Friday, December 14, 2007

A Black Governor in Mississippi? Can it Happen?

Much has been made about the perceived lack of progress of blacks in Mississippi politics after the recent statewide elections. Cries of racism from people like Ronnie Agnew of The Clarion-Ledger over Gary Anderson, who is black and lost in the Insurance Commissioner's race, were published in the media. Such comments were similar to those made after a black candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Barbara Blackmon, lost in 2003 to Amy Tuck. As black candidates have failed to win elections for statewide offices (since reconstruction), one must ask if a black candidate can win such elections in Mississippi.

It must be acknowledged that yes, there is racism in Mississippi. However, some racism will always exist as human nature is not perfect and never will be. It is a bit of a stretch to attribute the losses of Blackmon and Anderson to racism. First of all, Ms. Blackmon ran against an incumbent, Amy Tuck. Beating an incumbent for a statewide office is always difficult even if a challenger is well-financed such as Ms. Blackmon, who is one of the leading trial lawyers in Mississippi. However,such an incumbent has other advantages such as name recognition, political favors to call in since she ran the Senate, and a statewide machine, which Ms. Blackmon had to build from scratch.

Mr. Anderson had a good record as he is widely regarded as being very smart, ran a major state agency, and has a very likable personality. However, he lost for several reasons. He had no insurance experience, which is very important as there is an insurance crisis due to Katrina. The last thing Mississippi needed was an Insurance Commissioner who did not know an actuary table from a coffee table. After reading an interview with his opponent, Mike Chaney who was chairman of the Senate committee that oversaw the insurance industry, in The Jackson Free Press,, I decided he was a stronger candidate and voted for him. It should be noted that Mr. Anderson also beat the White incumbent, George Dale, in the Democratic primary and received more votes in the general election than did Democratic candidates for other offices in a year that saw Governor Barbour steamrolling his way to victory. It is also important to note that Anderson was a weak candidate as he had never held elected office. There is no substitute for experience and that includes running for office. Most successful politicians have lost at some point. Bill Clinton. Haley Barbour. You have to fail before you succeed. Old adages do contain some truth.

However, Mr. Anderson's loss and the resulting discussions beg the question of what must be done in order to elect more blacks to statewide offices. If this discussion is going to take place, then there are some facts that need to be pointed out.

First of all, blacks rarely run for state office. There were only two serious black candidates in 2007, two in 2003, and one in 1999. It is hard to claim racism keeps blacks from winning elections when very few are running in the first place. If you never swing at the pitch, you can't complain about a strike-out. Hoping to be successful and trying to be successful are two different things and that applies to winning elections.

If more blacks are to be elected, then more blacks must run for statewide offices. Using the baseball analogy, where is the farm team? Where is the minor league system for black candidates?

The lack of a farm team is probably the main reason for such failure. Typically most statewide candidates come from supervisors, legislators, and city council members. Although Mississippi has a good number of blacks elected to these offices, its time to scrutinize who is holding these offices.

Consider black office-holders in the Jackson metro area. Most are fossils who have no higher aspirations then the offices they currently hold. How many of them are even under the age of 50? Anderson, Smith, Calhoun, the Blackmons, Harden, Melton, Harvey Johnson, Bluntson, Stokes, McLemore, Tilman, Flaggs. Fossils. They are old and happy to be exactly where they are as there is very little ambition among this group in terms of seeking higher office. Unfortunately, this means that younger blacks who want to be Governor or Treasurer one day have almost no place to start at the local level.

The next question to ask is why these fossils have a stranglehold on their offices. They tend to win elections in districts that are heavily black. This is fine if the goal is to see more blacks elected to a certain amount of offices at the local level. However, when it comes to statewide offices, the demographics change. As blacks make up less than 40% of Mississippi voters, a black candidate in such an election has to have some crossover appeal if he wants to have any chance at winning. However, the typical black officeholder in Mississippi is in a safely black district and thus has little experience in courting White voters. If the Ike Brown strategy of having a black only Democratic Party is followed, that means black Democrats can forget about winning statewide offices. See earlier post,

"But Kingfish, why should they? white are racist so it doesn't matter." Really? Jerry Moore won the race for constable in my area. He is black. I know EXACTLY who he is as I saw him all in Belhaven, NE Jackson, and other traditionally white areas. Unlike some black candidates, he didn't take anything for granted and worked the white areas just as much as he did the black ones. He went on Kim Wade's radio show. He gave whites plenty of opportunity to get to know him. I still do know who what his white opponent looks like as he was not as aggressive in campaigning. Guess what? Moore won the race.

