Archive for November 2008

John Bell, Ol’ Ross, and Mr. Bill

November 29, 2008

Bill Minor’s <a href=”″>column of November 28</a> notes the U. S. Senate Democratic caucus’s decision not to strip Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman of his committee chairmanship for backing the Republican John McCain for president.  Mr. Bill then takes us on another stroll down political memory lane.

<em>”Back in the 1964 presidential race, Mississippi Rep. John Bell Williams, a hard-line segregationist, supported Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona against President Lyndon B. Johnson…”</em>

John Bell, who also campaigned for Goldwater in other Southern states, headlined a rally for the Arizonan at the Mississippi Coliseum.  I consider Williams the best Mississippi political orator of my lifetime, and I watched on live TV as he stood before the overflow crowd and thundered, “In my heart I know he’s right!”[1]  One of only six states carried by Goldwater, the Magnolia State voted 87.1 percent for him.

<em>”The House Democratic Caucus not only stripped Williams of his committee chairmanship, but wiped out his seniority…”</em>

<em>”What did Williams do? Rather than switch to the Republican Party, he resigned his seat and returned to Mississippi to run for governor in the 1967 Democratic Primary.”</em>

John Bell lost 18 years’ seniority.  I believe that the man from Raymond, in 1964, was already looking toward the 1967 governor’s race.  Mr. Bill’s memory is a little faulty here, as John Bell did not resign his seat until after he had been elected governor.  He was re-elected to Congress in 1966, and had he lost the governor’s race, he would have kept his House seat.

In the February 1968 special election to fill John Bell’s House seat, Charles Evers of Fayette,  field secretary of the state NAACP, led the first round but lost the March runoff to Charlie Griffin of Utica, who had been John Bell’s administrative assistant.  Both Evers and Griffin were Democrats.

<em>”In what is regarded as Mississippi’s last openly racist gubernatorial election Williams defeated William Winter for the Democratic nomination.”</em>

John Bell was definitely our last segregationist governor, but I don’t remember him openly injecting race into the 1967 campaign.  Winter, then the state treasurer, felt compelled to say that he had “always defended” segregation and to note that his ancestor had ridden in the Civil War with General Nathan Bedford Forrest, from whom Winter had gotten his middle name.

The rabid segregationist in the race was Jimmy Swan, a Hattiesburg radio station owner, who promised a system of “free, white, private, segregated schools.”  Since Swan was cutting into former governor Ross Barnett’s base, Barnett ran radio ads in south Mississippi in which he said, “If you want private schools, Ross Barnett will see that you get them.”  Swan nonetheless finished a strong third in the Democratic primary and Barnett a distant fourth.

<em>”One of the most hilarious scenes ever in Mississippi politics came during the first primary between… Williams and former Gov. Ross Barnett over the ‘tapes.’ Everyone knew the ‘tapes’ meant recorded conversations between Barnett and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and his brother, President John F. Kennedy, preceding the [1962] Ole Miss crisis over the admission of James Meredith.”</em>

<em>”In a finger-shaking, vilification-tossing clash – poetically, at a White Citizens Council forum – Williams discombobulated Barnett by asking him about ‘deals and underhanded agreements’ he made with the Kennedys over admitting Meredith. Barnett tells Williams: ‘bring out your tape, if you’ve got one; bring it out and play it.'”</em>

I don’t recall who sponsored it, but there was a forum held at the Masonic Temple on Capitol Street, just west of downtown Jackson.  John Bell mentioned “tapes” and “deals” between Governor Barnett and the Kennedys.  When Barnett spoke, he angrily shook his finger at Williams and said, “Ross Barnett made no deals!  You got to either put up or shut up!”  John Bell was the one who appeared to be chastened by this exchange.  When William Winter’s turn came, he joked that he didn’t know what  the temperature was in the audience, “but it’s pretty hot up here.”  (Years later, the tapes of the <a href=””>Barnett-Kennedy phone conversations</a> were made public.  They revealed Barnett to be two-faced and largely concerned with maintaining his image as a staunch segregationist.)

It’s also worth noting that that 1967 race included one former governor, Barnett, and three future governors– Williams, Winter, and Bill Waller Sr., the Hinds County district attorney, who finished fifth in the Democratic primary.

<em>”The Williams governorship became one of the surliest the state has ever experienced…”</em>

John Bell banned Bill Minor from his press conferences, so there was no love lost between the two of them.

