By: Sid Salter
On March 21, state Sen. Chris McDaniel sent yet another installment of an email blast for a fundraising come-on he entitled the “Remember Mississippi Moneybomb” in which he seeks $100,000 before a self-imposed “March 31st at Midnight” deadline.
When last I checked the McDaniel “Moneybomb” web landing page on March 28, the Ellisville attorney had raised $26,455 of that total with three days to go. But the verbiage of the campaign cash appeal was in many ways far more interesting than the tick-tock, tick-tock of the deadline.
McDaniel’s message to supporters and potential donors intoned ominously: “The good news is, thanks to the establishment choosing a Democrat to replace Thad Cochran, Mississippi voters will have a clear choice for U.S. Senate this November. A choice between a life-long Democrat appointed by McConnell and the GOP elites or a principled conservative fighter with a track record in the State Senate to back it up.”
That statement presents several avenues upon which one could easily get sidetracked. First, the false narrative of “the lifelong Democrat” and the historical shell game it represents as McDaniel seeks to play purity politics with newly-appointed interim U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.
Like a legion of Republican Mississippi state legislators in both houses, Smith switched parties in 2010 to join the GOP as a state senator before carrying the GOP standard successfully in two statewide ag commissioner elections. McDaniel consistently spins his political allegiance to Ronald Reagan and says he became a Republican “at age thirteen when I first heard Ronald Reagan speak.”
Stirring tale, that, but it ignores the bedrock fact that Reagan himself was a former labor union organizer and Roosevelt Democrat who didn’t join the Republican Party until 1962. And if the national GOP prospered and began to win elections with Democratic converts like Reagan, the Mississippi GOP grew out of the phone booth with former Democrats seeking a viable two-party system.
From Reconstruction through the 2011 elections, Democrats controlled the Mississippi Legislature. Republicans won the Governor’s Mansion with Kirk Fordice in 1992 for the first time since Reconstruction, and Fordice served two terms. Democrat Ronnie Musgrove served a term as governor from 2000 to 2004 before Republican Haley Barbour served two consecutive terms from 2004 to 2012, when current GOP Gov. Phil Bryant took over for two terms.
The Mississippi House of Representatives was solidly in the control of the Democratic Party from Reconstruction through the 2011 elections when the GOP wrestled control away from the Dems for the first time in 150 years.
The state Senate only came under Republican control in 2007 as the result of a party switch by Shannon Walley that pitched the Senate into a 26–26 partisan tie — which gave the tie-breaking vote to then Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who had switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP in 2002. Republicans took an outright 27–25 majority later that year when Sen. Tommy Gollott switched parties.
Even more interesting is McDaniel’s narrative that he’s a “conservative fighter with a track record in the State Senate to back it up.”
An examination of the record, studying legislation in which McDaniel and Hyde-Smith were principal authors of legislation, shows that McDaniel’s state Senate colleagues rejected legislation he authored more often than they did legislation Hyde-Smith authored and passed more of her legislation than his.
In 11 years in the state Senate, principal author legislation from McDaniel was introduced 334 times, died in committee 299 times, passed 37 times and of those bills signed into law, 13 of them were legislation commending schools for championships, students for winning pageants, or other feel-good legislation passed primarily as enrolled bills. One was a rules change.
In 12 years in the state Senate, principal author legislation from Hyde-Smith was introduced 261 times, died in committee 184 times, passed 77 times and of those bills signed into law, 41 were commendations or other enrolled bills.
Fiery “swamp draining” rhetoric about his state Senate record from McDaniel aside, the actual numbers show that Hyde-Smith wasn’t hampered from passing substantive legislation in an increasingly partisan state legislative environment by her affiliation with either party.