The chairs of Mississippi’s two major political parties on Monday assessed how the state’s political dynamic got to where it is, and how they intend either to keep it that way or turn the tables.
Joe Nosef and Rickey Cole spoke to a crowd of about 70 people at Monday’s meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.
“One thing we’re not going to do is sit around and pat ourselves on the back,” said Nosef, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party. Nosef and the GOP have had a good run recently, gaining control of each chamber of the Legislature last year and welcoming more than 50 party switchers the past few years. To go with that, seven of Mississippi’s eight statewide elected officials are Republicans, and the party holds a majority on the Mississippi Transportation Commission and the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
Couple that with the party switchers – the vast majority of whom were local officials, where Democrats held sway for decades – and Mississippi has cemented itself as a Republican stronghold.
The reason for that, Nosef said, is the national Democratic party has moved so far left that its policies have left no room for conservatives. “There’s a saying that’s developed in Mississippi, and I believe it’s true and I say it with no rancor whatsoever, that here you can either be a conservative or a Democrat,” Nosef said.
Democratic chairman Cole said there were two reasons Democrats have lost power and Republicans have gained it.
“The first is, Haley Barbour came home and brought Washington politics to Mississippi,” he said. “And the second is that we were asleep at the wheel. We didn’t have the organization and we’ve been looking for that knight in shining armor to ride in and save us. We were looking for the Democrat Haley Barbour and we’ve yet to find him. Now we have the hard work of a generation – not just an election cycle – to create a viable political party.” Cole pointed to Attorney General Jim Hood, the lone statewide elected Democrat who’s serving his third term, and the defeat of the Personhood Amendment last fall as evidence that Mississippi is not an automatically red state.
A good start to ensuring that becomes the case is to enact good policy, Nosef said. “We have to govern right,” he said. He pointed to this past legislative session’s passage of the Sunshine Act and medical industry incentives as examples of that.