Roger Wicker remembers a time when politicians who held conservative beliefs would run as Democrats in some of Mississippi’s counties.
Wicker, a U.S. senator for Mississippi, said he remembers when Oktibbeha County was one of those counties and Mississippi only had one Republican U.S. representative, Gregg Harper. Today, he said, Harper is one of three Mississippi Republicans in the House of Representatives, and there are several Republican officials at Oktibbeha’s city and county levels.
“We didn’t know when we’d ever see that day,” Wicker said. “I got tired of local people coming up to me and saying, ‘You know, I’m with you, but I have to run as a Democrat to be elected in (my county). We showed that is demonstrably not true in Oktibbeha County. You can be elected as what you believe (you are), and that is a conservative Republican.”
Wicker offered this and other encouragement to the Oktibbeha County Republican Party as the keynote speaker at its first annual Patriots’ Dinner Monday, joined by other Mississippi Republicans running for election or re-election at the local, state and federal levels.
OCRP chairwoman Marnita Henderson said all 300 event tickets were sold out, and she was pleased with such strong results for an event in its first iteration. She said she was grateful to everyone who came to support and hear from the state’s Republican candidates.
“I think there are many people in Oktibbeha County that are excited about this election,” Henderson said. “We feel like our congressmen and senators are doing an excellent job, and we’re looking forward to sending them back to Washington.”
Henderson said she is also grateful to all the OCRP volunteers who made the event possible, especially student volunteers from Starkville High School and Starkville Academy.
“We’re so proud of our students,” Henderson said. “We’re just delighted to see young people (involved). They are the future of America, and it gives us great hope.”
Wicker said the results of Monday’s dinner were impressive not only in light of the party’s previous status in the county, but also compared with other counties with strong Republican contingents.
“This is as large a county event as you’ll see in the state,” Wicker said. “I know it took a lot of work, but it also shows a lot of growth. This would have been unheard of in any northeast Mississippi county 10 years ago. I don’t know any county that can put together a crowd like this on a weekday night.”
U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee said he was glad to be home in Oktibbeha County. As a Mississippi State University alumni, he said, OCRP played a critical role in his formative years as a politician.
“I cut my teeth with the OCRP as part of the MSU College Republicans,” Nunnelee said. “I’ve got to tell you, I cannot be part of this meeting of the OCRP without remembering my great mentor, Barbara Bourgeois.
“This is the most important election in our lifetime,” Nunnelee added.
“I’m convinced the American people are going to live with the consequences (of this election) not for four years, but for four generations.”
Several elected officials took the opportunity to comment on the coming presidential election. Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef said while the MRP is running a strong campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Mississippi, it is also looking for volunteers for a contingent that will travel to Florida to campaign for Romney.
“We’re coordinating with one of the local offices down in Pensacola, and I think it’s going to be a really good effort,” Nosef said.
The U.S. congressmen present also placed a high premium on electing Romney, but they also campaigned for their own re-elections — and for each other’s re-election — including Gregg Harper.
“Congress hasn’t been really popular,” Harper said. “In fact, I was on a flight home a few months ago, and someone asked me what I did. I told them I was a lawyer.”