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McGEHEE

McGEHEE

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

GULFPORT – Chris McDaniel will take Labor Day weekend to decide whether to pursue his election challenge after a judge dismissed his lawsuit Friday afternoon.

Special Judge Hollis McGehee said McDaniel had waited too long to file a legal challenge to the results of the June 24 U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff he lost to six-term incumbent Thad Cochran.

McDaniel could appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

McGehee, appointed to hear the case by the Supreme Court, said from the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport on Friday afternoon that he agrees with attorneys for Cochran, who argued current law gives a losing candidate only 20 days from the date of the election to file the challenge. McDaniel waited 41 days.

McDANIEL

McDANIEL

McGehee took a break from a separate case he was hearing in Gulfport on Friday to render his oral ruling. After hearing arguments on the timeliness issue Thursday during a hearing at the Jones County Courthouse in Laurel, where the case was slated to be tried, McGehee said he needed a day to decide.

“While we certainly have faith in the legal process, we’re not in agreement on this point of law,” said Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for McDaniel. He added, “We feel it is very unfortunate the facts of this case will not have the opportunity to be heard” unless McDaniel appeals McGehee’s ruling.

Fritsch said, “We will take the weekend to take stock” and decide the next step.

McGehee agreed with Jackson attorney Phil Abernethy, representing Cochran, that the 1959 state Supreme Court ruling – Kellum vs. Johnson – outlining the 20-day deadline made McDaniel’s challenge not timely.

McDaniel argued the 20-day deadline is no longer the law. To bolster that argument, attorney Steve Thornton, representing McDaniel, pointed out that in 2003 current House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton took 34 days to file his challenge after initial returns showed him losing an election for a four-county state House seat.

On Thursday, McGehee told the attorneys that both sides presented good arguments, creating “a conundrum” for him.

But from the bench Friday, McGehee said “Kellum vs. Johnson is still good law.” He said the Gunn lawsuit was silent on the 20-day issue, so it did not impact his ruling.

Attorneys for Cochran, Mark Garriga and Abernethy, released a joint statement, saying, “Clearly, the law states a challenge must be filed within the 20-day window. We also want to continue to re-emphasize that regardless of the timeliness of the challenge, a careful review of Chris McDaniel’s filing shows this case to be baseless. The voters made their decision on June 24 that Thad Cochran is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.”

McDaniel lost to Cochran by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 runoff votes cast statewide.

McDaniel claims that his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots.

The challenge of McDaniel, a second-term state senator from Jones County and Tea Party favorite, has to a large extent overshadowed the Nov. 4 general election where as it stands now Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville will face Cochran. The case originally was being heard in Jones County because McDaniel opted to file his challenge in his home county.

During Thursday’s hearing in the Jones County Courthouse, Abernethy said the practicable solution for McGehee would be to grant the Cochran motion to dismiss and, thus McDaniel could appeal that decision to the Supreme Court instead of conducting a multi-day trial that could be thrown out if the Supreme Court still agrees there is a 20-day deadline.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

McGEHEE

McGEHEE

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

LAUREL – Special Judge Hollis McGehee will rule today on whether to dismiss Chris McDaniel’s legal challenge of his June 24 runoff loss to Thad Cochran on the grounds that it was filed too late.

McGehee will announce his ruling at 2 p.m. from the bench at the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport, where he is hearing another case.

After an hour-long hearing Thursday at the Jones County Courthouse about whether McDaniel’s challenge was timely filed, the judge said attorneys for both sides presented such strong arguments that it presented a “conundrum” for him in making a ruling.

McGehee said he needed time to decide the issue, but late in the day a press release said his ruling would come today.

Attorneys for Cochran argued that a 1959 ruling by the state Supreme Court gives a losing candidate only 20 days from the date of the election to file the challenge. McDaniel took 41 days, so they argued the case should be dismissed.

But attorneys for McDaniel argued that election law has changed since the 1959 Supreme Court ruling. Attorney Steve Thornton told McGehee that in 2003 current House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton took 34 days to file his challenge after initial returns showed him losing an election for a four-county state House seat.

McGehee, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to hear the challenge, said he felt like he was at a tennis match. “One (attorney) hit a good shot and the other returned it,” he said.

After the arguments, McGehee said he would believe the 1959 Supreme Court ruling establishing the 20-day deadline to file was still the precedent except for the fact that the Gunn challenge took 34 days.

