Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Southern Elephants

A recent article in the January 27, 2011, edition of the Madison County Journal took note of the recent conversion of two more members of the Mississippi State House of Representatives to the Mississippi Republican Party. On the previous Thursday, both Russ Nowell of Louisville and Margaret Rogers of New Albany announced at Republican Party Headquarters that they would run for re-election as Republicans. I was especially pleased to read about the decision of Margaret Rogers, who I came to know well during my tenure as Republican State Chairman.

As noted by the Journal, Russ and Margaret “are the fourth and fifth former Democratic representatives to change to the GOP since January of 2009…” and “nearly 30 Democratic elected officials have switched to the Republican Party in that time.” The reality is that Republicans now claim 53 of the 122 members of the Mississippi House of Representatives with 62 being the magic number for Republicans to be able to elect a Speaker of the House without having to negotiate for Democratic votes.

Mississippi Republicans rejoiced and were justly proud of their achievements in November, 2011, when a sea change occurred in the national congressional elections. That is when Republicans Alan Nunnelee and Steven Palazzo were sent to Congress to replace two able and well-financed Democrats. The defeat of long-time Democratic “Blue-Dog” Congressman Gene Taylor was especially startling and gratifying. I was quoted in the January 27, 2011, article in the Journal as attributing “the recent turnovers to the divergence of Democratic and conservative ideology” and the fact that many local Democrats “have found themselves at odds with the National Party’s message.” These incontestable facts, together with hard work of outstanding Republican leaders over the years, beginning with Wirt Yerger in the 1950’s, have brought the Mississippi Republican Party to a position of unprecedented political dominance that would have been hard to imagine as late as the year 2001, when the Party had only one statewide office holder, Auditor Phil Bryant.

In his excellent autobiography A Courageous Cause, Wirt Yerger describes his role as the first Chairman of the modern Mississippi Republican Party and how he worked with other young Republican Chairmen in the surrounding southern states to help Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona defeat eastern establishment Republicans, led by Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, in 1964. The differences between Rockefeller and Goldwater were philosophical, and Goldwater’s conservative economic message in 1964 appealed to conservative Mississippians of those years. As a result, the Mississippi Republican Party began to grow in the face of stern and sometimes vicious opposition from Mississippi’s Democrats. They claimed that a split in the “white vote” in Mississippi would lead to integration of the races and wide-spread black voting in local elections. Not withstanding this type of racial argument, Mississippians elected their first Republican in modern history (Mack McAllister from Meridian) to the state legislature in 1963. The rest is history

The overwhelming Republican victory in the Congressional elections in 2010 was also driven by differences in ideology and a rejection of President Obama’s economic policies . In Georgia, Republicans carried every state-wide race from Governor to Public Service Commission for the first time in the state’s history; and in Arkansas, the headlines on the editorial page of the Benton County Daily Record from heavily Republican northwest Arkansas, stated “ARKANSAS TURNS RED”. The newspaper took note of the fact that Arkansans (who, like Georgians, were voting not only for members of Congress but also in their statewide elections) defeated a sitting United States Senator, Blanche Lincoln, and also elected two new Republican Congressmen leaving only one Blue Dog conservative in office to represent the interests of the Democratic Party. In addition, Arkansas Republicans elected a Secretary of State and a Lieutenant Governor, which was, according to the Daily Record, “unheard of for Republican candidates in down-ballot elections – until now.” On the state level, the Arkansas House Republican caucus grew from 28 seats to 44 seats with similar gains in the state Senate, which means that House Democrats in Arkansas will no longer be able to garner the required three-quarters of the votes in the House necessary to raise taxes.

Summing up the election results in Arkansas in November, 2010, the Daily Record concluded:

“The last Southern state the Democratic Party had left voted Republican Tuesday night. The shift took 20 years longer than other states in the region. It took a lot of blind determination by the Democratic Party’s national liberal base. It took a lot of persistence by the outnumbered, outgunned Republican Party of Arkansas. While we believe voter frustration with both parties drove the results, that doesn’t change the new political reality in Arkansas. The Democratic spell here is broken.”

The Democratic spell is indeed now broken throughout all of the southern states and the Benton County Daily Record correctly gave us the reasons why. May all southern Republicans remember the reasons for our successes and never abuse the trust that the voters have placed in us. My sincere thanks to Reta Hamilton, the excellent Republican Nation Committeewoman from Arkansas, and Sue Everhart, the outstanding Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, for furnishing me the data as to what happened in their states on November 3, 2010.

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