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Runoffs in Georgia and Other States

December 5, 2008

On December 2, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss won Georgia’s runoff for U. S. senator over the Democrat Jim Martin.  There was also a runoff for one of the five public service commission posts, which was won by the Republican despite his Democratic opponent being endorsed by the Libertarian also-ran.  The turnout on December 2 was a little over half of what it was on November 4.

Georgia is the only state that has runoff general elections in addition to party primaries.  Today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had <a href=”http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/stories/2008/12/05/georgia_runoff_law.html”>a piece</a> calling for the abolition of the runoff general election.

<em>”The runoff law was adopted in Georgia and other states throughout the South around the time of the Voting Rights Act, when white politicians feared blacks would rally behind a single candidate…”</em>

No other Southern state has had runoff general elections, and the adoption of Georgia’s provision had nothing to do with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  It is instead a by-product of the 1966 election of the Democrat Lester Maddox as governor, when Republican congressman Bo Callaway got more votes than Maddox but less then 50 percent.  Georgia law then specified that, in that circumstance, the House of Representatives would decide the race, and the heavily Democratic House elected Maddox.

Circa 1993, Georgia’s legislature lowered the threshold for avoiding a runoff general election from 50-plus percent to 45 percent.

<em>”That 45 percent threshold stood until Republicans gained control of the General Assembly in 2004 and pushed it back to a required majority of 50 percent plus one.”</em>

<em>”All but eight states decide elections based simply on which candidate gets the most votes.”</em>

The article is evidently referring here to the runoff (or second) primary.  Mississippi was the first to adopt this device, and some eleven states now use it, all of them in the South except for Kentucky and Oklahoma.  In the early 1900s, after states began requiring parties to hold primaries, almost all elections in the South were decided in the Democratic primary; thus a second primary was needed to ensure that no one was elected with a small plurality of the vote.

<em>”There may be valid reasons for holding on to a runoff system in local elections, especially those that are nonpartisan and tend to attract more crowded fields.”</em>

It sounds like at least part of Georgia’s localities use nonpartisan elections, in which there are no party primaries, and all candidates run in the same election (these are popularly called “open primaries” in Mississippi).  In such elections, it’s a good idea to have runoffs when no candidate gets 50-plus percent in the first round.

The Mississippi Constitution, ratified in 1890, says that, in order to be elected to a statewide office, a candidate must (1) get 50-plus percent of the vote, AND (2) carry at least 62 of the 122 districts in the state House of Representatives.  Otherwise, the House chooses between the top two vote-getters the following January.

This provision was adopted mainly to prevent blacks from getting elected.  Ironically, most blacks in the legislature opposed the last bill that would have abolished the provision.

The only other state with a similar requirement is Vermont.  When no candidate for a statewide office gets 50-plus percent, the decision is made by a joint session of both houses of the legislature.

Even in the states which do not mandate 50-plus percent for winning a general election, most officials are indeed elected with more than 50 percent.

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Another Mayor Johnson for Jackson

December 4, 2008

I don’t know Daren Bourns, but I can tell from reading his blog posts that he and I are on the same wave length.  Today The Clarion-Ledger ran <a href=”http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=communityblog&plckController=Blog&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&plckPostId=Blog%3ad744e5b6-64e7-44e4-9d20-1d6ee0df82c9Post%3af702f1f5-65cb-4c2a-aecb-ae12f47d0b24&sid=sitelife.clarionledger.com”>his post</a> handicapping next year’s race for mayor of Jackson (one thing I noticed was that the paper is quite liberal in changing what he writes when transferring it to the print edition).  Bourns commends former police Chief Robert Johnson, a possible mayoral candidate. 

I am also an admirer of Robert Johnson’s.  The turning point for me with incumbent Mayor Frank Melton was when he attacked Johnson and blamed him for the current crime problem in the capital city.

<em>Former Police Chief Robert Johnson was the best police chief [amen!] among a [cabal] of 50 or so passing through a revolving door. … Based on the possible [mayoral] candidates so far, he is the best of the lot.</em>

You may recall that Robert Johnson was appointed chief by former Mayor Kane Ditto.  Harvey Johnson took office as mayor in July 1997, and it took him some nine months to determine that Robert Johnson was allegedly “not a team player” and to fire him.

