Tuesday, August 31, 2010


In recent weeks, various pundits in Mississippi have begun to speculate about what some have called the upcoming "beauty contest" - that is, the Mississippi election in 2011 to determine who will succeed Haley Barbour as Mississippi's next Governor. In years past many statewide candidates trying to raise money to fund their "down-ticket" races for offices such as Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner or Auditor, have lamented that donors were only interested in giving money to their favorite candidate in the "beauty contest" - which does aptly describe the fact that, indeed, the Governor's race is the "main event" in the quadrennial statewide elections.

At this juncture, it appears that both the Democrats and the Republicans will stage healthy primary elections for Governor in 2011, with credible candidates that will stir the interest of the party faithful and lead to a clear choice between traditional Democratic and Republican values. However, there has been some speculation that prominent "wild-card" candidates might enter the race as independents or representing minor political parties, which could force the election of Mississippi's next Governor to be decided by the state house of representatives if the leading candidate in the November, 2011, general election fails to receive over fifty per cent (50%) of the votes cast.

According to Article 5, Section 140 of the MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, "The person found to have received a majority of all the electoral votes, and also a majority of the popular vote, shall be declared elected." However, Article 5, Section 141 then says "If no person shall receive such majorities, then the house of representatives shall proceed to choose a governor from the two persons who shall have received the highest number of popular votes . . . by VIVA VOCE vote . . . ." Section 140 of Article 5, of the Constitution, which was amended in 1982, states that persons receiving the highest number of votes in a legislative district of the house of representatives are awarded "electoral votes" for as many votes in the house of representative as that legislative district is entitled to receive.

The 1999 race between Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Congressman Mike Parker was the closest gubernatorial race in Mississippi history. Out of almost three quarters of a million votes cast, Musgrove won 8300 more votes than Parker in a four-way election, but fell a fraction of a percentage point short of receiving a majority, as required by Mississippi's Constitution. Since neither candidate received a majority of the popular vote, the Mississippi House of Representatives had to select the winner. They chose Musgrove - the first time in modern history the election of a Mississippi governor was decided by members of the Legislature.

It is noteworthy that Article 5, Section 143 of Mississippi's Constitution also says that . . . "[a]ll other state officers shall be elected at the same time, and in the same manner as provided for election of governor". Mississippi has eight (8) "state officers" who are elected by a statewide vote, namely: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor, Insurance Commissioner, and Commissioner of Agriculture. The upcoming November, 2011, state elections in Mississippi will be held at a time when the mood of the electorate (reflective of the national mood) is one of anger, frustration and unpredictability. Numerous third-party candidates will likely enter the fray, and they will likely get a substantial number of votes. For example, candidates from the right-of-center Libertarian Party (Ron Paul followers) have been consistently receiving at least one (1) percent of the vote in Mississippi elections where that Party has fielded candidates for some time now.

If the third party candidates in Mississippi's 2011 elections gain sufficient votes to deny the front runner a majority of the popular vote and/or the electoral vote in 2011, the legislators who are members of the state's house of representatives will decide the winner. There are 72 Democrats and 50 Republicans presently serving as members of the House. If such an election were held today by voice vote in that legislative body, the presiding officer of the meeting would be the Speaker of the House - Democrat Billy McCoy.

Monday, August 9, 2010


After the 2006, Congressional elections, President George W. Bush commented that Republicans took "a thumping" in the House races; and indeed they did, losing control of the House leadership and bringing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to power after twelve years of Republican control.

Michael Barone, the highly respected political analyst for the WASHINGTON EXAMINER, and the author of THE ALMANAC OF AMERICAN POLITICS, believes it is likely that the House Democrats will be the ones taking the thumping in the November Congressional elections this year. In fact, he states that unless the shift of opinion away from the Democrats so evident in the polls turns out to be illusory, "House Democrats are headed toward historic losses." In an article written for REAL CLEAR POLITICS, dated July 29, 2010, he tells us why.

In his article, Mr. Barone points out that in regard to the generic ballot question ("Which party's candidate will you vote for in elections to the House?") asked of voters by most pollsters, the current realclearpolitics.com average shows Republicans ahead by 45 percent to 41 percent. Ten of 15 major opinion polls conducted in July asking the generic ballot question showed Republicans to be ahead; with Democrats leading in four (twice by 1 percent), and one poll showing a tie.

He then tells us that, historically, the results of the generic ballot question by pollsters "… has tended to under-predict Republican performance in off-year elections." Thus, Mr Barone boldly predicts that Republicans "… may be on the brink of doing better than in any elections since 1946, when they won a 245 - 188 margin in the House - larger than any they've held ever since."

In 1994, Michael Barone wrote an article in U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT in which he was the first to suggest that Republicans could actually gain the 40 seats then needed to capture a majority in the House of Representatives. This year, the results of the generic ballot polling, plus astounding polling results that show numerous attractive Democratic incumbent congressmen trailing their Republican opponents all across America, lead Mr. Barone to believe that a sea change of major proportions will take place in the House of Representatives elections in November.

