Conservatives are now in the driver’s seat of Mississippi politics – at least for the next four years – having secured the majority in both houses of the state’s legislature as well as holding seven of the eight statewide offices and a majority of both the Transportation and Public Service Commissions.
It is indeed a new era in Mississippi politics… an era conservatives must embrace for the sake of principle, not power.
So where do Republicans go from here… and how do conservatives ensure that we do not experience the same overnight demise as the liberals in the Democratic Party?
Here are a few thoughts as Republicans around the state turn from campaigning to governing:
Filling the Chairs
There has already been much discussion over how Lt. Governor-elect Tate Reeves and Speaker-in-waiting Phillip Gunn will fill out Senate and House committee chairs. Speculation and opinions are a dime a dozen at this point.
Some see this as an opportunity to enjoy the spoils of victory. Such a sentiment is understandable, especially in the House given the manner in which outgoing Speaker Billy McCoy and his liberal band of merry men ruled the chamber over the past few years. After all, one of the main criticisms of McCoy was how he filled committee chairs and stacked key committees for his partisan benefit.
Conservatives should not sink to the Democrats’ level. We should rise above and govern with principle while welcoming and encouraging differing opinions at the table out of respect and an air of cooperation. Avoiding the ills of the past is one way Republicans can govern with principle and not simply out of want of power.
Taking a cue from Governor-elect Phil Bryant would be advisable. His leadership of the state Senate over the past four years has been exemplary, recognizing that Republicans and Democrats should be given the opportunity to share in shaping the future of our state. However, in matters of principle, Bryant took the necessary steps to ensure his core conservative political ideologies were not compromised or surrendered.
Reeves and Gunn must find a similar, appropriate balance when appointing these committee chairs. If the right balance is achieved, the conservative brand in Mississippi will find an even warmer reception at the ballot box the next go round.
With the entire political system in Mississippi now being in Republican hands, the agenda set forth by the Governor and the legislative leaders will be under a microscope not only by the state’s liberal media but by many voters who may still be on the fence in the various communities around the state.
Small town Mississippi is still by and large sympathetic to their local Democratic candidates. These next four years should be seen as a chance for Republicans to prove their worth and convince these voters that conservatives can be trusted and are more aligned with their concerns than the state’s liberal political party. They must see results.
Conservative legislation that focuses on empowering local communities and reducing the size and scope of state government must be pursued. Providing a path to prosperity for families and businesses in these dire economic times is paramount. Attracting, retaining, and expanding employers in every corner of the state is key. Offering choices in education and giving Mississippians opportunities to succeed in life, whether in the classroom, the workplace or in retirement, must both be pursued in short order. Ensuring that the state’s fiscal house is in order and is sustainable for the next generation is essential.
Republican leaders must be willing to have a tough, frank conversation with their Democratic colleagues and the people of Mississippi. We cannot afford to run from the fights; we must face the challenges head on and author, support and pass legislation that will transform Mississippi government for the better.
Solidifying the Party
One of the main reasons Republicans have experienced the meteoric rise we have over the past few years is because in the world of politics it can be easier being in the minority. Building public relations campaigns to highlight the inequity in leadership or taking to social media to criticize decisions by those in the majority are far less difficult than defending an agenda and championing your cause in the midst of the storms swirling around you. Making a mistake when you are in the majority can go viral in mere seconds in this information age, something the minority is less likely to experience.
The Mississippi Republican Party and conservative voters cannot afford to rest over the next four years. Yes, 2012 is a Congressional and Presidential election year. But if history holds true, Mississippi will support the GOP candidate for President and will most likely retain its current members of Congress. The real battle is still here at home.
The Democrats have nowhere to go but up and if political history is any indicator of how minority parties react, the state’s liberal party will use this time to solidify its base, restructure their brand, and cultivate and train candidates. They will also be extremely active in protecting what is now their last bastion of relevance – municipal and county offices. This is where the Republican Party must take the fight.
Municipal and county officials are our front line in government. We must hold them accountable and ensure they practice and support sound, principled governance. This means that the Republican Party must find a way to reach into the towns and cities around Mississippi, cultivate candidates for Mayors, City Councils, Boards of Aldermen, and County Supervisors, and work with these leaders to promote conservative, principled governance.
If conservatives were as concerned about their cities and counties as they are with the state and federal government, we would see real conservative change… the trickle up conservative change America needs right now! After all, many of our state and federal officials come out of municipalities.
The Republican Party must also harness the current excitement of conservatives and create a lasting brand that can be easily translated into outlets such as social media by public officials and supporters for years to come. Proactively promoting the cause and providing information to the people of Mississippi will not only win voters but also build confidence in the party and conservative ideology as a whole. Winning the messaging battle must be a daily task for Republicans.
If Republicans can govern with principle, stay on message, expand their influence, and prove their worth in the coming years, Mississippi may very well lead the nation in a conservative reformation. If not, an unadulterated, Yellow Dog, pure liberal Democratic Party (having cleaned its ranks of any old school Blue Dogs) will be waiting in the wings to take the reins.
Here’s to keeping those dogs at bay for many years to come!