Three states-Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi-will hold gubernatorial elections this fall. Of these, Mississippi may be the likeliest to elect a Republican.
The Magnolia State is the only one of the trio in which an incumbent governor, Ronnie Musgrove, is running for reelection. In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Mike Foster will be term limited out after eight years. In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Paul Patton is leaving amid revelations of extramarital activities.
Musgrove drew only 49% of the vote in 1999. Because Mississippi law requires a gubernatorial candidate to win a majority of the popular vote to take office, Musgrove ended up being elected by the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Starting on such a precarious foundation, one would have thought Gov. Musgrove would have moved quickly to shore up his political base and then take action to broaden his support. On the contrary; he immediately angered relatively conservative rural Democrats when he called for removing the Confederate Flag from the state capital dome in Jackson. Then he compounded his estrangement from this faction by getting a very public divorce.
Now, with the state wallowing in red ink, Musgrove is expected to raise either income or tobacco taxes or both to deal with a $600 million deficit. By the time he’s done, his base will be reduced to Mississippi’s solidly Democratic African American, and the knee-jerk Democratic teachers’ unions.
While Musgrove will face a primary challenge from lawyer John Arthur Eaves, Jr., a former U.S. House candidate who is the namesake son of a past gubernatorial hopeful, Republicans appear to have settled early and eagerly on their standard-bearer: Haley Barbour.
Barbour, of course, has been a fixture in the Mississippi Republican Party since the days in the not-so-distant past when it used to meet in the proverbial telephone booth. He has also been a national leader of the GOP, serving a successful stint as Republican National Chairman from 1993-97. Yazoo City lawyer Barbour is expected to take the Republican nomination without opposition and then run on a ticket with sitting Lieutenant Governor and Democrat-turned-Republican Amy Tuck.
“And that’s really a ‘first’ for us,” Jackson businessman Wirt Yerger, told me. Yerger, one of the founding fathers of the modern Republican Party in Mississippi, said, “It used to be that we would just focus on one office such as the governorship and devote all our resources to winning it. The idea of a Republican ticket is unprecedented here.”
Mississippi has had only one Republican governor since Reconstruction, Kirk Fordice, who served from 1991-99.
But now the state Republican ticket may grow beyond Barbour and Tuck. Last week, State Attorney General Michael Moore-known nationally for being the first chief law enforcement officer of any state to sue tobacco companies-stunned pundits and pols by announcing his retirement at age 50. Five Republicans are vying for the nomination to run for attorney general. The early front-runners are former FBI Agent Scott Newton and Jackson lawyer Delbert Hoseman, who ran for the U.S. House in 1998.
THE SWITCH IS ON
The Republican “high” over their chances to make statewide gains in Mississippi this fall comes at a time when the GOP is already making big strides at the state legislative level. Since January, two Democratic state senators have re-registered as Republicans, bringing the GOP within two seats of the “magic 26” they need to have a majority in the senate. Moreover, with reapportionment creating a new district for elections this year and Republican Merle Flowers, a former aide to Rep. Roger Wicker (R.-Miss.), unopposed for nomination and election, Republicans are guaranteed 25 if all their incumbents are re-elected.
In the state House of Representatives, where Democrats have an 84 to 35 majority (with three independents), two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Jim Barnett and Herb Frierson, have switched from Democrat to Republican since New Year’s Day.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
In one of the few big cities where Republicans have come close to winning a mayoral election in recent years, businessman Sam Katz is going at it again. Four years after he lost to Democrat John Street in a photo finish, Katz has announced that he will run again for mayor of Philadelphia. Katz, who lost bids for the Republican mayoral nomination in 1991 and the gubernatorial nomination in ’94, benefited in his last race by significant Democratic desertions from Street, who had been a confrontational figure on the City Council. But Street became Philly’s second-ever black mayor by a hair with the formidable help of outgoing Mayor Ed Rendell and an election eve rally featuring then-President Bill Clinton. (Rendell, of course, went on to be elected governor of Pennsylvania.)
Another political headline in the City of Brotherly love was the retirement announcement of 82-year-old City Councilman Thatcher Longstreth. Longstreth was one of only two Republican councilmen-at-large on the 17-member City Council. He cut his eyeteeth in politics, in 1940, sneaking fellow young Republicans from Princeton into the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia to shout “We Want Willkie!” He served on the Council for 22 years and was the Republican nominee for mayor in 1955 and ’71.
Six Republicans are now vying for nomination to five councilman-at-large positions on the fall ballot. Under Philadelphia’s minority-party representation plan, the GOP will have two guaranteed seats on the Council. A virtual cinch for one seat is the other incumbent Republican councilman-at-large, Frank Rizzo, Jr., namesake-son of the legendary police chief (1967-71) and mayor (1971-79). Candidates for the other guaranteed Council slot include Sean Reilly, top state aide to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), lawyer Jamie McDermott, son of state Supreme Court Justice James McDermott, and former Councilman Jack Kelly (no relation to the late Grace Kelly, whose father and brother were prominent Democratic leaders in Philadelphia and both were named Jack).
Slipping Through Daley’s Coattails: In case you weren’t watching, Richard M. Daley won another term as mayor of Chicago, this time by a margin of 5-to-1 over four opponents. To no one’s surprise, Democrats swept all but one of the seats on the Windy City’s Board of Alderman. In the 41st Ward, onetime Golden Gloves boxer and incumbent Republican Brian Doherty survived the Daley sweep to remain the lone Republican in any elected office in Chicago. . . As expected, Oregon Republicans chose conservative ’02 gubernatorial nominee and former State Rep. Kevin Mannix as their new state chairman, succeeding retiring chairman and fellow conservative Perry Atkinson. Although many in the National Republican Congressional Committee have promoted Mannix as a potential candidate against Democratic Rep. Jane Hooley (who almost always has close calls in November), Atkinson predicts that he will be “our [Hawaii Gov. and former State Republican Chairman] Linda Lingle-rebuilding the party after one close race for governor and then finally winning it on the second try” . . .
Weicker for Governor (of Iraq): A dozen years after he rammed through Connecticut’s first-ever income tax and nine years after he left the governorship of the Nutmeg State, Lowell Weicker-whom many in Washington remember as the most obnoxious member of the U.S. Senate during his stint there from 1970-88-is still remembered keenly by some in his home state, too. In response to reports that the Bush Administration plans to install a civilian and “person of stature” such as a former U.S. governor to direct the rebuilding of post-Saddam Iraq, Sheila Foran of Glastonbury, Connecticut wrote to the Hartford Courant to “nominate former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker for the position.” Foran hints that Weicker would be the ideal choice because he would “Install a ‘state’ income tax and let the Iraqis fund their own reconstruction. That’ll teach em.”