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Every year is a campaign year in our state

November 29, 2012

By BRIAN PERRY

Are you glad this election year is over?

Don’t get used to it.

Every year is an election year in Mississippi. It doesn’t rival football, but we make politics a full contact participatory sport.

It seems we cannot get enough.

First, we elect everyone. Maybe not everyone, but we have a large state House and Senate for our population; on the county level we elect a chancery clerk, a circuit clerk, a sheriff, supervisors, constables, justice court judges, election commissioners, a coroner, a tax collector and others; we elect eight statewide elected officials plus transportation and public service commissioners; and our judiciary; and our prosecutors; and our levee commissioners; and our school board members; and in some places superintendents.

Second, we elect some of them every year. This provides a staggered turn over for some public bodies like the Mississippi Supreme Court. But we also don’t elect our county or city or federal officials in the same year like many states. Last year we had county and statewide elections; this year we had federal and judicial elections; next year we have municipal elections; the year after that we have more federal and judicial elections; and then the cycle repeats.

Both our number of elected officials and our schedule for electing them comes from a reaction to Reconstruction Era policies. Southern Democrats sought to limit the powers of the federal military-backed Republican governors by creating a weak chief executive and giving the selection of public officials to the people rather than appointees of Union occupiers. Mississippi holds off-year elections so state elections could take place separate from federal elections in which federal observers and even troops greeted voters at the polls.

But regardless of the original motivations, the system works well for politics loving Mississippians today.

Before this month’s elections were even over, many candidates already launched their municipal campaigns for 2013. For areas with partisan elections, the primary is May 7 and the general election is June 4.

Not all municipalities hold their elections next year. Special charter municipalities — like Natchez and Greenville and Port Gibson — hold their elections at their own unique times.

But most of Mississippi will be electing their mayors and aldermen/councilmen this coming year in the hottest of political races: local campaigns. While you might not see the heat on television, the whisper campaigns in a local election make anything in a presidential election look tame.

In Desoto County, embattled Southaven Mayor Greg Davis continues to challenge State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s demands he return tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds Pickering claims Davis misused. Davis and his ex-wife have settled their divorce out-of-court but continue to work out child support issues. Whether he seeks re-election or not, several candidates have lined up to make a run for the seat Davis has occupied since 1997.

Next door in Olive Branch, Mayor Sam Rikard has announced he won’t seek re-election. Businessmen Brian Hodges and Art Shumway have both launched campaigns for that seat.

On the Coast, Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel and Pascagoula Mayor Robbie Maxwell both announced they would not seek re-election. Former state Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes looks to replace Schloegel. In Pascagoula, Councilmen Frank Corder and George Wolverton, telecom consultant Robert Hardy and former Chevron executive Jim Blevins have all announced for that seat.

Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. will not seek re-election and Tupelo City Council President Fred Pitts has entered the race to replace Reed. Meridian Mayor Cherri Barry and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree both have announced plans to seek reelection.

Two legislators are looking to return home and serve as mayor. Rep. George Flaggs will seek election as Mayor of Vicksburg while Rep. Chuck Espy will resign his seat and run for Mayor of Clarksdale, a position currently held by his father Henry Espy who is not seeking re-election.

In Jackson, incumbent Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. is expected to seek re-election and will be challenged by Councilmen Frank Bluntson and Chokwe Lumumba, and businessman Jonathan Lee.

In nearby Clinton, Mayor Rosemary Aultman will not seek a sixth term, opening this seat up to what is expected to be an active Republican Primary campaign for her seat.

And if you can’t wait until May and June for elections, some areas will be electing their municipal school district trustees in March: Grenada, Louisville, Tishomingo, Natchez and Vicksburg.

Many mayors and aldermen/councilmen will seek re-election without opposition across the state, but for those with legitimate opponents and especially open seats, it is already time for the election season to heat up again.

Fortunately for Mississippians, it is a sport we look forward to and just like football, win or lose, there is another election next year.

Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC and a columnist for the Madison County Journal. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.

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