<em>”… [Governor Williams’s] refusal to appoint blacks to county draft boards…”</em>

Waller, who succeeded John Bell in 1972, integrated the state highway patrol and appointed the first blacks to state agencies in modern times.  Waller also eliminated the notorious state Sovereignty Commission by vetoing its funding. 

<em>”Williams’ best time came after Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast in August, 1969… .  … After his heroic post-Camille stand, Williams virtually disappeared from public view.”</em>

This is the first time I’ve known Mr. Bill to say anything positive about John Bell.  Williams appeared on TV after the killing of several students in the riots at Jackson State University in May 1970; he defended the police.  Charles Evers rebutted what he had said, pointing out that Governor Williams would soon be gone from office.

John Bell supported his former lieutenant governor, the Democrat Charles Sullivan of Clarksdale, in the 1978 race to succeed U. S. senator Jim Eastland, which was ultimately won by Republican congressman Thad Cochran.  Williams also attended a number of the Jackson meetings held for Ronald Reagan’s presidential candidacy in 1980; he addressed at least one of them.  I remember seeing him in one of the hallways of the Coliseum Ramada Inn, fielding questions from several reporters.

Williams died of a heart attack in 1983 at age 64.


[1] Goldwater’s campaign slogan was, “In your heart you know he’s right.”  The Democrats sometimes retorted, “But in your guts you know he’s nuts.”


Will It Be Senator Haley Barbour?

November 22, 2008

Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s senior U. S. senator, was elected to a sixth six-year term on November 4.  The Republican Haley Barbour’s second term as governor will end in January, 2012; the state constitution places a lifetime two-term limit on the governor.

It was suggested on another website that the Republican Cochran might resign while Barbour is still governor, and that Barbour will engineer his own appointment to the Senate.  In other states where this has been done, it has usually backfired.  The voters don’t like it, and they take out their anger on the appointed senator at the next election.  Barbour knows this, and I believe that he’s much too shrewd to attempt such a shenanigan (besides, there is no evidence that Cochran does not intend to serve out his full term).

The Republican Trent Lott was Mississippi’s first U. S. senator in modern times to resign before the close of his term, if not the first in history.  This happened at the end of last year, and Barbour appointed GOP Congressman Roger Wicker to succeed Lott.  On November 4, Wicker was elected to serve the remaining four years of the Senate term.


Our Tennessee neighbors, in contrast, have a tradition of naming caretakers to fill vacancies in the U. S. Senate.  This occurred most recently after Senator Al Gore was elected vice president in 1992.  Governor Ned Ray McWherter appointed a Democratic party stalwart to serve until 1994, when the Republican Fred Thompson was elected to serve the remaining two years on the Senate term.  Thompson was then elected to a full six-year term in 1996.

Senator Estes Kefauver’s sudden death in 1963 at age 60 set off a memorable chain of events in the Volunteer State.  Kefauver had sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, losing both times to Adlai Stevenson of Illinois.  Rather than naming his running mate in 1956, Stevenson left the choice to the convention delegates.  Kefauver narrowly won a spirited contest with a young senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy, and the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket went on to lose in a landslide to President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon.

The keynote address at that 1956 Democratic convention was delivered by Tennessee’s 36-year-old governor, Frank Clement (“How long, America, O how long”).  Clement had first won a two-year term as governor in 1952.  He was re-elected in 1954, after the term was changed to four years, and the governor was no longer allowed to succeed himself.  For a time, Clement and Buford Ellington– a native of Holmes County, Mississippi– played “musical chairs” with the governorship.  The Democrat Ellington was elected in 1958, Clement won again in 1962, and the voters again chose Ellington in 1966 (another former Mississippian, Winfield Dunn, a Meridian native, was elected to succeed Ellington in 1970.  Dunn, a Memphis dentist, was Tennessee’s first Republican governor elected since 1920 and only the third in the 20th century).

Following Senator Kefauver’s death in 1963, Governor Clement appointed a caretaker to serve until the 1964 elections.  Midway through his term as governor, Clement entered that 1964 race for the two years left on the Senate term; however, he lost the Democratic primary to Ross Bass, a liberal congressman who went on to defeat the Republican Howard Baker in the general election.

