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BOBBY HARRISON: State’s conservatism nothing new

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

Legislative Republicans, especially House Speaker Philip Gunn, often talk about their accomplishments during the current  four-year tenure that is quickly coming to an end.

“Since Republicans gained control,” they often say as they tout their record as any good politician would do.

It is true that Republicans gained a majority in the Mississippi House four years ago for the first time since the 1800s. And to their credit, they were able to increase that majority in last week’s elections.

But in truth, Republicans have been in control of Mississippi for a long time — one could argue for a generation now.

After all, counting the results of last Tuesday’s elections, Republicans will have controlled the Governor’s Mansion six of the last seven four-year terms. And the lieutenant governor, the presiding officer in the Senate, will have been a Republican five of the last seven terms.

Republicans have been running the show for a long time. It did not start when Gunn was sworn in as speaker in January 2012.

While Republicans have been in charge for multiple years, the truth is that a particular political philosophy has dominated Mississippi politics for much longer.

Whether the politicians calling the shots in Mississippi had an R or a D associated with their name might have changed, but what is not different is the conservative philosophy of the people in charge of the apparatus of state government.

Conservatism is the controlling philosophy now. It was 100 years ago and was nearly every decade since then.

The Democratic Party that came to power after the Republicans’ Reconstruction effort after the Civil War had a populist streak, but was conservative on social issues and as time progressed often clashed with the national Democratic Party.

By 1964, Mississippians who would not think of voting for a Republican for governor or for the Legislature were voting for conservative Republican Barry Goldwater for president.

It was conservative Mississippi  Democrats who cursed the federal  government and were distrustful of it.

It was Democratic politicians who refused at first to participate in the federal Medicaid program that was passed in the mid 1960s to provide health insurance to certain segments of the poor. Finally, in 1969 in a special session that spanned the entire summer and into the fall, then-Democratic Gov. John Bell Williams convinced the Legislature to opt into the Medicaid program.

Mississippi was the next to last state to do so. And interestingly, Williams was a member of the U.S. House before being elected governor and voted against the Medicaid program and railed about the overreach of the federal government.

Sound familiar?

While other states are expanding Medicaid, as is now allowed by federall law, to cover the working poor, Mississippi remains among a group of Southern states adamantly opposed to expansion.

It was not that long ago that Rep. Jeff Smith R-Columbus, who chairs the powerful and influential Ways and Means Committee, filed legislation that said state leaders  had the right to not abide by federal laws they believed were unconstitutional. And if the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on any questionable law was opposed by state leaders on constitutional grounds “then the people’s interest shall be maintained and retained through state referendum.”

What would the referendum be – whether to secede?

Smith is chair of perhaps the most important committee in the House and came within two votes of being speaker in 2008

Mississippi doesn’t change fast. It has evolved from Democrat to Republican. But it is still a proud conservative state with conservative leaders just as there have been for decades with a few notable exceptions.

» Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau reporter in Jackson. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or (601) 946-9931. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyHarrison9.

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