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Watching the Second District primary showdown

The off-season election primary is coming up in a few weeks and those of us living in the Second District are all in a dither.

Congressman Bennie Thompson has become a fixture in Washington and is being seriously challenged by a new player on the field.

Well, Chuck Espy is not all that new. He is a member of the Legislature and comes from a well-respected political family up Clarksdale way. However, he is new to national politics, running for the seat once held by his uncle, Mike Espy. And, Congressman Thompson is worried.

The layout of the district is a comedy of gerrymandering. It lies like an ugly serpent from Memphis to Natchez and was designed solely to insure that its representative, and even challengers to the incumbent, would be African-American.

That strategy has worked.

For the last two elections, Republican Clinton LeSueur challenged Thompson. At first, the incumbent treated the challenger like an irritating fly to be brushed aside with little fanfare. After LeSueur won 45% of the vote he was taken more seriously. Not everyone in the Second District is as pleased with Congressman Thompson as he is with himself.

Now we come to a new type of challenge. While challenger LeSueur was a Republican, Espy is a Democrat with strong credentials. While many in the district just couldn’t pull the lever for a Republican, regardless of race, they now have a viable democratic choice if they wish to unseat Thompson.

Why is Thompson unpopular with so many folks? Congressman Thompson seems to be a holdover from a bygone era. He hasn’t realized times have changed. These days, negotiation trumps confrontation. From closely observing him over the years it appears to me that perhaps he’s a little too secure in his office — arrogant? — and has spent too much time in Washington.

According to press releases he is seething with anger that white Republicans — like me! — and moderate black Democrats are going to stage a palace revolt in the primary and vote for Espy. I think he’s right. Whether there will be enough support to unseat the long-time congressman remains to be seen. Once elected to Congress, it’s more or less a lifetime appointment.

Years ago, there was a story about a lady who was watching her son’s high school band march in a parade. Her son was clearly out of step. Turning to a fellow bystander, the lady was heard to say, “Everyone’s out of step by my son John.” There’s a corollary here between Congressman Thompson’s voting record and the rest of Mississippi’s representatives.

When I read the weekly congressional voting summary, I consistently see that four of our congressmen will vote yes and Thompson will vote no. Or, vice versa. And, it’s not a political party thing since one of the other congressmen is a Democrat. Could it be that everybody except the Second District representative is wrong about what’s best for Mississippi?

Maybe, but I doubt it.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary in June will face Tchula Mayor Yvonne Brown in the general election. Unlike some of our elected representatives, Mayor Brown has brought significant change and improvement to her town of Tchula. She is a Republican, is extremely personable and effective and will be a formidable opponent to the Democratic nominee.

June 6th is coming fast. We’ll see what happens soon.

Thought for the Moment

You don’t do the right thing because of the consequences. If you’re wise, you do it regardless of the consequences. —activist and politician Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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