Attorney Phil Abernethy told the court that it must have been an oversight that the attorneys in the Gunn case did not raise the issue of timeliness.

“The most compelling language” in the 1959 Supreme Court ruling is “that primary elections must be completed speedily.”

He said it is not practicable to think the Legislature did not intend to have a deadline on how long a losing candidate had to challenge the results.

But Thornton said, “There is a timeline of reasonableness and promptness” as determined by the court.

Abernethy said the practical solution for McGehee would be to grant the Cochran motion to dismiss and then McDaniel could appeal that decision to the Supreme Court instead of conducting a multi-day trial that could be thrown out if the Supreme Court still agrees there is a 20-day deadline.

McDaniel was defeated in the June 24 runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.

McDaniel claims that his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots statewide. Cochran said any irregularities that occurred in the primary runoff were minor and did not impact the outcome.

McGehee also did not rule on whether election documents from at least 42 counties should be delivered to the Jones County Courthouse for the trial as requested by McDaniel. Some county circuit clerks have objected to that request.

McGehee said he was not going to rule on that issue without hearing from the circuit clerks.

The trial, barring McGehee granting the order to dismiss, is scheduled to begin Sept. 16 and the judge has said it must be concluded by Oct. 6.

The state Election Commission already has approved the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election with Cochran facing Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville.

McGehee, a retired chancery judge who lives in Lucedale and still hears cases in special circumstances, has said he has found no other instances of a challenge of a statewide election.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

MUSGROVE

MUSGROVE

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has scheduled news conferences today in Jackson and Hattiesburg where he will announce plans to “take action to fully fund” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

Musgrove, who served as governor from 2000-2004 and as lieutenant governor in 1997 played a key role in steering MAEP to passage, has discussed in recent weeks plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of school districts to force full funding of the Adequate Education Program.

MAEP is the mechanism used to provide the state’s share of funding for the operation of local school districts. Under the formula, property-poor school districts receive a greater percentage of state funds for such basics as teacher and staff salaries and maintenance.

MAEP has been underfunded about $1.5 billion since 2008, including $255 million for the current school year.

Musgrove has said a law signed by former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour in 2006 mandates the annual full funding of the Adequate Education Program.

During a July interview, the former Democratic governor and current Madison County attorney said about 15 school districts had agreed to join the lawsuit. He said he expected others to join, but refused to name any of the districts at the time.

Musgrove’s effort is to try to collect for the participating school districts the amount they were underfunded since the 2006 law went into effect. But he has said the result of the effort should be to mandate full funding for all school districts in the future.

The Musgrove effort is separate from that of the Better Schools, Better Jobs group that is trying to garner enough signatures to place an education funding initiative on the 2015 general election ballot.

That initiative would require a percentage of state revenue growth to be dedicated to MAEP until it was fully funded.

The Better Schools, Better Jobs group has been critical of Musgrove’s potential lawsuit, saying it could negatively impact its initiative effort. Musgrove has said the initiative would not guarantee full funding of MAEP.

“I’m open to any action that increases funding for education in Mississippi,” Musgrove said in July. “The proposed lawsuit is the only effort to try to recover funds that the school districts are owed and need to pay expenses.”

The MAEP Legal Group includes other attorneys, but Musgrove has the highest profile in the group and is best known in education circles.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

During the 2003 gubernatorial campaign, Daily Journal Executive Editor Lloyd Gray made the decision we were going to travel with the candidates during the final days of their campaigns and do daily stories.

It harkened back to old-style journalism when newspapers used to invest more on the daily activities of the candidates.

I was assigned to cover the campaign of incumbent Ronnie Musgrove while my then-colleague Danny McKenzie was tagged with covering Republican challenger Haley Barbour.

We got a good response statewide from our coverage.

On one particular day, we flew into the Tupelo Regional Airport where Musgrove and his campaign were met by supporters.

As we were preparing to get in cars to visit numerous locations in Northeast Mississippi, a member of the Musgrove campaign asked apologetically if I would mind not being in the car with the governor for a while so a reporter with the New York Times who had traveled to Mississippi to do a story on the race could have some time with Musgrove.

Since I had been with Musgrove almost nonstop, and would see him once we reached our various destinations I did not have a problem with that. I ended up in the vehicle with then-Nettleton Mayor Brandon Presley, a rather rotund 26-year-old who appeared to be the stereotypical Mississippi good-old boy.

Presley had been elected mayor of Nettleton at age 23. I knew who he was, but had never met him.

