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Business community abuzz with election chatter

Sleepless night

No coffee was needed in offices around the state Wednesday morning after statewide elections. The business community was abuzz with chatter of the stalemate in the gubernatorial elections.

Votes tallied after midnight reflected Ronnie Musgrove (D-Batesville) and Mike Parker (R-Brookhaven) each with 49% of the votes in the race for governor, with Musgrove edging ahead with a few thousand more votes. The straggling votes that bumped Musgrove over Parker trickled in from mostly Delta counties, which are primarily Democratic and majority black. Two additional candidates for governor garnered almost 2%, forcing the governorship to be decided in the House of Representatives in January.

Parker said he will see the process through to the end.

“This election is about more than Mike Parker and Ronnie Musgrove,” Parker said. “We owe it to the people who cast absentee and affidavit ballots to make sure that their vote is counted in this election. It would be irresponsible for Mike Parker or Ronnie Musgrove to take the easy way out and it is important that the person who wants to become governor of Mississippi to follow the process outlined in the law. The constitution has safeguards that were intentionally included to protect the will of the people in close races exactly like this.”

The day after elections, Musgrove declared victory in the governor’s race in a statement to the press.

“With 100% of the precincts reporting, it is clear that we have received over 6,000 votes more than my opponent,” Musgrove said. “I am proud to stand before you as your Governor-elect of the state of Mississippi. The journey has just begun.”

The shape of Mississippi politics will be interesting to follow in the next few weeks, said Dr. Charles Moore, associate political science professor of Millsaps College in Jackson.

“It will be difficult for readers to make predictions about what this means for the 2000 election cycle,” Moore said. “It seems very clear to me that Lieutenant Governor Musgrove will have a plurality of the popular vote -with an almost 10,000 vote lead – over the other three candidates. If the last precinct doesn’t get him over 50% of the popular vote, and indications are that it probably will not, then we’ll use our 1890 state constitution for the first time and ask the Legislature to decide the gubernatorial election. It’s interesting that we’ve never used that device. The two minor candidates split just over 1% of the popular vote between them and made for an extraordinarily close race.”

Mississippi schoolchildren will more than likely read about the 1999 elections, said Brad Morris, editor of MS Pol, a statewide political newsletter.

“This will be one for the history books, with a lot of ‘what-ifs’,” Morris said. “A lot of people expected the governor’s race to be close but I don’t think anybody – myself included – expected it to be so close that votes were still being counted the next day and there was still not a majority vote.”

When asked if Musgrove might win the deciding vote in the House of Representatives in January, Morris replied, “absolutely.”

“If it goes to the House and Musgrove has more popular vote than Parker, then Musgrove will not only have the votes in the House but also the moral authority to win and House members should go ahead and elect him,” Morris said. “The only event where he wouldn’t just walk away with it is if it were reversed and Parker had 10,000 votes more than Musgrove. Perhaps then, House members would make a case to elect him, but I’m not sure that would even happen since the House has a Democratic majority.”

Many business folks might argue that Musgrove took a step down in power by wanting to win the governorship, said Moore.

“That is, I think, undeniably the case,” he said. “The lieutenant governor, under our state constitutional system, has more formal powers affecting legislation than the governor does, by far. That said, the question then becomes this: how does the incumbent of that position use those constitutional advantages within the given Legislature with whatever the

Legislature’s partisan divisions are at this time in the given term and how will the relationship between the governor, who normally has the legislative agenda, and the lieutenant governor, work out?”

In the last eight years, divided government, where the executive branch was led by a member of one political party and the legislative branch was led by a member of the opposing political party, has not worked well, Moore said.

“We have gone past divided government so we should now have state government again all led by the same political party,” he said. “The governor, lieutenant governor and a majority of the Legislature are Democrats. The Democratic Party picked up five seats this election. Add to that Musgrove’s experience as lieutenant governor and previous two terms in the state senate, he obviously knows the difficulties and advantages of the position Tuck was elected to. I would suggest that there would be a basis for a great deal more inter-branch cooperation than we have in the prior eight years.”

Democrat Amy Tuck was “elected very comfortably” to lieutenant governor over Republican candidate Bill Hawks, Moore said.

Most business leaders contacted for this story were reluctant to discuss the state of the governor’s race. Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, said bylaws “do not allow any partisan political activity of any kind.”

“This is an issue-driven organization, so we are for the winner,” he said. “We will work with whomever.”

Bylaws also limit the Mississippi Manufacturers Association to legislative and judicial races, said Mark Leggett, director of government affairs for the MMA.

“We’ve had quite a few manufacturing plants close in the last couple of years,” Leggett said. “We’re still studying the legislation election results but our interest is in working with these folks and educating them about manufacturing, what the needs are in that area. We think we’ll be able to do that.”

Moore said the most interesting outcome in the Nov. 2 statewide elections was the upswing in voter turnout.

“The increased turnout was an antidote to recent elections in the 1990s,” Moore said. “Except for the 1992 presidential election, where the national level went up a little bit compared to the previous two or three elections, we’ve been on a long-term decline of voting turnout. It was a very good turnout this time, approaching 50% turnout of registered voters.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@msbusiness.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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