This weekend, the Clarion Ledger did a front page deep dive over what they term to be the stagnant or waning influence of black leaders in the state. For the majority of the piece, the singular litmus test they used was the lack of a statewide black elected official.
In typical fashion, they buried the lede. The best, though not necessarily the most qualified, candidate wins political races. Period. And interestingly, nowhere in the article did the Clarion Ledger explore the role of policy (i.e. black candidates negotiating on policy) as a means for better success in winning political races.
The reason that a black Mississippian has not been elected to a statewide office is because there’s not been an election contest where the candidate who happened to be black was a better political candidate than the candidate that happened to be white. The two most outstanding in recent history were Gary Anderson, who ran for Treasurer against Tate Reeves in 2003 and Insurance Commissioner againstMike Chaney in 2007 and former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree who ran for Governor against Phil Bryant in 2011.
First the Anderson race. Anderson by all accounts had great experience in government and was plenty qualified for the jobs he was seeking. And Anderson did have some support in the white community. However, he was substantially outraised and outworked by Reeves and Chaney, who were unquestionably the better political candidates.
Though Dupree had good experience as the mayor of one of the larger cities in Mississippi (where he enjoyed black and white support), Johnny Dupree ran into a political buzzsaw in the form of Phil Bryant.
I still firmly believe that the first statewide black elected leader will be a Republican. For the right candidate, I believe there will be an appetite for it. The main ingredient for that to happen for there to be black elected Republicans (whether they run as Republicans or switch parties) in the lower ranks to build that momentum.
And Democrats know what the stakes are. MS Democrat Party Chair Bobby Moak publicly castigated Rep. Angela Cockerham (D) just because of her committee chairmanship and intermittent support of Republicans on a few key votes.
With the majority that the Republican party has, particularly in the Legislature, the absence of a black Republican in the Legislature or for statewide office is a major failure of both the Republican Party leadership and elected Republican leadership in the last few years. It’s pretty easy rest on your laurels with numerical superiority, but given our past, Republicans ought to prioritize black participation in its ranks that voters can see, and work to destigmatize voting Republican for the vast majority of black voters.
That won’t happen without effort and maybe even a little compromise by both the GOP and black political leaders. But the upside of more political power for black elected officials and literally being able to change the electoral math long term in the state for the GOP far outweighs the short term effort expended to make progress on that front.