As we sped across Northeast Mississippi to various campaign stops, Presley literally kept me in stitches as he alternated between mimicking Musgrove’s high-pitched Southern nasal twang and Barbour’s deep and slow Southern drawl.

At some point, the Musgrove people came back to me to say I could continue riding with the governor. I told them I thought he and the New York Times reporter needed some more alone time. I would continue to travel with Presley.

I have told that story so many times that Presley is, no doubt, getting tired of hearing it. But it came to mind last week when MSNBC’s the Daily Rundown highlighted rising politicians in the state.

On the Democratic side, the national cable network highlighted Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber while on the Republican side Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Treasurer Lynn Fitch were singled out.

All are good choices. No doubt, Shelton’s victory in Republican stronghold Tupelo was a watershed event and gives a beleaguered Mississippi Democratic Party hope.

Interestingly, some believe that Fitch might challenge Reeves in 2015 for lieutenant governor, though I find that scenario not very likely.

It was more difficult to find rising Democratic stars. While there are capable Democrats in the Legislature and in local offices, including Shelton and Yarber, Presley is no doubt Mississippi Democrats’ best chance to claim another statewide office.

Currently, Attorney General Jim Hood of Houston is Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat. He has survived all comers from a Republican Party that has grown dramatically in strength during his tenure in statewide office. But other than Hood, Mississippi Democrats do not have a very deep bench in terms of politicians who could be considered serious statewide candidates.

Presley, the current second-term Northern District public service commissioner, could.

He is by far the best communicator in the state in terms of getting his points across and connecting with his audience. Plus, he is a relentless campaigner.

Seldom, regardless of the audience, does Presley not gain favorable comments after his presentation. Presley is able to connect his brand of populism with an overall economic message for the state that connects with a wide variety of voters.

Presley is as good a retail politician as there is in the state right now. But could he raise the millions of dollars needed to run a credible statewide campaign?

In today’s modern political world, candidates need more than a sense of humor, gift of gab and ideas.

They need money. And in recent elections, Democrats have had a hard time raising money in Mississippi.

But whether he can raise money or not, Presley would be fun to travel with on the campaign trail.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at (601) 946-9931 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

COCHRAN

COCHRAN

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The state Election Commission on Tuesday approved the candidates to appear on the general election ballot for the U.S. Senate election with no debate despite the controversy that surrounds the race.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel currently is challenging in Jones County Circuit Court his loss in the Republican primary on June 24 to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

But on Tuesday, the three-member commission approved Cochran, Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville and perennial candidate Shawn O’Hara, who is running on the Reform Party ticket, for the Nov. 4 U.S. Senate ballot.

CHILDERS

CHILDERS

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who oversees state elections and serves on the Election Commission, said Cochran and Childers were the nominees of their respective parties and will appear on the ballot “unless ordered to the contrary by the judiciary.”

Hosemann said the commission, which also includes Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood, had to act on the ballot in time to have the individual ballots out to the counties by Sept. 10. Absentee voting for military personnel and overseas residents can begin Sept. 20.

Hosemann said he is not sure what the process would be if the special judge hearing the McDaniel challenge found significant problems with the Republican primary.

“If there is a judicial change, I assume the courts would instruct us on what to do,” Hosemann said after the meeting concluded in the governor’s Sillers Building office.

Special Judge Hollis McGehee of Lucedale, appointed by the Supreme Court to hear the case, has set Sept. 16 to start the election challenge. He has said it must be completed by Oct. 6.

McDaniel was defeated in the June 24 runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.

McDaniel claims his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots statewide. Cochran said any irregularities in the primary runoff were minor and did not impact the outcome.

McGehee has scheduled a hearing Thursday at the Jones County Courthouse in Laurel on claims by the Cochran campaign that the McDaniel challenge should be dismissed for a number of reasons, including their contention that it was filed too late. McDaniel disputes that claim, and his attorneys will argue against it Thursday.

McGehee has said he can find no past instances of a statewide election challenge.

The only controversy at Tuesday’s Election Commission meeting centered around the residency of Monique Montgomery, who has qualified to run for Circuit Court in District 16, Place 3.

She is challenging incumbent Lee S. Coleman. It was argued that she did not live in Clay County, but instead in Columbus, meaning she would not be eligible to run in Place 3 in District 16.

But the three-member Election Commission cited a lease she had on a home in West Point and voter registration in Clay County as proof that she did have legal residency.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

BRYANT

BRYANT

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have expressed concerns with the effort of a newly formed grassroots organization to garner enough signatures to place on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to fully fund public education.

