Mississippi Politics

Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976-2008, Second Edition

JERE NASH
ANDY TAGGART
FOREWORD BY JOHN GRISHAM
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvg0b
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  • Book Info
    Mississippi Politics
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 2006,Mississippi Politicsquickly became the definitive work on the state's recent political history, campaigns, legislative battles, and litigation, as well as how Mississippi shaped and was shaped by national and regional trends.

    A central theme of the 2006 edition was the state's gradual transition from a Democratic surety to a Republican stronghold. For this updated edition, authors Jere Nash and Andy Taggart examine the aftermath of the 2007 gubernatorial and 2008 presidential elections--and all the fireworks in between.

    This new edition adds a chapter covering the last two years and includes analyses of the 2007 and 2008 statewide, legislative, and federal elections; the resignations of Senator Trent Lott and Congressman Chip Pickering; the indictments of Richard Scruggs and other prominent lawyers; President Barack Obama's influence on the state's 2008 voting dynamics; and the election of House Speaker Billy McCoy.

    eISBN: 978-1-57806-907-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. IX-XII)
    JOHN GRISHAM

    My career in Mississippi politics was practically over before it began, and you’d need to dust the state capitol for fingerprints to find anything I left behind. Once elected, in 1983 at the age of twenty-eight, I never warmed up to the job.

    I ran for a seat in the legislature for two reasons. The first was very practical—I knew I could win. The gentleman who’d represented my corner of DeSoto County had served in the House of Representatives long enough, and I was confident I could take him out. I spent $5,000 and knocked on 3,000 doors and...

  4. PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XVII-2)
    JERE NASH and ANDY TAGGART
  7. [Map]
    (pp. 3-4)
  8. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 5-10)

    This book is about political power—the quest for power and the use of power to govern Mississippi. In 1890, white Democrats consolidated their political power, and for more than seventy years, if you were not a white Democrat in Mississippi, you had no power. Two groups sought to change that equation: Republicans and African Americans.

    In the decades following Reconstruction, Mississippi politics was characterized by the comment a young black girl once made to an aspiring candidate: “If you keep your foot on my neck and keep me in the ditch, you ain’t going anywhere either.”¹ White Democrats maintained...

  9. CHAPTER 1 HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI DEMOCRATS, 1948–1975
    (pp. 11-33)

    The second-most tumultuous period in Mississippi’s history—1960 to 1965—occurred a hundred years after the first. It was in the summer of 1860 that the Mississippi delegation walked out of the national Democratic Convention.³ The protest was sparked by the convention’s failure to support slavery in the territories. Six months later, Mississippi seceded from the Union. The Civil War came to a close in the state in the spring of 1865 when General Richard Taylor surrendered what remained of Mississippi’s troops.

    The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 vested black males with the right to vote. Within a few years, 60,167...

  10. CHAPTER 2 HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI REPUBLICANS, 1955–1975
    (pp. 34-54)

    In the spring of 1865, soon after Mississippi had surrendered its troops, Governor Charles Clark sent William L. Sharkey and William Yerger to Washington to meet with President Andrew Johnson to make plans for Mississippi to rejoin the Union. Ninety years later, William Yerger’s great-great-nephew would begin the modern-day Republican Party in Mississippi. The temerity of Wirt Yerger Jr. to sully the family legacy and scandalize an entire state’s culture by organizing a Republican Party is no doubt what provoked Fred Sullens, the bluntJackson Daily Newseditor.

    For Yerger and others to nurture a Republican Party in Mississippi, however,...

  11. CHAPTER 3 THE BEGINNING OF THE END, 1976
    (pp. 55-73)

    Only once in the fifty years since the 1956 presidential election has Mississippi given its electoral votes to the Democratic nominee for president—in 1976, to Jimmy Carter. In 1976, America celebrated its bicentennial. Gerald Ford was president, having assumed the office two years earlier owing to an unprecedented series of events in American history. A member of Congress from Michigan for nearly twenty-five years, Ford was chosen by President Richard Nixon to succeed Spiro Agnew, who resigned the vice presidency on October 10, 1973, because of criminal investigations into his conduct as Maryland’s governor. Then, on August 8, 1974,...

  12. CHAPTER 4 THE CAMPAIGN TO SUCCEED JIM EASTLAND, 1977–1978
    (pp. 74-85)

    For the past sixty years, only four men have served Mississippi in the U.S. Senate: Jim Eastland, John Stennis, Thad Cochran, and Trent Lott. The most colorful, transparent, racially inflammatory, and overtly political of these has been Jim Eastland.

