As we wrap up 2011, here’s a look back at the Top 10 political stories from the great State of Mississippi this year:
** Honorable Mentions: Legislative Redistricting, Congressional Redistricting, Eminent Domain, Voter ID and the Todd Wade Saga.
10) Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis investigated for misuse of taxpayer funds and reveals he is gay… While many were shocked by his revelation, the Mayor’s sexual preference isn’t the real story line, nor should it be. His blatant misuse of tax dollars in a trusted position is disheartening. Davis ran for both Mayor and Congress under a conservative banner which included fiscal responsibility. Any time an elected official breaks the public’s trust, it is a sad day for that community and the state.
9) Mississippi voters reject the Personhood Amendment… In November, voters in the most conservative state in the nation shot down a state constitutional amendment that would have defined life at conception. While Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the state’s medical community helped pen the narrative against the ballot initiative, it was the voters who deemed the amendment’s wording too vague and controversial. In the end, the debate was not about whether or not to outlaw abortion; had that been the question, the initiative would surely have passed. The debate centered around women losing access to contraceptives and other “unintended consequences” (a key phrase in 2011).
8) Staffing struggles of freshman 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo (R)… Palazzo’s first year in office featured success as a freshman in leadership (subcommittee chair, Assistant Whip, etc.) and from a policy standpoint. However, the headlines have been more about staffing hiccups from changes at the Chief of Staff to actions involving paid staffers. Some of the criticism and story lines can be attributed to disgruntled, fired staffers and perhaps even potential challengers, which is what such stories lead to when on the cusp of qualifying. If Palazzo can right the staff ship and avoid a serious challenger (i.e. Gene Taylor) the 4th District Congressman may very well be untouchable come 2013.
7) Lt. Governor Phil Bryant becomes the first Republican Governor-elect to succeed a sitting Republican Governor… Such a thought was unheard of just a few short years ago. Phil Bryant’s gubernatorial win was widely expected and predicted yet the fact that he will follow a fellow Republican as Governor points to the expanding conservative movement within Mississippi. Credit outgoing Governor Haley Barbour and Governor-elect Bryant for championing conservatism’s mantle during their terms. The tide has indeed turned in Mississippi.
6) Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood’s hiring of outside counsel and pay-to-play… Hood has routinely hired private attorneys that donate to his political campaigns. He has also resisted reforms that would limit his ability to do so. National news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal have documented Hood’s pay-to-play hirings evening quoting the Clarion Ledger during the Eli Lilly case saying, “The Houston, Texas law firm of Bailey Perrin Bailey—which donated $75,000 in campaign contributions to Hood—and a Mississippi firm will earn $3.7 million in outside counsel legal fees from the Zyprexa settlement.” As a result, newly minted Republicans are lining up to drop AG sunshine and competitive bid bills for the next legislative session.
5) Women gain influence in Mississippi politics… Treasurer-elect Lynn Fitch and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Cindy Hyde-Smith lead a new cast of women into the Capitol; other ladies entering service include state Senators Sally Doty and Melanie Sojourner. These women join other conservative ladies such as state Representatives Becky Currie and Jessica Upshaw. The dynamic these passionate, conservative ladies bring to the state political scene promises to be fun to watch; the potential impact at this point is endless.
4) PERS becomes its own rail in Mississippi politics… Much to the chagrin of many candidates in the election cycle, Governor Haley Barbour appointed a Commission to review the state retirement system due to its debated solvency. Quotes and speculation from some on the Commission and in the media made PERS a hot-button political issue in the campaign year. Republicans quickly issued statements supporting “the 13th check” (another key phrase in 2011), committing to ensure the program’s structure for those currently in the system. Democrats, however, saw PERS as an opportunity to gain some political traction through “scare tactics” (yet another key phrase in 2011 that perhaps we helped promote) misleading the public in campaign mailouts and on the stump. When the PERS Commission did release their report, the sky didn’t fall after all.
3) New media changed the political discourse for many in Mississippi… Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have become the go to source for political information in Mississippi – especially in conservative circles, supplanting the traditional print media as top news dog. Sites such as ours here at YallPolitics as well as MajorityinMS, MagnoliaReport, and JacksonJambalaya are providing new opportunities for conservatives around the state that have long lacked for news minus a liberal media bent. The ‘Fire McCoy and the Boys’ effort that helped highlight the House races was built around a blog that shed light on Mississippi politics, the results of which can now be seen. New media in Mississippi grew by leaps and bounds in 2011 and will surely continue for years to come.
2) Mississippi Democrats could not field a full slate of statewide candidates… The political party that has held the reins of state government since Reconstruction failed to run candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State and State Auditor. The candidates they did run for Governor, Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner and Insurance Commissioner were long shots and relative unknowns in most parts of the state. Couple that with the party’s inability to raise funds and its obvious shift farther left and the Democratic party of yesteryear is long gone. Result: the Mississippi Democratic Party is now out of power at every level of state government.
1) Republicans win the majority in the state House for the first time in 140 years… Aided by statewide efforts such as ‘Fire McCoy and the Boys’ and later ‘Move the House,’ conservatives found a voice and stuck to their message in 2011, and the result was a Mississippi-style House cleaning. Now the Mississippi House will elect a conservative, Republican Speaker come January. What a difference a year makes!
So there you have it folks… It has definitely been a year to remember in Mississippi politics.
2012 is already shaping up to be quite intriguing itself. For the political junkies out there, Mississippi politics may often be difficult to predict, yet it never disappoints.