In the 1966 race for the full six-year term, Clement beat Senator Bass in a bitter rematch in the Democratic primary.  But Clement then lost the general election to the Republican Baker.

Clement was rumored to be preparing to run again for governor when he was killed in a car crash on a rainy night in late 1969.  He was 49 years old.

Getting back to Governor Haley Barbour:  I had thought that he might be a candidate  for president in 2012.  His recent proposals for tax increases, however, will likely hurt him if he does run.

Bryant May Run For Governor

November 22, 2008

Lieutenant governor Phil Bryant says that he intends to run for governor at some future time, possibly 2011.  A Republican from Rankin County, Bryant was a state legislator in 1996 when Governor Kirk Fordice appointed him state auditor following the resignation of the Democrat Steve Patterson.  Bryant was subsequently elected to full terms as auditor in 1999 and 2003, and he, of course, was elected lieutenant governor last year.

Bryant <a href=””>added to his campaign war chest</a> on Thursday with a $250-per-couple fund-raiser in Biloxi on the Gulf Coast.

Governor Haley Barbour, an ally of Bryant’s, will be ineligible to run again in 2011 because of term limits.  It would seem to make more sense for Bryant to run for governor in 2011 than to run for re-election as lieutenant governor.  There won’t be an incumbent governor running in 2011, and Bryant would likely have to face a sitting governor if he waited until 2015, when he would be term-limited as lieutenant governor.

Among the Democrats, second-term attorney general Jim Hood has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2011.  Another possibility is former governor Ronnie Musgrove, who just lost the hotly-contested race with the Republican Roger Wicker for U. S. senator.  And– who knows?– maybe ex-attorney general Mike Moore, the scourge of “big tobacco,” will emerge from the mothballs and toss his hat into the ring.

A Democrat who has been in mothballs even longer than Moore is former governor Ray Mabus, an enthusiastic campaigner for Barack Obama in the recent presidential race.  Mabus will probably be offered a position by the president-elect, but maybe he’ll have a hankering to try again for the governor’s mansion by 2011.

While sitting lieutenant governors in some states often get elected governor, that has historically been a high hurdle in Mississippi politics.  Theodore G. Bilbo and Lee Maurice Russell did it in 1915 and 1919, respectively.  The next to accomplish this feat was Paul Johnson Jr. in 1963, and Ronnie Musgrove in 1999 was the most recent.

In the 20th century, numerous of the Magnolia State’s incumbent lieutenant governors tried and failed to be elected governor.

Two Runoffs In Georgia

November 21, 2008

Georgia, the only state that has party primaries AND runoff general elections, will have two runoffs on December 2, one for public service commissioner and the other for U. S. senator.  Both runoffs were forced by the presence of Libertarian candidates in those races.

The Peach State has an unusual setup for electing its public service commissioners.  The state is divided into five PSC districts, and a candidate must live in the district that he seeks to represent.  However, all PSC candidates run statewide; hence it’s possible for a candidate to be elected commissioner despite losing his home district.

The Libertarian who finished third has <a href=””>endorsed the Democrat</a> over the Republican in the PSC runoff.

Allen Buckley, the Libertarian who got enough votes for U. S. senator to <a href=””>force a runoff,</a> has not yet endorsed either the Republican incumbent, Saxby Chambliss, or the Democrat Jim Martin (B. J. “Bill” Clinton– <b>the only elected president ever to be impeached</b>– recently campaigned for Martin).  Chambliss has caught flak for his “yes” vote on the bailout bill.

Georgia’s runoff provision is a by-product of the 1966 election of Lester Maddox as governor.  The Republican Bo Callaway, who had been elected to Congress on Barry Goldwater’s presidential coat-tails in 1964, got more popular votes than Maddox.  However, former governor (1943-1947) Ellis Arnall, who had lost the Democratic runoff to Maddox, got enough write-in votes to deny either candidate 50-plus percent.  Georgia law then specified that, in that situation, the race be decided by the state House of Representatives, and the heavily Democratic House elected Maddox.

The third-place finisher in that 1966 Democratic primary, incidentally, was a state senator named Jimmy Carter.

Thanks to <a href=””>Ballot Access News</a> for the posts.

