(Photo by Frank Corder - March 2022)

Jackson may be the center of state government, but this coastal area is nipping at the capital city’s heels.

Never mind that Pascagoula is where the squirrel went berserk or where aliens made contact in Mississippi or where the phantom barber snuck into homes to clip a lock of hair of sleeping Southern maids of yesteryear.

Set aside that Jimmy Buffett ran away from the Flagship City and headed to Margaritaville, and that Sarah Thomas used her Pascagoula roots to become the first female NFL referee.

Outside of the Jackson Metro area, no municipality and no county besides Pascagoula and Jackson County carries as big of a stick, politically speaking, in Mississippi than this coastal area currently enjoys.

You cannot name another city and county that can boast that they are the home to the:

  • Secretary of State – Michael Watson, formerly of Pascagoula, now East Central area
  • Public Service Commissioner – Dane Maxwell, Pascagoula
  • House Appropriations Chairman – John Read, Gautier
  • Senate Judiciary A Chairman – Brice Wiggins, Pascagoula
  • House Transportation Chairman – Charles Busby, Pascagoula
  • Senate Judiciary B Vice Chairman – Jeremy England, formerly of Pascagoula, now Ocean Springs
  • House Insurance Chairman – Hank Zuber, Ocean Springs
  • House Local and Private Chairman – Manly Barton, East Central area

In addition, lawmakers from this Gulf Coast area hold key legislative committee appointments in both chambers on committees related to congressional and legislative redistricting, education, gaming, corrections, ports, budget, finance, Medicaid, public health, and more.

These legislative committee assignments are reflective of both the respect these lawmakers hold with leadership and the very real truth that the Pascagoula/Jackson County area is a vital part of the state’s economy.  Being the home to the state’s largest industrial employer Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding, Chevron’s largest refinery in the Southeast U.S., a major hub for commerce at the Pascagoula Port, and other medium to large employers such as VT Halter Marine and Rolls-Royce Naval Marine carries with it an automatic seat at the table that must be respected.

Add in that Pascagoula is the home of Mike Ezell, the current Jackson County Sheriff and likely the next 4th District Congressman after the November 8th Midterm General Election, and there is no arguing that this one Coast community’s political power and influence are unmatched outside of the Capitol bubble.

In fact, Jackson County has long been one of the keys to electoral success in Mississippi politics.  Winning Jackson County in a statewide or regional campaign is a bellwether for overall performance at the ballot box.  This is why Pascagoula and the surrounding areas routinely host everyone from the Governor to U.S. Senators to national political figures seeking to raise their name ID.

The latest example of the area’s political importance was on display in the June 28th 4th Congressional District Republican Primary.  Ezell drew nearly 68% of the vote over incumbent Congressman Steven Palazzo in that race after pulling in 40% of the vote in the initial June 7th seven-man Primary, a feat that ensured him a spot in the runoff with Palazzo three weeks later.

However, this latest iteration of political stroke is not uncommon for the Pascagoula and Jackson County area.

Pascagoula is the hometown of former U.S. Senator Trent Lott who served in both the U.S. House and Senate, rising at his peak to be the Senate Majority Leader.  Former Congressman William Colmer who decided not to seek re-election in 1973 which paved the way for Lott’s political career is also a native son of Jackson County.

There are other prominent names from the past that have come out of this singular Coastal area, such as former state Attorney General Mike Moore and former state representative turned Public Service Commissioner Curt Hebert, both of Pascagoula, along with key legislative elected officials over the years from Jackson County who had significant influence under the Capitol Dome such as former state Senators Tommy Moffatt and Tommy Robertson and former State Representative Carmel Wells-Smith.

Jackson may be considered the center of Mississippi’s state government but by every indicator that matters in politics, Pascagoula and Jackson County are nipping at the capital city’s heels.

The question now for this coastal Mississippi area, as it has been for years, is what their local government and business leaders will do to capitalize on this outsized influence for the long-term benefit of their economic wellbeing while ensuring the big stick the area wields is not whittled down to a nub over short-term whims or outside influence from neighboring counties that do not hold the same level of political influence and power.