2015 Republican vs Democrat Viewpoints

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2015 and the Legacy of Kirk Fordice

Article by Andy Taggart

Posted September 2015

Republicans first won the Governor’s Mansion behind the leadership of Kirk Fordice in 1991. With a break of but four years since, Republicans have held that office for the past 24 years.

During that period of time, though with a slightly longer break, Republicans have held a majority or effectively enjoyed a working majority due to controlling the Lt. Governor’s office and committee chairmanships, in the State Senate.

But Republicans had long wandered in the wilderness in the State House of Representatives prior to winning a majority as a result of the 2011 elections. So complete was their exile while in the minority, that in the immediately previous four year term, from 2008 — 2012, no Republican chaired even a single House committee, no matter how inconsequential.

The GOP consolidation of its majority starting in January of 2012 was timed exquisitely. Not only were Republicans able to elect Speaker Philip Gunn from among their ranks and see all major committee chairmanships filled with Republicans, but the party held the reins of power at the time the decennial redistricting of the entire Legislature fell due.

Republicans did not miss their mark.

Already holding a majority in the House, the GOP leadership, with Elections and Reapportionment Chairman Bill Denny at the helm, drew lines that pitted four Democrat incumbents against one another in two House districts, and drew two districts pitting Republican incumbents against Democrat incumbents, including a district in which Denny pitted himself against long-time Democrat Representative Cecil Brown. The district was sufficiently favorable to the Republican incumbent that Brown chose not to stand for re-election and is, instead, currently the Democrat nominee for the Public Service Commission from the central district.

All of this is important, because it demonstrates why it is not sufficient for Democrats to believe they must only make up the margin by which they are currently in the minority in the House, but they also must make up for the certainty of having lost four seats out of the blocks.

Add to this the fact that the new lines include five completely new districts in which there is no incumbent, and in each of the five the voting history of the districts strongly favor Republican candidates.

So, Republicans gained a modest majority in the House in the 2011 elections running under the formerly drawn lines, lines that actually favored Democrat incumbents. Now, in the first elections to be held under the lines newly drawn in 2012, Republicans are poised not only to hold their majority, but to make a run at the elusive 60% majority necessary to pass revenue bills.

Going into this fall’s election, Republicans are all but certain to hold all seven statewide offices they currently hold. Republican nominee Mike Hurst will run a competitive race against Democrat incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood, the last of the statewide Democrats in office. Republicans will handily hold their majority in the State Senate, and will likely pick up seats to add to their House majority.

Democrats might prefer to blame their electoral woes on a lack of campaign funds. But what’s really happened is that Kirk Fordice’s successful race for the Governor’s Mansion in 1991, and the steady growth of Republicans’ organizing capacity statewide that resulted, have now taken root to entrench Republicans as the majority party in Mississippi for no little period of time.

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The 2015 General Elections in Mississippi

Article by Jere Nash

Posted September 2015

The elections this fall will be the first to reveal the full force of the 2002 special session on tort reform. That was the year the issue of tort reform upended politics in Mississippi. First, it drove a wedge between business and professional interest groups and Democratic candidates, denying most Democrats a chance to raise money from those groups. Second, tort reform dramatically restricted the practices of trial lawyers, collectively one of the most generous contributors to Democratic campaigns. The consequences of that special session have taken a decade to work their way through the political process.

In 2003 and in 2007, Democrats had two candidates for governor — Ronnie Musgrove and John A. Eaves, Jr. — who had the ability to spend a substantial amount of money in their statewide elections; the former by raising it (as the incumbent) and the latter by giving it personally. And even though Johnny Dupree was handily outspent in 2011, he was able to generate enough money from his hometown (as a sitting mayor) to at least avoid embarrassment. As for control of the House — the key battleground for the last two election cycles — so long as Democrats were in the majority, as they were leading up to the elections in 2003, 2007, and 2011, they could raise a competitive amount of money from PACs and other groups and individuals who wanted the ear of committee chairmen, the speaker, and other leaders.

That brings us to 2015. Three Democrats competed for the right to oppose Governor Phil Bryant in the general election: Robert Gray, Valerie Short, and Vicki Slater. The most any candidate was able to raise and spend in the primary was $200,000 (Slater). Short spent $41,000 and Gray spent nothing. For a candidate in a statewide race with no name identification, which was the case for all three candidates, $200,000 is essentially the same as nothing. Confronted with three candidates they knew little to nothing about, voters went with the name first on the ballot. Not only was Johnny Dupree’s name first on the primary ballot four years ago, he had spent three times the amount raised by Slater by the night of the primary, a respectable showing. For the election this fall, Phil Bryant has about $2.8 million cash on hand as I write this. The financial disparity separating Bryant from Gray (and separating the GOP candidates from their Democratic challengers in the down ballot races, with the exception of Jim Hood, who still has the incumbent platform to raise money) brings to an end a political journey Republicans began in 2002.

As for the House of Representatives, after the Republicans captured that chamber in 2011, they consolidated their grip by adopting a redistricting plan that netted them an additional four House seats and by leaning heavily on the usual contributors to legislative campaigns to support Republican incumbents and Republican challengers. The good news for our side is that while Democrats collectively will be outspent, they have recruited one of the best classes of candidates in recent memory. And unlike statewide and even state senate elections, where money makes a huge difference, house districts are small enough that a candidate who works hard and runs a smart campaign can oftentimes overcome a financial disadvantage.

While Democrats have a path that can return control of the House to their party, those key races will offer a fascinating insight into the ultimate influence of money in determining the outcome of legislative campaigns and, of course, the legacy of 2002.