Other Republican state officeholders were cautiously non-committal in response to a Daily Journal survey about the initiative.

The only statewide elected official to endorse the proposal was Attorney General Jim Hood, who is also the only Democrat in the group.

REEVES

REEVES

In a statement last week and in late July at the Neshoba County Fair, Bryant said, “Right now I would not vote for it.” He said the proposal would increase “uncertainty with the state budget.”

At a meeting with the Daily Journal editorial board earlier this summer, Reeves, also a Republican, stopped short of saying he would not vote for it, but like Bryant expressed concern that placing the language in the state Constitution through the initiative process would take the power of the purse strings away from the Legislature and place it with the judiciary.

“If this initiative becomes law, it changes the responsibility from elected persons in the House and Senate and gives that responsibility to one judge in Hinds County,” Reeves said, referring to appropriating state funds for the local school districts. “I am not sure in the long term that is good public policy.

“I think that is a debate that needs to be had.”

The initiative would give enforcement authority to the courts, which is ordinarily the case with a constitutional issue.

HOOD

HOOD

Better Schools, Better Jobs, a broad coalition, including some business leaders, is working to garner about 108,000 signatures of registered voters in a geographic cross-section of the state necessary to place the proposal on the November 2015 ballot.

The proposal would require Mississippi to use money from economic growth to move toward full funding of public education. The proposal calls for at least 25 percent of new growth of general fund revenue to go toward the Mississippi Adequate Education Program over a period of years until it is fully funded. The proposal does not call for new taxes, supporters often point out.

Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said, “Right now, we have no position on the issue but look forward to the public debate.”

When asked for Treasurer Lynn Fitch’s position on the Better Schools, Better Jobs initiative, spokeswoman Diane Hartman said via email, “Treasurer Fitch is a strong supporter of education. She has been touring the state this week kicking off her financial literacy initiative, the Treasurer’s Education About Money (TEAM). Treasurer Fitch believes it is imperative to change the financial culture of Mississippi by enhancing personal finance education in our schools.”

Chaille Clements, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, said the commissioner “has been traveling out of town with the Senate Agriculture Committee and has not had time to address this issue.”

A spokesman also said Auditor Stacey Pickering was out of town and did not comment.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney did not respond when asked to comment.

Hood said he not only supports the initiative, but has signed a petition to place it on the ballot.

“It is going to take a constitutional amendment to make the Legislature do what is right for education,” Hood said. “That is the best investment, bar none, for economic development … The Legislature has an obligation to fund education.”

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program is the primary mechanism that provides state funds to local school districts for their basic operation with property- poor districts receiving more money than more affluent districts. The program has been fully funded only twice since it was fully enacted in 2002 and since 2008 MAEP has been underfunded $1.5 billion, including $255 million for the current year, based on the formula in the law.

The budget for the current year provides $114 million less in direct funds to local school districts through MAEP than was provided in 2008, based on an analysis by the pro-public education Parents Campaign.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, points out that education funding has been increased each of his three years as the leader of the House.

Nathan Wells, Gunn’s chief of staff, when asked the speaker’s position on the initiative, said, “We have not had time to delve into it… We have to spend more time examining it.”

But Wells said, as with all legislation, the speaker wants to make sure it would not present “any unintended consequences.”

Two key legislative Democrats said they not only support the initiative, but like Hood, have signed the petition to put it on the ballot.

“I think we have haphazardly funded education through the years depending on whether the economy was up or down,” said House minority leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. “It gets back to the basics of government, funding education, health care and public safety.”

Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he and most members of the Black Caucus have signed the initiative.

“I am for it 100 percent,” he said.

Both Reeves and Bryant said they favor providing more money to public education. But Bryant said, “This risks taking away local control of school districts and putting future decisions of any number of things in the hands of a Hinds County judge to decide what’s best for everyone.”

Any decision rendered by the Hinds County judge most likely would be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

But still, Bryant said it is “a separation of powers issue.”

Reeves said, “I think you will see a continued effort to increase funding for K-12. I am for full funding for MAEP because I think it will be a good thing to do so. I also want to take excuses off the table for some administrators not doing a good job. And they often point to the fact of not fully funding MAEP as the reason.”