    Known for the trademark cigar in the corner of his mouth and his love of good whiskey, Eastland served for nearly thirty-six years in the Senate, and along the way became Mississippi’s premier political power broker.¹ He arrived in the Senate before Pearl Harbor; outlasted seven presidents; urged defiance ofBrown v. Board of Educationin the harshest terms imaginable; counted...

  13. CHAPTER 5 DEMOCRATS WIN ONE AND REPUBLICANS LOSE ONE, 1979
    (pp. 86-94)

    As this book goes to press, William Winter is eighty-three years old. His public career will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary in 2007, for it was in 1947 that Winter was first elected to the state House of Representatives from Grenada County, the same year Fielding Wright was elected governor and John Stennis was first elected to the U.S. Senate.

    In 1956, Winter did something no one had done since 1928 and that no one would attempt again until 1992: he took a campaign against a sitting Speaker of the state House of Representatives all the way to a recorded vote...

  14. CHAPTER 6 THE ORIGINS OF REAPPORTIONMENT, 1890–1979
    (pp. 95-114)

    The vote is the source of power in a free society. Incumbent office-holders who wield political power know this. The Jackson police officer knew it. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 swept away virtually all the legal obstacles that had prevented blacks from voting, white politicians used a little understood procedure called “reapportionment” to deny blacks the right to cast a vote that mattered. Long after lunch counters were integrated, long after buses were integrated, and long after schools were integrated, African Americans in Mississippi were still fighting for their vote to mean something. That barrier was finally overcome...

  15. CHAPTER 7 RONALD REAGAN AND JON HINSON, 1980–1981
    (pp. 115-128)

    Gil Carmichael lost the Governor’s Mansion to Cliff Finch in 1975, a loss largely due to public policy positions Carmichael adopted in the campaign that cost him white voters in rural Mississippi. It was a problem Ronald Reagan sought to overcome in 1980.

    As 1980 began, domestic and international events were jeopardizing the reelection of President Carter. On the home front, inflation reached double digits, interest rates approached 20 percent, and the price of a gallon of gas was breaking records. In October, Ford and General Motors announced the two worst quarterly losses in American industrial history. Joblessness was spreading,...

  16. CHAPTER 8 EDUCATION TRANSFORMS THE LEGISLATURE, 1982
    (pp. 129-150)

    Fans of late-night television back in 1982 might remember watching David Letterman debut his late show on NBC. Parents of young children might recall being dragged to the movieE.T.: The Extra-Terrestriallater that summer. Others might remember mourning the deaths of Thelonious Monk, John Belushi, Ayn Rand, Satchel Paige, or Glenn Gould.

    Few national events however made as great an impression on Mississippians as did political changes in the state, for 1982 was the year the existence of the Mississippi legislature broke out of the confines of the closed world of politicians, lobbyists, and reporters and roared into the...

  17. CHAPTER 9 THE ALLAIN/BRAMLETT CAMPAIGN AND WILLIAM WINTER’S LEGACY, 1983
    (pp. 151-162)

    On October 23, 1983, a truck carrying more than 10,000 pounds of explosives rammed into a building in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. servicemen who were sleeping inside. They were part of a contingent of American servicemen in Lebanon helping to preserve a truce in that country. Four days later, the United States invaded the Caribbean island nation of Grenada. President Reagan claimed the move was necessary to protect nearly 1,000 Americans who were threatened by a new radical government.² These two events served as bookends for the most notorious campaign press conference ever held in Mississippi.

    By 1983, Republicans in...

  18. CHAPTER 10 THE EROSION OF LEGISLATIVE POWER, 1984
    (pp. 163-172)

    On the same day in November 1982 that Governor William Winter announced the special session on education, a trial was concluding in a Hinds County courtroom. These two events would come to share equal billing for breaking the lock on power enjoyed for so long by the Mississippi legislature.

    The U.S. Constitution established three separate branches of government—the executive, legislative, and judicial—in part to combat the abuse of power that flows from the accumulation of power. Governmental power was curtailed by spreading it among three distinct branches and by authorizing each branch to act as a “check” on...