There are going to be racists and more than a few people will vote for a candidate solely because of race. However, I just watched Bobby Jindal win the Governor's office in Louisiana. He supposedly lost in '03 because of the fact he is considered to be "dark-skinned" and Catholic in heavily protestant North Louisiana. First he applied the lessons he learned campaigning and ran for Congress, winning the election. Then when Katrina hit he came back and actually led while Jefferson had the National Guard take his loot out of his house. Guess what Jindal did for the last two years? He worked North Louisiana as if the grim reaper was at his back. The hard work paid off this year as he won the election while dominating North Louisiana. I refuse to think that racism will stop hard work and intelligence as people like Bobby Jindal have showed how it could be overcome.

Compare that to Gary Anderson. After beating George Dale, he was virtually silent for a long time. While Mr. Chaney went to venues such as The Jackson Free Press that were probably opposed to him ideologically, Mr. Anderson ignored media outlets such as Kim Wade's radio show that were more conservative in nature. He ran a weak campaign and it showed on election day.

"Kingfish, isn't it racist for you to say black candidates should court white voters?" Shouldn't white candidates court black voters?" Of course they should do so. If I was a candidate and facing a black opponent, I would not concede anything. I would be in the black churches, at the NAACP meetings, door-knocking in the black community, you name it. True, the odds would be against my winning their votes (Hell, I'm not so sure I would vote for me) however, there will be some who respect the fact that you reached out to them. Of course, that is just me and I'm sure there are much more politically experienced people who will tell me why that is stupid, but I digress. I focus on the issue of black candidates appealing to white voters because the discussions in the media about the elections have been the failure of blacks, not whites, to win statewide office.

If blacks want to get elected to higher offices, then the fundamentals must be followed. That means running younger black candidates for local offices that give them the experience they need to succeed in bigger elections as well as learning the ropes of how government works. Take some risks and put forth black candidates in districts that are not heavily black. Learn in those races how to court black and white voters. Avoid the trap of running for office in a district that is 90% black and being happy with a title and a little bit of money in your own neighborhood. It is said you play like you practice. If a black candidate is going to succeed in being elected to Governor, Secretary of State, etc, then he has to dare. There should be more candidates such as Marshand Crisler and Robert Smith. Hopefully, they will acquit themselves well in office and have the ambition to move up in Mississippi politics.

Mississippi will have a Governor, Treasurer, or Lieutenant Governor one day that is black. Mississippi has come a long way. However, for blacks to be elected to statewide office, perhaps some fundamental questions need to be asked followed by a much-needed debate.


Tom Head said...

Part of the issue is that Mississippi is still geographically polarized. A legislator who does well in a traditional black Democratic district is not likely to have a paper trail, in terms of votes, that would play well statewide unless the candidate is remarkably charismatic and has the full backing of the party.

My suspicion, and I've said this before, is that the first black candidate elected to statewide office will be a Republican. For all the talk of the Mississippi Democratic Party going "black-only," the truth of the matter is that it's run by the white minority in the party--look at who the party chair is, and how he got there--and they're by and large not serious about electing black statewide candidates. They would rather say that it's impossible to elect black statewide candidates so as to convince black voters that John Arthur Eaves is the best they're gonna get.

Kingfish said...

I still say one will have to follow Jindal's example. Instead of accouncing 5 months before the primary and then campaigning for a couple of months follow Jindals example and start working it for at least a year.

then there is the issue of "safe" districts for Blacks. It is almost electoral apartheid. It gives them what some want, which is safe seats, then segregates them from the rest of the electorate, preventing politicians from having crossover appeal. Just a thought.

Tom Head said...

Oh, yeah, I can't disagree there. I can understand the argument for reapportionment--the last thing I want to see is an all-white congressional delegation--but it does create a segregating effect. I have to vote in District 3 because I live in the white part of town; most of my friends vote in District 2 because they live in the black part of town.

All of Jackson should be in District 2 when the districts are redrawn, IMHO. Let Bennie Thompson do some campaigning in Belhaven and Eastover. I think people would be surprised at his level of crossover appeal.

Re black candidates keeping their jobs forever, BTW, this is not a black thing. This is a Mississippi thing. We've had, what, four U.S. senators in the last 40 years? Mississippians love incumbents like McAdams loved Josling.

Anonymous said...

MS is going more and more Republican. Chances for a statewide black candidate to win will be impossible until the black Democrats unite again with the white Democrats. This will require the black Dems to quit whining all the time about racsism, etc.

Anonymous said...

"Chances for a statewide black candidate to win will be impossible until the black Democrats unite again with the white Democrats."

Or until the Republicans nominate a conservative black candidate. I think the state is ready for that.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi would vote for a conservative black candidate but remember Jim hood a moderate WITE MALE COULDNT WIN! Mississippi will not elect any democrats anytime soon including white men. Stop playing the race card!

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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