If such a major shift occurs, Republicans would likely win not only the hotly contested congressional races such as the race between incumbent Travis Childers and Republican challenger Alan Nunnelee in Mississippi 1, but Republicans would also likely sweep aside such long-time Bluedog Democrat stalwarts such as incumbent Gene Taylor in Mississippi 4 as well.

On this past Sunday's talk show, FOX NEWS SUNDAY, Bill Kristol predicted that Republicans will pick up as many as 60 seats in the House races in November, 2010. I believe Kristol read Michael Barone's article in REAL CLEAR POLITICS before making such a prediction.

Monday, August 2, 2010


In a recent column in the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion Ledger (July 21, 2010) ("Will Legislature reassert dominance after Barbour era?"), longtime journalist Sid Salter addressed an interesting and relevant issue that has not previously been discussed publicly this year in Mississippi, although it has without doubt been discussed privately among potential candidates and others. While many of Mississippi's political pundits are focusing on the upcoming "beauty contest" (the Mississippi Governor's race), the role of the tea parties in the upcoming Congressional elections, or whether or not Haley Barbour will pull the trigger and run for President, I believe that Sid has put his finger on the single-most important issue facing Mississippians in the Magnolia State's 2011 statewide elections. How that issue is decided will shape the philosophical direction that Mississippi will take in the next four to eight years on the great issues of the day - Medicaid and Medicare; funding for public education; eminent domain and the role of government in economic development; taxation; crime; and generally the role of government in our everyday lives.
Sid is correct when he says that "[h]istorically, the Legislature has operated as the strong dominant policy maker in state government and the governor served in a more ceremonial and opinion-making role." This was certainly true in the twentieth century when virtually every Governor that held office, along with many scholars and others, proclaimed that the power of the Governor's office should be strengthened. In fact, some of Mississippi's most distinguished scholars and leaders during those years called for a constitutional convention in Mississippi with the express goal of doing away with certain elective offices and making them subject to gubernatorial appointment. In short, the Governor and the executive branch of state government appeared to be totally over-matched by the powerful legislative branch, which held the purse strings to the coffers housing taxpayers' dollars. Year after year, regardless of who held the Governor's office, the legislative branch was dominant, and its leadership was unified.
This political reality slowly began to change, however, with the coming of the two-party system in Mississippi. As more and more Republicans were elected to the state Legislature, the opportunity for conservatives to gather together and to support common goals increased. The real legislative shift, however, has taken place in the twenty-first century. In 2001, there were 86 Democrats in the Mississippi House of Representatives, 33 Republicans and 3 Independents; while in the State Senate, there were 34 Democrats and 18 Republicans. Today, the House still has 72 who call themselves Democrats but there are also 50 Republicans, who have formally organized themselves, adopted by-laws, and elected a floor leader, a conference chairman, and other officers in a manner similar to the structure of the Republican Conference in the Congressional House of Representatives. There is a real chance that there will be enough Republicans in 2011 to elect a GOP Speaker of the House.
In the State Senate, where Republican Lieutenant Phil Bryant presides, there are currently 27 Democrats, but there are also 25 Republicans. During the Barbour Administration years, Republicans have controlled the Senate with the help of a few conservative Democrats.
During the eight years of the Barbour Administration, Republicans in the Mississippi Legislature have basically agreed on most issues and maintained party discipline. In so doing, they greatly enhanced the power of the Governor. Whereas Governors were confronted in past years by a united legislative branch intent on holding tightly to the reins of state government and minimizing the power of the Governor's office, battles in state government suddenly shifted after 2001 to more healthy ideological battles between political parties on pocket book issues rather than endless fights between the Legislature and the Governor over which of the two branches of government would dominate the political landscape.
Since 2001, the elected leaders of both political parties have had healthy and constructive debates on public issues such as taxes, education, and health care; and the people have been better off for it. As a result, our citizens have been better informed and have not been distracted by side issues that have held the state back for generations. In essence, the emergence of a healthy two-party system in Mississippi has silenced any discussion of a need for a constitutional convention to enhance the power of the Governor or the executive branch.
The question has been raised as to whether a Republican Governor elected in 2011 could maintain party discipline among the Republican legislators in the years ahead. In his column, Sid asks a good question: "Does Mississippi want a strong governor like Barbour -- or a more traditional governor like former Governors Ray Mabus or Bill Waller, Sr.?" A second question might be whether the people want to continue to have a healthy two-party system in the Legislature, which will surely result in a strong support group in the legislative branch for whoever is elected Governor. The answer to these questions will determine the direction Mississippi will take in 2011 and beyond. One would think that Republicans have the advantage in 2011 - unless they get over-confident and begin fighting among themselves

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