  19. CHAPTER 11 THE RISE OF MIKE ESPY, 1985–1986
    (pp. 173-185)

    For nearly eighty-four years, the congressional districts of Mississippi tracked the traditional geographic regions of the state, including a district defined by the Mississippi Delta. On at least three occasions over that period, when the state lost congressional districts because of national population shifts, the legislature had to reconfigure the boundary lines. The traditional geographic regions were always respected in the realignment, specifically with respect to the Delta district.²

    That all changed when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 transformed black Mississippi citizens into black Mississippi voters. Overnight, the Second Congressional District, comprised of the counties in the heart of...

  20. CHAPTER 12 HIGHWAYS, BUDDIE NEWMAN, AND RAY MABUS, 1987
    (pp. 186-199)

    It happened gradually, though not inexorably. It took time, but also required a man who envisioned the possibilities. We may never know when Walter Sillers realized the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives could become the dominant political power in Mississippi. Before Sillers, other Speakers such as Thomas Bailey and Fielding Wright had used the position as a jumping off point for higher office. What Sillers surely grasped is that, in those days, the state constitution restricted the governor to one four-year term. No similar limit was imposed on the Speaker. Year after year, Sillers stayed put, shaping...

  21. CHAPTER 13 THE CAMPAIGN TO SUCCEED JOHN STENNIS, 1988
    (pp. 200-210)

    John Stennis came to the U.S. Senate in 1947, winning a special election following the death of the incumbent, Theodore Bilbo. He joined Jim Eastland, who had taken the oath of office nearly five years earlier. For the next thirty-one years, Mississippi voters would leave this team undisturbed.

    When he announced his retirement in late 1987, Stennis was eighty-six and was widely, though not unanimously, recognized as the “conscience of the Senate,” a man who had developed an unassailable reputation for protecting the honor of the Senate and for putting the interests of the country before the parochial interests of...

  22. CHAPTER 14 LIQUOR AND GAMBLING IN MISSISSIPPI, 1989–1990
    (pp. 211-222)

    Few alive in November 1989 will ever forget the live televised pictures of thousands of people literally tearing down the wall dividing East Berlin from West Berlin. Three months later, the Soviet Union collapsed. That same month, Nelson Mandela was released from a South African prison. In the meantime, Tim Berners-Lee was cooking up his own little miracle, and on November 12, he published his World Wide Web proposal. The first known Web page was written the next day.

    The years 1989 and 1990 also witnessed the creation of what some have described as the “Mississippi Miracle”—the legalization of...

  23. CHAPTER 15 REPUBLICANS GAIN THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION, 1991
    (pp. 223-234)

    That was the slogan Mabus, the candidate, used in his 1987 campaign for governor. The campaign of 1991 would be decided largely by voters making a relatively simple determination: had Mabus, the governor, fulfilled the expectations that slogan created?

    A campaign involving an incumbent is almost always a referendum on that incumbent.¹ For a challenger to unseat an incumbent, his or her campaign will generally be successful only if the voters share a predisposition that the incumbent does not deserve reelection. It is the challenger’s job simply to run a mistake-free campaign and to reinforce preexisting attitudes. As the political...

  24. CHAPTER 16 THE POLITICS OF REAPPORTIONMENT, 1992–1993
    (pp. 235-246)

    The 1990s represented another decade, another census, and another reapportionment in Mississippi. This latest round of district boundary realignment would prove to be the most contentious since Judge W. T. Horton’s 1962 order. Compounding the ever-present desire for self-preservation among incumbents was aggravation caused by two unrelated imperatives.

    First, black leaders decided to push for dramatic increases in their numbers in the legislature. At the conclusion of the 1991 session, the 122-member House had twenty African Americans while the fifty-two-member Senate had only two, constituting 13 percent of the legislature in a state where 36 percent of its constituents were...

  25. CHAPTER 17 THE GOP CONSOLIDATES POWER, 1994–1996
    (pp. 247-258)

    As 1994 began, Mississippi’s two U.S. senators were Republican, and all five congressmen were Democrats. The governor was Republican, though the overwhelming majority of legislators were Democrats. Three years later, Republicans held three of the five congressional posts and had made modest progress in picking up seats in the state legislature. Like virtually all Republican gains in the state, thanks to the power vested with incumbents, these advances were made by winning open-seat elections or convincing incumbent officeholders to switch parties. The first of these open contests occurred in northeast Mississippi, home to the First Congressional District

    When Jamie Whitten...

