Mississippi will suffer from a tremendous loss in the area of Public Service Commissioner. With the announced retirements of Bo Robinson and Nielson Cochran, Mississippians will loose nearly 40 years of Regulatory experience from this commission. These gentlemen have been a great advocate for Mississippian voters in dealing with regulatory matters impacted the natural gas, telephone and electric utilities and previous transportation industries. Though certainly not a sexy area of elective politics, these commissioners have tremendous influence and have real everyday impact to voters.
These three races will feature two open seats (North and Central) and one re-election of an appointee of Governor Barbour (Leonard Bentz) who has yet to be voted on.
Here is a quick run down of the three races:
Open Seat ? Bo Robinson ? retired (D)
Rick Clifton (D) Nesbit
Michael Parker (D) Aberdeen
Brandon Presley (D)
Mabel Murphree (R) Tupelo
After 4 terms and two years as an appointed Commissioner, Bo Robinson is stepping down as the Northern District PSC Commissioner. There have been four candidates to file for the race three Ds and one R. Those following the race believe the two people to watch are Dr. Mabel Murphree and Brandon Presley, Mayor of Nettleton. Murphree is already guaranteed a seat in the general election since she is the only R to qualify. She has been actively campaigning and raising money. Rumor has it that close friend, Jack Reed of Tupelo, has already held a fundraiser for Murphree that raised over $50,000. That is significant considering candidates have historically spent on average about $75,000 for the race. Murphree is fairly well known. Has a back ground in economic development from serving on the Appalachian Regional Commission staff in Tupelo. She currently is a professor on Itawamba Community College. I’m told she is a very gracious person and someone that will identify well with the voters of North Mississippi.
The leading Democrat is Brandon Presley a very popular and well spoken mayor of Nettleton. Brandon is a young (around 30 years old) ambitious politician who is very articulate and a great public speaker. He will definitely grab attention because of his comfort at the podium; however, his youth may work against him in the very conservation northern district. At the end of the day, with Haley Barbour at the top of the ticket, in a race this far down the card a good R candidate will have the advantage.
I think Murphree is the leading candidate in that race especially having the R by her name and a popular R governor running and a heavy Republican voting Desoto county in the Northern District.
OPEN ? Neilson Cochran ?retired (R)
Charles Barbour (R) Jackson
Jimmy Foster (R) Pearl
Addie Green (D) Bolton
Lynn Posey (D) Union Church
John Rush (D) Clinton
Kevin Moses (I)
Lee Dilworth (Rf) Jackson
This will be the most interesting PSC race in the state. The Central district is a very vote heavy, yet diverse district. It contains the very Republican Rankin County, but also portions of the heavy D voting Delta. We have two locally well know Republicans running, Hinds County Supervisor Charles Barbour and the very popular mayor of Pearl, Jimmy Foster. There are three Ds, one independent and one reform party candidate. The leading D and the one we expect to win the Democrat Primary is long time State Senator Lynn Posey from Claiborne County? home of Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant. Of all the candidates, Posey probably is the most experienced. He has served on the utility committee in the Senate for years. He has been exposed to the issues facing consumers and utilities related to the natural gas and electric utility business.
The Republican Primary will be close. Charles Barbour definitely has a good name to draw attention to him, but in the commissioner races primaries are won by getting your voters out. With Foster reigning from Rankin County he will benefit greatly by a strong Republican vote in the primary. Barbour, like many Hinds country Republicans, struggle in the primaries because of the popular Sheriff McMillan (facing some stiff primary opposition in a challenge from Lewis) who runs in the Democrat Primary that siphons off votes from the Republican Primary? and let’s face it, there are not a lot or Rs in the Delta.
The general elections will come down between Posey and the winner of Foster vs. Barbour ? all too close to call.
Leonard Bentz (R) Biloxi (Incumbent, however he was appointed to the seat by Gov. Barbour when Michael Callahan resigned)
Ray Crawford (R) Lumberton
James Buckhaults (D) Ellisville
Mike Collier (D) Hattiesburg
This too is a very interesting race. The incumbent, here is running for his first race as commissioner, the very likeable former Representative Leonard Bentz (R) of Biloxi, now Commissioner Bentz. If elected, he will be the most senior member of the commission after being appointed by Governor Barbour to fill the vacancy created by Michael Callahan who resigned to take the position heading up the Mississippi Association of Electric Power Associations.
The interesting race to follow will be the Republican Primary. Bentz was expected to run unopposed. His primary opponent is Ray Crawford (aka Two Bits, this is the name people know him as– wore goofy hat to USM ballgames and walked around leading cheers of two bits to the crowd) He is running as a Republican against incumbent Republican PSC Commissioner Leonard Bentz. Crawford would have you believe that he is a long time Republican. In fact, he is a long time Democrat. He worked to help elect one Democrat (Michael Callahan) to the PSC, after it had been held by the only Republican ever elected to the post, Curt Hebert. He also worked for the Democrat that Curt Hebert defeated, Henry Buck Buckalew. Crawford, wants you to believe that he helped Michael Callahan win as a Republican, but he didn’t. Michael Callahan never won an election as a Republican, he won as a Democrat. He was a party switcher and did so in 2004 after being elected as a Democrat and with the help of fellow long time Democrat, Two Bits (Ray Crawford).
Bentz has stepped into the position after Governor Barbour and hit the ground running. He has been traveling the district, getting to know the voters in the Southern District as well as taking the job as regulator seriously and getting up to speed on the important and complex business the commission does. Bentz was a very popular legislator and will benefit from his friends in the legislature helping him in their respective districts. Also, Mississippians need someone with some experience to lead an entirely new Commission and Bentz can do that.