Pundits ponder possibilities

by

Published: August 18,2003

Now that the results of the primaries have set the stage for the general election, with the exception of a couple of matchups set for the August 26th runoff, will the winners of the state’s top two elected posts — and even legislators — be determined by who has more money: trial lawyers or doctors?

“I don’t know if I would put it to that, though it does seem the tort reform issue may help decide the race,” said Marty Wiseman, political science professor and director of the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University.

“Directly, certainly the amount of money in the governor’s race is staggering,” he said. “I assumed when Haley Barbour’s folks said they were going to raise $10 million that probably Musgrove would try to keep pace with $5.5 (million) to $6 million. You gotta give nods to Musgrove for the trial lawyer money coming in. We’ll certainly know more as the race goes along, post-mortem anyway.”

In the primary election Aug. 5, Republican contender Haley Barbour, 55, a Yazoo City native and University of Mississippi alum, easily knocked off Jackson trial lawyer Mitch Tyner by 83%. With 99% of the vote counted, Barbour received 146,481 votes.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, 47, a Democrat from Batesville and fellow Ole Miss graduate, cleaned the slate of lesser-known opponents Gilbert Fountain, Elder McClendon, Katie Perrone and Catherine Starr by 77%. Musgrove received 386,883 votes.

Barbour and Musgrove will face Green Party candidate Sherman Lee Dillon and Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara in the Nov. 4 general election.

“Haley Barbour’s got a lot of favors out there,” said Wiseman. “He’s advised a lot of people who have been successful politically, and calling in those favors is going to be a big help, like when the President comes in September. Haley will raise over a million dollars just on that day. That’s pretty stout.”

Initially, it seemed that Mississippi trial lawyers would probably hold out on giving more money to Musgrove until closer to the general election “and make him squirm a little bit for calling a special session on tort reform and medical malpractice,” said Wiseman, “but they got concerned and decided to be forthcoming. They’re a difference-maker in his money right now.”

Mississippi made history twice during the primaries. On Nov. 4, voters will determine which female candidate for lieutenant governor — incumbent Amy Tuck or Democratic contender Barbara Blackmon — will control the state senate.

Tuck, 40, of Maben, who switched from the Democratic to Republican party last year, was unopposed in the primaries. She will face Blackmon, 47, a trial lawyer and three-term state senator from Canton, in the general elections. Blackmon won 54% of the vote over challengers Jim Roberts and Troy Brown. She received 277,614 votes.

If Blackmon or state treasurer hopeful Gary Anderson wins in November, they would become the first African-Americans elected to statewide office since reconstruction.

“This election was history-making with two African-Americans advancing in statewide elections,” said Joe Parker, political science professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. “One thing to look at is the extent to which Blackmon got white votes, which she surely must have. The extent to which it carries through in November is the big question as to whether she’s electable. It’s also interesting that you have two females taking party nominations for lieutenant governor.”

Wiseman said he and Les McLemore, chair of the African-American Studies Department at Jackson State University and Jackson city councilman, were debating last week the most intriguing race to watch: governor or lieutenant governor?

“You’ve got two people in the lieutenant governor’s race who have been closely associated in the Senate, but who have apparently developed a dislike for each other,” he said. “Blackmon supported Bill Hawks across-the-line as a Republican in the last race, and of course, filed suit against Amy Tuck on procedural matters within the Senate, so you’ve got two people who are not going to be looking for ways to be nice to each other during the campaign.”

After the primaries, Barbour publicly discussed running with Tuck on a Republican ticket against Musgrove and Blackmon on the Democratic ticket.

“There are big differences between the Barbour-Tuck ticket and the Musgrove-Blackmon ticket on issues,” said Barbour. “We’re going to have an election in the fall that’s a conservative, Republican ticket that is pro-job creation, pro-business, pro-tort reform, pro-law enforcement against a liberal Democratic ticket. And we’re going to emphasize issues so that people will be motivated to go to the polls.”

The fact that Barbour and Tuck are a duo cuts a new swath, said Parker.

“It will be interesting to see if Musgrove embraces Blackmon for the race, and if Blackmon wants to be embraced,” said Parker.

When asked if the governor would share a ticket with Blackmon, his spokesman Andrew Poag sidestepped the issue by responding: “Gov. Musgrove has spent the last 16 years putting Mississippi first. He is working across state and party lines to improve our schools, create good jobs and bring economic opportunity to all of our citizens. The governor is working with everyone who will put Mississippi first by improving our schools and bringing good jobs to our state.”

The tradition in Mississippi politics is that candidates don’t team up with each other, said Parker.

“I thought that maybe Fordice and Briggs would have done it in 1991 or 1995, given that they were the first serious case where a Republican could win both,” he said. “However, they decided to run separately from each other.”

Blackmon’s campaign should guarantee a heavy black turnout for the November election, said Parker.

“Early on, Barbour has been trying to get 15% to 20% of the black vote, which would be good for a Republican, but emphasizing conservative v. liberal may change that,” he said.

“Primary voting proved once again that incumbents are difficult to defeat,” said Richard D. Wilcox, president of BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee). “Incumbents who lost caused their own defeat by not meeting the expectations of their voters for the past four years.”

A fight over tort law reforms continues as business forces battle trial lawyer-supported candidates, said Wilcox.

“Sen. Tommy Robertson (R-Moss Point) and Rep. Cecil Brown (D-Jackson) were key trial lawyers targets who, with backing from business and professionals, were re-elected,” he said. “Also, business and medical forces took Grenada doctor Sid Bondurant to a legislative seat by beating Rep. Donny Ryals (D-Grenada) who had trial lawyer financing.”

Brown spent more than $80,000 to defend the District 66 seat against fellow Democratic candidate and trial lawyer-backed Chris Klotz of Jackson.

Trial lawyers were successful in pushing back challengers of friends such as Rep. Jamie Franks (D-Mooreville), Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston) and Rep. Bo Eaton (D-Taylorsville), said Wilcox.

“Poor management of tax money and failure to seriously address tort law reform are the two issues which have angered voters with incumbent legislators,” said Wilcox. “Business and professional people continue to demonstrate greater involvement in elections by communicating with employees and expressing publicly who helps and hurts Mississippi jobs. They realize the true importance of these elections.”

Run-off races, others to watch

Gary Anderson, governor-appointed state financial officer who garnered 40% of the vote for
state treasurer, will face Rob Smith, who received 35% of the vote, for the Democratic spot on the ballot for state treasurer. Tate Reeves, who won 49% of the vote, will face Wayne Burkes, who received 31% of the vote, for the Republican slot on the ticket for state

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