Moak countered that it is legitimate for administrators to point to the lack of full education funding when they are criticized for education outcomes.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

news_icon_greenBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Special Judge Hollis McGehee has pushed back by one day to Sept. 16 the start of the trial where Chris McDaniel is challenging the results of the June 24 Republican primary runoff he lost to six-term incumbent Thad Cochran.

McGehee, in changing the start of the trial, also said in his order entered Friday that the trial would end by Oct. 6. On Thursday he had set Sept. 15 as the trial date and said it would end by Oct. 3.

The judge, a retired chancellor who now lives in Lucedale and was appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to hear the case, said the trial would be held at the Jones County Courthouse in Laurel.

McDaniel was defeated in the June 24 runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.

McDaniel is asking that he be declared the winner of the runoff or that the judge order a new primary election. He claims that his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots statewide.

The Cochran campaign has said any irregularities that occurred in the primary runoff were minor and did not impact the outcome of the election.

McDaniel chose to file the legal challenge in his home county of Jones. His law office is near the courthouse in Laurel. The judge said his research indicates it’s the first challenge of a statewide election in Mississippi history.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

McGEHEE

McGEHEE

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Special Judge Hollis McGehee has set 9 a.m. Sept. 15 as the start of the trial in which Chris McDaniel will challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s June 24 victory in the Republican primary runoff election.

McGehee, a retired chancery judge from Lucedale who handles cases when local judges step aside, also said “in no event shall the trial in this matter extend beyond … October 3.”

McGehee has indicated the trial will be held in the Jones County Courthouse in Laurel.

McGehee set the trial schedule Thursday as well as announcing his intention to appoint an expert in the field of elections and election laws to accompany parties to the lawsuit in examining election documents and provide assistance with other aspects of the trial.

McGehee cited several reasons for the need to appoint an expert.

They included:

• No prior instance of a legal challenge to a statewide election.

• The scope and volume of issues to be considered and resolved in a short period of time.

• The case “affects every citizen of the state of Mississippi and to a significant extent the citizens of the United States of America.”

But before the trial starts, McGehee scheduled 9:30 oral arguments Aug. 28 on motions presented by the Cochran campaign.

The motions will include the argument, that based on court precedent, McDaniel waited too long to file his appeal.

In motions filed Thursday, the Cochran campaign said McDaniel’s challenge should be dismissed and “is based primarily on allegations of isolated and episodic election irregularities, errors and violations that are legally insufficient to support an election challenge.”

McDaniel was defeated in the runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.

McDaniel claims that his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots statewide.

Under state law, McDaniel could file the challenge in the circuit court of any county where the alleged irregularities occurred. He opted to file in his home county of Jones.

McGehee was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear the challenge.

McGehee held a status hearing Wednesday on the legal challenge. McDaniel is asking that the judge declare him the winner or order a new election.

The general election is scheduled for Nov. 4. The Republican Party has declared Cochran its nominee while Travis Childers of Booneville is the Democratic nominee.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

 

Special Judge Hollis McGehee speaks to attorneys during a status conference on Wednesday in Laurel. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Special Judge Hollis McGehee speaks to attorneys during a status conference on Wednesday in Laurel. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal

LAUREL – Special Judge Hollis McGehee said for the sake of Mississippi voters he plans to move quickly to resolve the election dispute in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

“I consider them a party to this action,” said McGehee, during the initial status hearing in the challenge filed by state Sen. Chris McDaniel to the results of the June 24 runoff election he lost to six-term incumbent Thad Cochran.

McGehee scheduled a hearing for Aug. 28 for arguments on motions the Cochran campaign plans to file today.

In those motions, attorneys for Cochran are expected to claim McDaniel waited too long to file the challenge which, theoretically, could result in the matter being resolved.

Barring that, McGehee said he hopes to start the trial by Sept. 15 or Sept. 22 at the latest. He admitted that he had planned to start the trial on Sept. 30, but concluded “the scope” of a statewide challenge has led him to reconsider and determine an earlier start is needed.

“I am focused on trying to complete this matter prior to the (Nov. 4) general election,” he said during about a 30-minute hearing in the Jones County Courthouse.

The judge refused to grant a request from McDaniel attorney Mitch Tyner of Jackson that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the rest of the state Election Commission be ordered not to print the general election ballot until the matter is concluded.

McGehee said the law “contemplates the process going forward” as the challenge is heard. Theoretically, a decision could be made after the general election, rendering the results of the general election moot.

But the Cochran campaign has said McDaniel’s lawsuit does not have merit.