<em>Many of us made a mistake three years ago [in voting for Frank Melton for mayor]. I will not make that mistake over three months from now.</em>

The party primaries will be held on the first Tuesday in May, and any necessary runoff primaries will occur two weeks later.  The general election will be on the first Tuesday in June.

<em>I would like [Robert] Johnson to tell me his views on certain issues…</em>

Bourns then lists nine issues that concern him.  One of these is the need for a “comprehensive plan for bolstering the police force.”  Who better for accomplishing this and fighting crime than a successful former police chief?

Robert Johnson is very articulate and has a lot of sincerity.  If he decides to take the plunge into elective politics, however, I suggest that he needs to start smiling more (but, PLEASE, not as much as Harvey Johnson!).

While we’re on the subject:  Why the hell do we need party primaries in municipal elections?  Is there a Republican method of fixing potholes?  Or a Democratic method of cleaning out ditches?  We could give the voters greater choice by changing to nonpartisan municipal elections, popularly called “open primaries.”  This would also save the taxpayers money and relieve the candidates of the aggravation and expense of– potentially– conducting three campaigns.

More Interplay Between Jim and Me

December 4, 2008

<em>Jim Riley and I had another exchange at <a href=”http://www.ballot-access.org/2008/11/24/washington-top-two-this-year-shown-to-be-good-for-status-quo/”>Ballot Access News</a>, a portion of which follows.  He is a strong advocate of a Louisiana-style “top two” (or “open primary”)[1], and we had been discussing the possibility of a state using the “top two” in the presidential election, which no state currently does.  We were talking about the role of the parties’ national conventions when he changed the subject somewhat.</em>

<strong>Jim</strong>:  I would eliminate public funding, and remove any purported right of those conventions to nominate candidates for State offices.

<strong>Steve</strong>:  I agree on the public funding, since it empowers government to take a citizen’s money by force and give it to a candidate whom that citizen does not support. I favor no limits on private contributions… and immediate disclosure on the Internet.

I assume you mean STATE conventions nominating for state offices. Among the few states that still use conventions, primaries are used in some circumstances and conventions in others. I sometimes think it was a mistake to replace conventions with party primaries, but primaries are here to stay, and the convention will continue to be a nominating option where the state approves it.

<em>[Jim comments that a state has no business financing the activities– such as primaries– of political parties, since they are private organizations.]</em>

<strong>Steve:</strong>:  In 1995, a federal appeals court said that, when the state requires parties to nominate by primary, the state must pay for those primaries (Republican Party v. Faulkner County, Arkansas). If a state stopped requiring and paying for primaries, the parties would be very unlikely to nominate by primary, because of the expense.  Then the voters would raise hell; so, as a practical matter, states will continue  mandating and funding party primaries.

In every state– except Washington– where a “top two” (or “open primary”) measure has been on the ballot for state and/or congressional offices, the voters have rejected it. Most recently, nearly two-thirds of Oregonians defeated that terrible idea.

I’d like to see some state try this: have one big election, with all the candidates on the same ballot, on the first Tuesday in November, and use <a href=”http://www.fairvote.org/irv/”>instant runoff voting (IRV)</a>. Citizens would only have to vote once, and officials would always be elected with 50-plus percent of the vote (the parties, of course, would still be free to endorse candidates in advance of the election).

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[1] All candidates, including independents, run in the same election.  The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, proceed to the runoff.

John Bell, Ol’ Ross, and Mr. Bill

November 29, 2008

Bill Minor’s <a href=”http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008811280325″>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=”http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/prestapes/a1.html”>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.

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[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.

TENNESSEE CARETAKERS

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=”http://www.sunherald.com/local/story/969158.html”>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=”http://www.ballot-access.org/2008/11/17/georgia-libertarian-endorses-democrat-in-public-service-commissioner-run-off/”>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=”http://www.ballot-access.org/2008/11/10/georgia-libertarians-may-get-spotlight-in-senate-run-off/”>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=”http://www.ballot-access.org/”>Ballot Access News</a> for the posts.