Prophylactics For Incumbents

November 18, 2008

I have had numerous exchanges on websites with Jim Riley, who is a strong advocate of a Louisiana-style “top two” system, popularly called the “open primary.”  On this post at <a href=”″>Ballot Access News</a>, Jim comments on a pre-filed bill in the Texas legislature that would make the candidate filing deadlines earlier.  He also criticizes political parties for wanting to officially nominate candidates, which his beloved “top two” prevents.  Here is my response to his comment (the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to be sure, covers Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas):

There are lots of precedents for the unconstitutionality of an early April filing deadline for independent candidates. Mississippi has a January filing deadline for independents for Congress– the same as for party candidates.

A lawsuit against such early deadlines for independents in Texas and Mississippi would have a good chance of winning in the 5th Circuit, although it would likely first lose in district court. The problem is locating a plaintiff– or a financial backer– who is willing to cover the expenses of getting to the 5th Circuit (I have found a qualified plaintiff and an election law attorney who would take the case, but the potential plaintiff doesn’t have the necessary bucks).

I oppose early filing deadlines, which are little more than prophylactics for incumbents.

It’s interesting that you want to hamper political parties in performing their basic function of nominating candidates. A party, of course, has a First Amendment right to nominate/endorse candidates, but the state is not required to recognize those nominations/endorsements.

That’s one of the problems with your cherished “top two”/”open primary”: the state does not recognize party nominations in that system. In Louisiana, for example, this has led– more than once– to the national Republican Party and the state Republicans  backing opposing candidates in the same election.

State-By-State Presidential Vote

November 14, 2008

The Denver Post has the presidential vote for all the states listed on <a href=””>one page.</a>  With a few exceptions– which are listed as “None”– the independents and minor party candidates are also included.

The recipient of Missouri’s 11 electoral votes has not yet been determined.  The unofficial final tally has McCain leading Obama by less than 5,000 votes.  Notably, Missouri is a bellwether state, having voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1904, except for 1956, when it supported the Democrat Adlai Stevenson over President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican.

You’ll see that the independent Ralph Nader finished third in Mississippi.  Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party ran fourth, edging the Libertarian Bob Barr by just 22 votes.

You’ll also note that “None” is listed as running third in Louisiana.  That refers to Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, whose running mate was Barry Goldwater Jr., a former California congressman.  The Paul-Goldwater ticket was labeled as the Taxpayers Party on the Bayou State’s ballot.

“None” is also third in Montana, far ahead of Nader.  That’s also Ron Paul, who was on that state’s ballot as the nominee of the Constitution Party, which has disaffiliated from the national Constitution Party.  Paul’s running mate there was Michael Peroutka of Maryland, the national CP’s 2004 presidential nominee.

Thanks to <a href=””>Ballot Access News</a> for the link.

Is Louisiana’s “Open Primary” A French Idea?

November 14, 2008

<em>A commenter at</em> <a href=””>Ballot Access News</a> <em>named “Deemer from California” strongly implied that Louisiana adopted its “open primary” system as a result of the state’s French heritage.  Here is my response to him:</em>

Louisiana’s adoption of its “top two” (popularly called the “open primary”)[1] had nothing to do with its French background. Louisiana’s “open primary” is an extension of the old one-party (truly NO-PARTY) system, in which elections were decided in the Democratic primary, with a Democratic runoff if necessary.

When Southern Republicans began running a few candidates in the 1960s, they almost never had primary opposition, so they only had to run in the general election– whereas a Democrat had the aggravation and expense of both a primary and a runoff primary campaign prior to the general election. The Democrats naturally resented the fact that the Republican only had to campaign in the fall, and the Democrats wanted to force the Republican to run in the same election with the Democrats– hence, the push for the “open primary” (apparently, the “open primary” proponents assumed that there would never be more than one Republican running for the same office).

Between 1966 and 1979, the Mississippi legislature enacted the “top two” (aka “open primary”) five different times, but its implementation was blocked each time– thank God.

Meanwhile, Louisiana began using the “open primary” for its state and local elections in 1975; it also used it for its congressional elections from 1978 through 2006.

The “top two”/”open primary” is certainly not a new idea. California voters rejected it for state offices in 1915 and for state AND congressional offices in November 2004. North Dakota voters rejected it in the early 1920s, while Oregon voters last week defeated a similar proposal for their congressional, state, and local elections.

<a href=””>Click here</a> for a post that includes Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s history with the “open primary.”


[1]  All candidates, including independents, are listed on a single ballot, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, progress to the runoff.