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Nash, Taggart predict state and presidential elections

November 5th, 2012 No comments

Political analysts Andy Taggart and Jere Nash did not agree on many things at Monday’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

A victory by Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. against state Rep. Earle Banks was one. Waller and Banks are running for a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court out of the state’s central district.

Nash, a Democratic campaign consultant, said what’s most caught his attention about the race is the relative lack of involvement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Aside from a few radio spots, the Chamber is staying out of the Banks-Waller race. That duplicates the organization’s approach from 2008, when current supreme court justice Jim Kitchens defeated then-chief justice Jim Smith in what was considered an upset.

That, and the fact that Pres. Barack Obama won the district by 23,000 votes in 2008, is why Nash thinks there is a chance Banks unseats Waller. “It’s unlikely, but it’s possible,” Nash said.

Taggart, a Madison attorney who served as former Gov. Kirk Fordice’s chief of staff, was unconvinced there was much possibility of an upset by Banks, who has been endorsed by the state Democratic party in the nonpartisan race. Taggart cited the Waller family’s history in Democratic politics and Waller’s likeable demeanor as reasons he would be hard to beat.

Taggart would not offer a prediction about the northern district’s supreme court race – one of his sons is involved in Josiah Coleman’s campaign – but Nash said Coleman, an Oxford attorney, would most likely beat Batesville attorney Richard “Flip” Phillips. The two are running to replace retiring justice George Carlson.

Groups not affiliated with Coleman – including one associated with the Mississippi Business and Industry Political Education Committee (BIPEC) – have run ads that accuse Phillips of being under the control of the state’s plaintiffs’ lawyers.

It’s that influx of outside spending that Nash thinks will push Coleman to victory. Coleman has been endorsed by the state GOP; Phillips is being backed by state Democrats.

Nash and Taggart predicted their party’s candidate would win the presidential election. Taggart said Mitt Romney had to win swing states Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Ohio was not a must-get, but if Romney were to win it, that “would bring down the president’s entire firewall and would turn the election into a landslide for Romney,” Taggart said. Taggart cited poll numbers from independent voters in a number of swing states that showed the group felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. “That’s always good news for a challenger.”

Nash said Obama would win because the president’s campaign has done a better delivering and controlling its message – specifically, not allowing Romney make the election completely about the economy.

“And Romney has gotten only one lucky break, which was the Denver debate,” Nash said, referring to the first debate between the candidates in which Obama himself admitted he was outdone. “The Obama campaign has gotten several lucky breaks — Todd Akin, 47 percent, Hurricane Sandy and Chris Christie.”

 

Banks, Waller promise fair, efficient Miss. Supreme Court

October 1st, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Supreme Court District 1 Candidates Bill Waller Jr. and Rep. Earle Banks touted different kinds of experience Monday as they made their case to about 50 people at a Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

Waller, the incumbent who serves as the court’s chief justice, said the entire court system has progressed since he was first elected to the bench in 1996.

The last seven circuit court districts that did not originally offer drug courts have either started them or are in the process of doing so, he said. Drug courts serve as an alternative sentencing for those charged with drug crimes. It does not require incarceration but subjects offenders to intense monitoring and drug screening.

Waller said the savings from those 3,000 people being in drug court instead of behind bars amounts to $38 million annually.

“But that’s not the reason to have it,” he said. “The reason to have it is the 350 graduates we have this year have a 70 percent success rate, of not going to prison.” The recidivism rate for those who follow the traditional path of incarceration and release is 70 percent, Waller said.

Expanding the Mississippi Electronic Courts pilot program and setting in place court user-funded pay raises for trial and appellate judges and district attorneys were things Waller listed as improving the efficiency and independence of the state’s courts.

Banks said his 40 years operating a funeral home in Jackson and 20 years as a state representative are proof that he’s a community –minded servant.

“It’s an honor to serve my neighbor,” Banks said.

Banks spent the majority of his speech promising to arrive at the supreme court with fairness and impartiality. “And I will follow the law and be open-minded on every issue, even if it’s one I either supported or opposed as a member of the Legislature.”

Banks also sang the praises of the state’s drug court system. He said he helped fellow Hinds County Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, usher the bills establishing the program through the steps needed for passage. “That kind of legislative experience is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

If there was any tension between the two, it was when Banks pointed out that his campaign has not taken any money from political action committees. “That’s something we won’t do,” Banks said. “This campaign is about representing people.” Banks said his campaigns for election to the Legislature had accepted PAC money.

Waller has gotten endorsements and the requisite financial contributions from PACs representing almost every business group and trade organization in Mississippi, and from some outside the state.

Waller said that although he has not restricted such donations, he does not know who has or has not given them to his campaign. Keeping track of donors is something he leaves to campaign staff, he said.

“As long as we have elections, you’ve got to pay for the elections and contributions is how you do it.”

Waller has been endorsed by the state Republican Party. Banks, who serves as a Democrat in the House, has been endorsed by the state Democratic Party. Banks called the notion of political parties endorsing candidates in nonpartisan judicial elections “a farce. It is what it is, and it’s the law.”

“I think it’s a fact of life,” Waller said. “We’re in the vote-getting business.”