McDaniel was defeated in the June runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.

McDaniel claims his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots statewide. But Cochran and many others say the vast majority of the questionable ballots the McDaniel campaign claims to have found are not that, but simple mistakes at the most that had no impact on the election outcome.

McDaniel also is pointing to a state law that says a person should not vote in a party primary unless the voter intends to support the party nominee in the general election. McDaniel says Cochran was able to win with the aid of Democratic voters, primarily African-Americans, who were convinced to vote for Cochran after his campaign and supporters aired racially charged ads against McDaniel.

In the past, the courts have ruled the law saying people should not vote in a primary unless they plan to support the party’s nominee in the general election was unenforceable.

Under state law, McDaniel could file the challenge in the circuit court of any county where he alleged irregularities occurred. He opted to file in his home county of Jones.

McGehee, a retired chancery judge from Lucedale, was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear the challenge. He could move the location of the trial, but indications Wednesday were that he intended to hold it in Jones County.

Both parties praised McGehee after Wednesday’s hearing.

Mark Garriga, a Jackson attorney representing Cochran, said he was pleased McGehee was trying to settle the issue quickly.

“We think this is the beginning of the end,” Garriga said.

Tyner, representing McDaniel, said he was pleased McGehee saw the need for “a rocket docket.”

McGehee will be plowing new ground in state law, saying his research could find no prior statewide election challenge, and saying “it is overwhelming in its scope.”

Neither Cochran nor McDaniel attended the Wednesday hearing, though McDaniel’s law office is blocks away, within walking distance. About two dozen McDaniel supporters were at the courthouse for the hearing.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

An unusual rift has developed between groups that purport to have in common the support of Mississippi’s public education system.

Currently, there is a group called Better Schools, Better Jobs garnering signatures in hopes of placing on the November 2015 ballot an initiative calling for the eventual full funding of public education.

This group, which includes many prominent Mississippians, such as former Secretary of State Dick Molpus and many others, opposes a lawsuit against the state by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to recoup $1.5 billion local school districts have been underfunded since 2008. Musgrove is not keen on the Better Schools, Better Jobs effort, saying in effect cautionary language in the initiative will make it difficult to achieve full funding for the local school districts even if its passes.

Both groups say full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is their goal.

MAEP was passed in 1997. It was designed to increase state funding for all local school districts with property poor districts receiving more state monies to ensure an “adequate level” of funding for all schoolchildren.

Its passage was hailed as a landmark event in the state and garnered Mississippi a great deal of positive comments nationally by those who follow public education issues.

It was supposed to be fully enacted in 2003. It was fully funded that year and one other – in 2007.

It is a fact that there would be no MAEP without Ronnie Musgrove. He worked for its passage as a state senator and guided it to passage as lieutenant governor in 1997. As governor in 2003, he ensured that it was fully funded as it was supposed to be. He was defeated for re-election later that year.

We will never know if it would have been fully funded had Musgrove won re-election. But if history is any indication, Musgrove would have found a way.

Many now are saying Musgrove’s lawsuit will harm the efforts of those pushing for the initiative to amend the Constitution in a manner to make full funding of MAEP an eventual certainty.

It should be pointed out that many important public policy questions have been decided by lawsuits.

Two regarding education jump to the forefront in Mississippi.

In the 1980s, north Mississippi school districts sued the state (Papasan vs. Allain) because those systems were getting less money than those in other parts of the state. The reason that those school districts were getting less money is that they did not have 16th Section land set aside where the proceeds would be used for the support of the local school systems.

Those school districts in 23 counties, including most of those in Northeast Mississippi, pursued a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court, resulting in a settlement with the state that led to more equal funding.

The Ayers college desegregation suit, which claimed historically black universities in the state received less funding than other public universities, also resulted in a settlement with the state and more funding for those predominantly minority schools. The point is that because of a lawsuit north Mississippi school districts and historically black universities are better off. And it was done without the state going into bankruptcy as some predict will happen if the Musgrove lawsuit prevails.

Mississippi did not have the initiative process when Papasan and Ayers were filed.

Would the initiative process have been a better way to go than lawsuits filed by the north Mississippi counties that did not have 16th Section land and by the historically black universities?

Who knows.

But the case could be made that both sides – Musgrove and Better Schools, Better Jobs – would be better off focusing on their mission and less on others trying to achieve the same ultimate goal – full funding of public education.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’sCapitol Bureau chief. Contact him at (601) 946-9931 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.