  26. CHAPTER 18 TOBACCO, 1997–1998
    (pp. 259-269)

    One billion dollars. That’s the total of Mississippi’s budget deficit during the five years between 2000 and 2005. To make up the difference, the legislature tapped something called the “Health Care Trust Fund.” The Health Care Trust Fund exists to receive the proceeds of a $3.4 billion settlement the state reached with the tobacco industry on July 3, 1997.¹ The settlement came about because a group of attorneys general from around the country—headed by Mississippi’s Mike Moore—and a group of private lawyers—headed by Mississippi’s Richard Scruggs—decided to wage war against the firms that manufacture tobacco products....

  27. CHAPTER 19 THE LEGACY OF KIRK FORDICE, 1999
    (pp. 270-278)

    Kirk Fordice expressed that longing as he spoke to the crowd gathered in early January 1996 for his second inaugural, the first time in the 179-year history of Mississippi that a popularly elected governor had succeeded himself in office. When he was called upon to perform the role of spectator four years later, it was a Democrat who addressed the crowd as the state’s newest governor. If Fordice’s mission had been to recast the politics of the state, to lead a Republican takeover fueled by a conservative ideology, his mission met with little short-term success. Fordice’s legacy suggests that irony...

  28. CHAPTER 20 THE STATE FLAG AND CONGRESSIONAL REAPPORTIONMENT, 2000–2001
    (pp. 279-288)

    The world of presidential politics was roiled in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush had won Florida’s electoral votes and would become the nation’s forty-third president, in spite of getting fewer popular votes than Al Gore. The world of international politics and domestic security changed forever on September 11, 2001. The world of business and commerce was transformed on December 2, 2001, when Enron filed for bankruptcy, followed eight months later by WorldCom. In Mississippi during these years, the political world was visited by ghosts of the past.

    For nearly 107 years, Mississippi had flown...

  29. CHAPTER 21 THE CONSEQUENCES OF TORT REFORM, 2002
    (pp. 289-302)

    Early on the morning of August 23, 2002, Governor Ronnie Musgrove hosted a breakfast meeting of close friends and key financial contributors from his earlier campaigns. They were all trial lawyers, and Musgrove proceeded to notify them he would be convening a special session of the legislature to consider tort reform. The rumors about a possible special session had been around for months; now they were confirmed. When the lawyers in attendance objected, Musgrove claimed the political pressure had become too intense. Twenty years had passed since William Winter perfected the use of a special session to focus the public’s...

  30. CHAPTER 22 THE HALEY BARBOUR YEARS, 2003–2006
    (pp. 303-310)

    Estimates of the crowd ranged from 25,000 to 75,000. They gathered at Biloxi’s Keesler Air Force Base on the evening of September 8, 1969, to greet President Richard Nixon. Three weeks earlier, Hurricane Camille had nearly obliterated much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Nixon had come to view the damage himself and offer assurances of federal assistance.²

    Helping with the arrangements for Nixon’s visit was Haley Barbour, then a twenty-one-year-old sometime student at the University of Mississippi and a budding Republican operative. By the time Barbour welcomed President George W. Bush to the Gulf Coast thirty-six years later to...

  31. CHAPTER 23 MISSISSIPPI POLITICS EXPLODES—AGAIN, 2007–2008
    (pp. 311-331)

    Every four years, August in Mississippi means more than oppressive heat and humidity. Every four years, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August, it’s primary election day in Mississippi. For twelve hours, voters decide on political party nominees from governor to public service commissioner to legislator to supervisor to constable.

    Mississippians always expect some changes to the political landscape when hundreds of thousands of them choose among several thousand candidates for hundreds of different public offices. But on a Thursday afternoon in August 2007, something totally unexpected happened that added to the drama of the primary elections...

  32. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 332-336)

    Commenting in early 2006 on the evolution of partisanship in Mississippi, Haley Barbour was referring to the rise of the Republican Party in Mississippi, though the same observation could be made about almost all of the movements we have chronicled—reapportionment, legislative power struggles, education funding, and tort reform. While each of them took years to accomplish and was made possible by underlying changes in the political fabric of the state—often spurred by national trends—the actual movement in Mississippi occurred because men and women decided to challenge the status quo. And, no doubt, the men and women who...

  33. SOURCES AND NOTES
    (pp. 337-416)
  34. INDEX
    (pp. 417-427)