael and Jack Reed at the dinner; and the contributions that both made to the development and present success of the modern Mississippi Republican Party were significant. It is a noteworthy footnote of Mississippi history that when Gil was running for the U.S. Senate in the early 1970's, against Senator Jim Eastland (the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee), Vice President Spiro Agnew came to Jackson to endorse the candidacies of then- congressional candidates Thad Cochran and Trent Lott; but on the instructions of President Nixon, he refused to endorse the immensely popular Gil Carmichael, who was required to remain at Republican Party headquarters, during the endorsement festivities which were held two blocks away in front of the Old Capitol Building. Gil stood tall among Mississippi Republicans then and he is still an icon today. His fine son, who resides in Meridian, Mississippi, followed Gil's example and served effectively on the Republican State Executive Committee for a number of years.

Jack Reed was a highly respected and very influential state and community leader when he became the standard bearer for the Republican Party in 1987. Whereas prior to that time the growth of the State Party had been centered primarily in the Jackson area, large municipalities, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Jack brought new organized growth to the Party from North Mississippi and the foothills of Appalachia.

Jack's opponent in the 1987 Governor's race was the highly visible State Auditor, Ray Mabus, who had successfully spearheaded the widely publicized federal and state investigation called "operation pretense". Operation Pretense resulted in federal convictions of numerous county elected officials who engaged in fraud and received "kick backs" in exchange for favors to their constituents.

Although Jack had never previously run for any elective office, he was an effective campaigner and was able to raise the necessary funds to wage a credible campaign against his highly-favored and much more well known Democratic opponent. He ran as a successful business and community leader with a strong vision for education, and he finished the race by receiving an astonishing 47% of the vote, the highest percentage of votes received by any Republican candidate for Governor at that time in a relatively low-key race.

In retrospect, Jack Reed's strong showing in 1987 was a signal to thoughtful political observers that there was, for the first time, a "third rail" in Mississippi politics. A legitimate two-party system was emerging in the state. By 1987, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott had been elected to Congress, and Jack Reed proved that a progressive, successful businessmen who espoused conservative Republican principles had a real chance of being elected to statewide office. The old one-party system comprised of segregationists, "Mississippi Democrats", and moderates was on its way out. It is noteworthy that Kirk Fordice defeated Ray Mabus and became Mississippi's first Republican Governor in 1991.

Jack Reed remains as a highly successful and influential community and state leader today. His son is the Republican Mayor of Tupelo.

The principal Honoree at the 2010 Pioneer Dinner was Rubel Phillips, Mississippi's first Republican modern day nominee for Governor in 1963, who was ill and could not attend. I was in college in 1963 and well remember Rubel's campaign slogan: "Kayo the Kennedys". He knew then what we Republicans need to remember today, which is that the vestiges and roots of the old depression-era Democratic Party remain strong and that Mississippi Republicans must tie their Democratic opponents to the ultra-liberal policies of the National Democratic Party and not allow their local opponents to "run to the right" before they go to Washington to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rubel was a true Pioneer of the Mississippi Republican Party. He was the first to "step up" in his race for Governor and publicly put his economic interests and his reputation on the line for a cause greater then himself. He was and is a great man, who has to this day remained active in the Mississippi Republican Party. We Mississippi Republicans owe him, and we owe him big.

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