Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

By: Sid Salter

Republican Gov.-Elect Tate Reeves won a solid general election victory over Democratic nominee Jim Hood and two minor party candidates in a race that was projected to be much tighter.

A less than enthusiastic turnout in the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District contributed to Hood’s defeat, but it was the ability of the Reeves campaign to essentially nullify Hood’s perceived home base in northeast Mississippi that turned the tide. Those factors, plus dominating the Gulf Coast and the Pine Belt from the primary through the general election, gave Reeves the win.

But both camps were expecting a closer race than what transpired, in which Reeves took 52.1 percent of the vote to Hood’s 46.6 percent and a combine 1.3 percent for minor party or independent candidates David Singletary and Robert Hickingbottom. And both camps considered the prospects of facing the aftermath of an uncomfortably close race that might well have plunged the Mississippi House into turmoil.

Since the stars came into alignment for a Reeves-Hood showdown, pitting two candidates with the state’s major parties who have each successfully sought statewide office four consecutive times, I’ve written about what has come to be called Mississippi’s “electoral junior college” contained in Article V, Sections 140, 141 and 143 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1990.

Those provisions were added to the state’s Reconstruction constitution in a naked attempt to make it difficult if not impossible for a black candidate to win a statewide election. The constitutional provisions required that a candidate win popular vote majority and a majority (with a plurality) of the state’s House of Representative districts as well.

If those two-tiered tests are not satisfied, then the constitution required that the matter be settled by a vote of the House of Representatives. The constitutional provisions did not, however, require the House members to vote as their constituents did or even with their own party. It is a wide-open, political free-for-all.

Yet for more than a century, the 1890 provisions were nothing more than constitutional oddity. But in 1999, the stars came into alignment in the Ronnie Musgrove-Mike Parker gubernatorial showdown. And while post-Civil War white Democrats put the provisions in place to keep black from winning elections, the same provisions in 1999 were used by black and white Democrats alike to box out the Republican contender Parker.

Musgrove was elected governor with a plurality of 49.6 percent of the vote to Parker’s 48.5 percent of the vote in a race that was ultimately decided by the Mississippi House of Representatives. Ladner got 1.1 percent of the vote while Perkins took 0.8 percent. Musgrove won the popular vote by some 8,344 votes.

But Musgrove and Parker each carried 61 of the state’s 122 House districts. When the vote went to the House to settle it, Musgrove won by a margin of 86 to 36 in the House floor vote. Out of 86 Democratic votes in the House that day, 84 voted for Musgrove.

While the 1999 governor’s race is the only one in history impacted by the Jim Crow law, the 1991 lieutenant governor’s race between incumbent Democrat Brad Dye and Republican challenger Eddie Briggs invoked the law. Briggs carried the popular vote but the two were tied in the “electoral” vote.

Dye ended the standoff with a concession letter to the House asking them to vote for Briggs in the interest of the good of the Legislature. Lobbyist Al Sage reminded me of the Briggs-Dye contest.

Four black plaintiffs have asked the federal courts to level a playing field that was stacked in 1890. U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan has stated his intent to intervene if a candidate who wins the popular vote lost the election in the House.

It’s time that Mississippi lawmakers remove this troublesome, unfair vestige of the bad old days in Mississippi and voluntarily shut down the state’s archaic “electoral junior college.” I believe the legislative leadership will do just that and sooner than later.