Barnett out of 1st District race
By Marty Russell
Tupelo attorney Jamie Barnett won’t challenge first-term 1st District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker in this year’s congressional race as confusion continues over the filing deadline.
Barnett, in a statement released Wednesday, said he would not be a candidate in this year’s race and, in a later interview, indicated he may never run for Congress again. Barnett was one of nine candidates who sought the 1st District seat in 1994 when incumbent Jamie Whitten announced he was retiring.
Barnett, who ran as a Democrat, was defeated in the first primary and Wicker went on to become the first Republican to hold the seat since Reconstruction.
Barnett had said in December he was considering a rematch this year, but Wednesday he announced he would not be a candidate for the post.
“Before Christmas I was encouraged to consider seriously another run for Congress,” Barnett said in a news release. “I took some time over the holidays to think and pray about the race, but the answer was readily apparent. I will not run for Congress. I will not close the door on a potential political or judicial race in the future, but right now I am enjoying private life with my family, practicing law and doing community and church work.”
In a later interview, Barnett said the rigors of a congressional race would place too many demands on his home and business life.
“With a district as large as the 1st, a race for Congress has an enormous impact on family life and I would assume that Roger Wicker would agree that winning has an even greater impact,” he said. “I’m glad I ran last time, but I’m not willing to sign up again for that reason. I’ll probably never run for Congress again.”
Bill Wheeler, the Democrat Wicker defeated in the 1994 general election by a 63 percent margin, said last week he would make a decision “within the next couple of weeks” about whether he would challenge Wicker this year.
Another rumored candidate, state Sen. Travis Little of Corinth, has stated he will not be a candidate in the race.
The deadline for qualifying for the election may be cleared up today. About two years ago, the Legislature changed election laws to set March 1 as the qualifying deadline for all elections. Previously, the deadline had been a set number of days prior to the first primary.
The process worked fine in previous years when primaries were held in August but, because the Super Tuesday presidential primaries take place March 12, this year’s congressional primaries will also take place March 12. That means the qualifying deadline would fall on March 1 and the election would take place 12 days later.
Not only does that not give candidates time to raise money and campaign, but it violates a state law that requires absentee ballots to be available 45 days before the election.
A spokesman for the Mississippi secretary of state’s office said Wednesday the deadline likely will be moved up, possibly to sometime this month.
“Because of the problem with the law and the proximity to the primary, there has been some talk of moving the qualifying deadline up,” said spokesman David Blount. “This is the first time we’ve had this problem.”
While Blount indicated the Legislature might address the problem, another source said an opinion had been requested from the attorney general’s office on the legality of moving the deadline up to Jan. 12. If the attorney general issues an opinion saying that can be done, possibly today the source said, the Legislature would probably take no action.