The statewide political season is well underway here in Mississippi and the primary elections will be held on August 2, 2011, just about 30 days from now. Outsiders need to know that we have eight statewide officeholders who are elected by the people: (1) Governor; (2) Lieutenant Governor; (3) Secretary of State. (4) Attorney General; (5) Treasurer; (6) Auditor; (7) Insurance Commissioner; and (8) Commissioner of Agriculture. All but the Attorney General are presently Republicans.
Of all of the Republican Primary races, the race between Tate Reeves and Billy Hewes to succeed Phil Bryant as Lieutenant Governor (he is running for Governor to succeed Haley Barbour) has now clearly taken center stage and has incredibly eclipsed the Governor’s race in the minds of Republican voters. I believe there are three or more reasons for this phenomenon: (1) the Governor’s race has so far been a low-key affair; (2) there are no Democrats running for Lieutenant Governor for the first time in my memory; and (3) the Lieutenant Governor’s office is a very powerful position that can directly influence the success or failure of not only individual pieces of legislation but an entire legislative agenda as well. In this situation, the Republican Primary race for Lieutenant Governor is “winner take all” in August and only those voting in the Republican Primary will decide the winner. What a great day to be a Republican in Mississippi.
When one adds to the equation that both Tate Reeves ( a two-term state Treasurer ) and Billy Hewes ( the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate ) are well qualified by experience, are proven “vote-getters”; and both know how to raise money, it is no surprise that this race has proven to be “hotter than a pepper sprout”, rivaling in intensity the 95 – 100 degree heat that we Mississippians have been enduring for most of the past month. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment (“Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican”) has become a casualty in this race, and both sides, with the assistance of their well-paid consultants, have begun running attack ads on each other.
In my opinion, most Mississippi Republicans have not made up their minds on the Lieutenant Governor’s race. They are still waiting for the candidates to address important issues that will directly affect their lives AND the future of the Republican movement in Mississippi. As difficult as it is for some media pundits to understand, most Mississippi Republicans look at a race like this to determine which candidate can best promote Republican principles in the years ahead. Most subscribe to the view that the Republican philosophy, as best described by Ronald Reagan, is best for our state and nation; and the candidate that can best articulate and promote that philosophy will win. As Haley Barbour said in a speech when we celebrated the retirement of the debt on the State Party Headquarters in Jackson, “ Governors come and go. The Party goes on forever.” Haley was right and the same thing can be said for Lieutenant Governors.
This Lieutenant Governor’s race, therefore, should not be about personalities, but should be about who can best promote Ronald Reagan’s concept of government: (1) that government is best that governs least; (2) hard work is the key to success in life; (3) we are not victims but each of us is responsible for our own actions; and (4) we in America and Mississippi are not just a bunch of special interest groups, but we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Never in modern Mississippi history have Mississippi Republicans had such a unique opportunity as they have in this race: the opportunity to elect the number two officeholder in the state with only Republicans voting. It is our responsibility not to blow this opportunity. We must get it right.
To be sure, the two candidates can help the party faithful make up their minds in the Lieutenant Governor’s race by forthrightly stating their positions on the various ballot initiatives that the voters will be called upon to decide on November 8, 2011, (when Democrats will be allowed to vote with us ). Where do Tate and Billy stand, for example on voter ID? Where do they stand on early voting, and on voting by convicted felons who have served their time? Where do they stand on the ballot initiative designed to strengthen our state’s immigration laws? And what penalties, if any, should businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants receive?
Where do the candidates stand on the initiative designed to strengthen our eminent domain laws, protect private property rights, and discourage using the condemnation process to aid land developers who are out to make a profit? Or do they support the recent lawsuit which seeks to take the initiative off the ballot and favors taking private property for economic development purposes if there is a likelihood that the takeover would result in more jobs for Mississippians? Where do the candidates stand on the “personhood” initiative that would have the voters make a statement on when life begins.
Finally, Republicans need to know where the candidates stand on working with the new Republican Governor who will likely be elected on November 8, 2011. Will the new Lieutenant Governor work with the new Governor and help give the new Governor a support group to help him get his programs through? Or will the new Lieutenant Governor view himself as a competitor of the new Governor and lead us back to the days of yesteryear, when legislators worked overtime to weaken the Governor’s power after a “honeymoon period” and bring him to heel at the end of his term? The Governor and the Lieutenant Governor had big problems during the Fordice Administration. We do not need for that to happen again.
Haley Barbour has been a successful Governor not only because of his extraordinary political skills, but also because we have had a united Republican Party and the fact that the two-party system has come of age in the legislature during the past ten years. Haley had a strong support group in the legislature that was willing to work with him as a team to get his programs enacted into law. In turn, he helped the Republican legislators and supported them in the things they wanted to do.
Mississippi Republicans are interested in the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor working together. They are definitely NOT interested in returning to the days when the battles in state government centered on fights between the Governor and the legislature. They want the fight to be between Democrats and Republicans over the great issues of the day, like medicaid, education, crime, or efficiency in government. To repeat, Republicans are not interested in fights between branches of government. They know that such battles divide us and work to the advantage of the Democrats.
Tate and Billy need to tell us in clear and highly publicized terms where they stand on these important issues and where they stand on Reagan’s philosophy of government. Maybe they have already told us and I just have not been listening. If so, I would wager that a large number of Mississippi Republicans haven’t been listening either, but want to hear something else from the candidates on these matters. When they do, Mississippi Republicans will be ready to make a choice.