Bill Waller's administration said it best: "Rethink Mississippi

Bill Waller’s administration said it best: “Rethink Mississippi.” For years, Mississippi has struggled with how to convey a better image, given its heavy deficit born of the Civil War and worsened by racial demagogues such as Theodore Bilbo, James K. Vardaman and buffoons like Ross Barnett.
Many whites have said we didn’t care what the rest of the country thought or said about us. However, as we saw recently when our two top state public officials took umbrage over North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue’s off-handed negative remark about Mississippi, you would have thought we had been deeply wounded. Both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves likely made brownie points with their base out of that, but if the two had merely ignored the offending words, the world would have never known.
Bill Waller wanted to be seen among the amazing crop of “New South” governors in the 1970s. Waller initiated breakthrough policies, chiefly by putting blacks on state boards and commissions, pushing to update the state’s mossback 1890 Constitution and advocating public kindergarten (10 years before it would happen). On the political front, Waller, an old-fashioned rural Democrat, unified the warring black and white factions of the state Democratic Party. When the state’s biracial delegation went to the 1976 Democratic National Convention it was welcomed warmly like a wayward child who had returned home.
Those examples probably sound so yesterday to the current tribe of Republicans running the state, but each happening was a milestone in the state’s best years. Take it from one who has chronicled this state’s political and social scene for six decades, Mississippi’s place among sister states has largely been marked by one step forward and two backward.
Republicans now holding most of the levers of political power certainly seem uncaring about being positive image-makers for the state. The only national news coming out of the state in recent months has been negative, from Haley Barbour’s goodbye pardoning splurge (including one man in jail on a DUI charge involving a fatal wreck) to Reeves’ blocking Dr. Carl Reddix, a highly qualified black OB/GYN, from appointment to the state Board of Health. Reeves’ objection? Reddix’ nebulous involvement with the state’s lone abortion clinic (only when a woman in danger of dying from an abortion needs to be hospitalized, rather than go to an emergency room). And then there’s the Republicans’ push for a new law to require an approved photo ID.
The rise of the Republican party in the old Confederacy – possibly most pronounced in Mississippi – in the last three decades must be dated to Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of the late 1960s, that followed enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Ever since, there has been a steady stream of defections from historically Democratic ranks – often in switches by Mississippi elected officials who say they have had some ideological epiphany.
But even GOP heavyweight Trent Lott in 2003 found there was a limit to playing footsy with the race card. When he endorsed Strom Thurmond’s 1948 Dixiecrat segregationist campaign, Lott was promptly canned as Senate Republican Majority Leader.
Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at edinman@earthlink.net.