BILL CRAWFORD: 'Triple witching' casts spell over 2011 campaigns

By Bill Crawford

Mississippi faces a rare “triple witching.” In stock market parlance, a “triple witching” comes around once each quarter when speculative stock, futures, and index options expire at the same time. These can be chaotic days with unusual volatility, especially in times of economic uncertainty.
Mississippi hasn’t experienced a political “triple witching” since 1976. That’s the last time all three of our top political jobs turned over at the same time.
In January 1976, Gov. Bill Waller, Lt. Gov. William Winter, and Speaker of the House John Junkin gave way, respectively, to Cliff Finch, Evelyn Gandy, and Buddie Newman.
Before that, you have to go back to 1944. Interim gov. and lieutenant gov. Dennis Murphree (Gov. Paul B. Johnson, Sr., had died in office) and Speaker Sam Lumpkin gave way, respectively, to Tom Bailey, Fielding Wright, and Walter Sillers.
We face our next triple witching in January. That’s when Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov/ Phil Bryant, and Speaker of the House Billy McCoy – all three – will step down.
This one will also occur at a time of great economic uncertainty for Mississippi.
The state economy continues to struggle to recover from the Great Recession. Unemployment still hovers above 10 percent. Looming are massive federal spending cuts – to transportation, agriculture, education, welfare, and, maybe defense – that will whack Mississippi’s economy more than most.
Hmmm.
At a potentially chaotic time when strong and compelling leadership will likely be needed, our top three posts will all turn over.
Seems like that should make for a volatile political season.
The Republican Party hopes not. It sees this rare triple witching as an opportunity to culminate its recent surge in popularity by grabbing the political dominance held so long by the Democratic Party.
Triple witching is rare due to the long tenures of House speakers. In my lifetime there have only been five. Walter Sillers was speaker for 22 years, John Junkin for 10, Buddie Newman for 12, Tim Ford for 16, and, now, Billy McCoy for eight – all Democrats.
That’s why the Republican Party is putting so much effort and resources toward electing more Republicans to the House. A GOP majority would secure control of the next speaker’s election and give them a strong chance to control all three top spots. They get a bye in the lieutenant governor’s race since there are no Democrats running. And, having won four of the last five governor’s races, their nominee will be the favorite in November.
Still, a rare triple witching coupled with economic uncertainty can make for volatile times. What voters see as “strong and compelling” and desire from new leaders might vary from now to January.
Which should make this year’s Neshoba County Fair all the more bewitching.
Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Contact him at William S. Crawford, 1124 Windmill Drive Meridian, MS 39305.